CNF: I Miss My Mommy

I have struggled this year and I feel the only way to get this out of me is to….get the words out. This piece has eaten away at me and the only way to make it stop was to write it. So here it is.

I miss my mother. 

The way she wrapped her arms around me and her plush body covered mine, suffocating me. But it was all okay because there was warmth there, in the folds of older black woman body. The way I would cry and she would say, “Come here, tell me what’s wrong?” even though she knows what’s wrong because she already told me that boy wasn’t right or that girl wasn’t my friend or that jesus loves me even though I’m selfish and stubborn and angry and mean and I don’t like to listen.

I miss my mom.

The way she would stretch out on the couch, with socked feet tucked into the crack between the cushions. Her knees stacked, legs innocently and sanctimoniously closed. A small table before her dangerously balancing laptop, coffee mug, keys, lipstick, the black stick that looks like lipstick but it really covers grey hairs, rattail comb for scratching beneath wigs (or hairpieces?), piles of junk mail never thrown out, a few dollars to give temptation to wandering foster hands, and the computer mouse.

The way she would fall asleep, mouth slightly opened. How I would whisper just loud enough to be heard but quiet enough not to waken: “Can I go to the library please?” and when the grunt sounds like yes, dart out of the house so fast with my bag for appropriate books on top – that also hides lustful romances and murderous mysteries in the bottom. The way she would come darting after me, some hours later, because I’ve forgotten myself between the pages of adventure. Her Navigator squealing around the corner and slam stopping in front of the building. Because “never ask me questions when I’m sleeping”.

How she would wait for me to exit and unlock the doors when I notice it’s her. My head falling forward, my shoulders dropping. And I push the bag down, down, down, between the seats, beneath my feet, hoping the devil’s literature won’t be found. The way she told me to open it up, and the tears filled my eyes, and I reached down into embarrassment hoping the first, second, and third book I pulled out was the innocent Christian series. There it is, with her watchful eye. One, Christy, Two, Christy, Three…Robin Jones Gunn, the tale of Christy. 

I miss my mommy. 

The way she didn’t call me after I nearly died in childbirth. How she didn’t send words of wisdom, or half-listened-to prayers, or didn’t offer to come down to be with me as I spiraled into the depression of someone going home to place they were once deliriously happy. Doors reminding you of hellos and goodbyes. Beds reminding you of the roll-up you no longer have to do because you’re belly is empty. The wine you can now drink collecting dust on counter. 

How those hours in the hospital – doctors pulling at the placenta stuck to my uterus while trying to stop the blood from gushing, gushing, gushing – nurses whispering “you’re fine, you’re fine, you’re doing amazing” while I tried to be still despite the pain – my guy’s face above me worrying – waiting on a call from my mommy. Waiting to discover how we got here.

How that one time, when the angry black lady ran the stop sign and hit me with her truck, she came to the hospital to see me. How she brought daddy and they held my hands, the only parts of me they were allowed to touch. Telling jokes despite the fact my neck hurt, and my back hurt, and my foot hurt, and my eyes hurt when opened and hurt when closed. My daddy driving me to and fro doctor’s appointments and the chiropractor to fix my back. Mommy holding my hair as I puked or wiping my drool because the Vicodin had my brains unspooling into my soup or cleaning my kitchen because I could barely walk. 

The way she said “you expect too much out of me as a mother” when I had just lost my baby. Lost my third baby. The one the doctors swore would make it – the repeating ultrasounds, the blood tests, the sweet thump thump thump of a beating heart, the tiny nose nuzzling against my womb. How maybe after the first loss no one cares anymore and you’re expected to suffer in the silence you should’ve kept in the first place. The way I asked for space, knowing I couldn’t deal with the loss of another tiny soul that was half me and the anger at my mother for listening. And after many years of her ignoring my cries for love, comfort, and a closer bond, she finally listened. Those months were lonely. Long and lonely and motherless. 

I miss my mum. 

The way she said “I knew you’d grow up to be an amazing writer” years and years and years after she told me “Writers don’t make any money, you need to do something that will get you paid”. To which I replied with an acceptance to a Master’s in Architecture program that ate my soul. That ate my time. That ate my creativity. That ate my confidence. That ate my joy.

The one that ended when that boy I swore was my friend held me down. And slapped. And kissed me. And pulled at my lip with his teeth like a lover’s kiss. And how I thought of her when I froze, there beneath his weight. His eyes on mine, clear as day. Smiling, caressing the fear in me, pulling at it until I slapped at his shoulder, and then at his back, then punched at his head. How I knew if I told her, she’d blame me. “Don’t let these boys in, you don’t want to be a slut” I knew she’d say, because jesus doesn’t love sluts. It’s only god who loves everyone. And he’s not listening.

How I walked the dorms a ghost of myself, his eyes on mine in the elevator as we rode in silence. The way he smirked at me, turning until I could see his whole face – not the one he always wore but the one he had only shown me. Classes become beds, textbooks like expensive paperweights on the window ledge, grades dropping, dipping, spiraling until the scholarships were gone and the money dried up.

How she said “If you don’t want to be a part of this family you don’t have to be” when I finally worked up the courage to call, much later. And how it still took years to tell her what happened, to which she replied “well, why did you have boys in your room?”

I miss her, my mother. 

The way I showed her my first nonfiction publication hoping she would say she was proud, although I tried not to care. When I sent the links to my blog, and the photos of my work in print, and the happy texts that really asked if she still loved me. If anyone back home still loved me. The way auto-sent generic replies stuck to my stomach in a sickening thick that had me heaving, no I’m not pregnant, just grieving.

The way I shared my emotions, in the spirit of confident adulthood, and they mattered not. How I cried and I cried, and I piled my limbs into bed tight to my chest, shoulders shaking like they do in the movies, snot clogged nostrils, my guy at feet, rubbing my back, at the loss of my mother. The way her headstone lives in Missouri, walking and talking and judging and living happily, rent free in my head. 

How I thought once I became a mother to a sweet, happy, healthily living baby, it would bring us closer. The way Naomi wraps her arms around me, asking me with those eyes – to heal. My eyes filling with tears because while I worked so hard to be a good adoptive daughter, an honest, trustworthy, dependable daughter, no one had taught me how to be a mother.

How she might call and say the things that need to be said without conditions for her love. That she’s sorry. Truly, irrevocably sorry. How she sees what I’ve grown up to be. That she would see the nurturer in me, the mistakes I seek to correct, the fear I want to quell, the fostered abandonment I hold in my heart, and know that things could be different now. But knowing she won’t.

I miss my mother. 

But it hurts. Despite everything, I fall on this pain knowing it holds me captive. Knowing that letting go and releasing are two different things. Because I not only miss the mother she could’ve been but also, the one she was to me. 

CNF: Blades

With a small pink razor, stolen from another foster kid, I shave at the sporadic hair on my legs. I hear her voice, my adoptive mother’s, in my head with each down sweep of the blades, “if you shave your legs the hair will grow back thicker. Then you’ll have to keep shaving and shaving. Forever.”
I don’t care. Even at eight years old I want to be like everyone else, baby smooth skin that’s soft to touch. The way it used to be. I want to wear dresses and shorts without feeling the prickly spikes of embarrassment move against flowy material. I curve my hand slightly but it’s just enough for the blade to nick my skin.
Sucking in a quick breath at the sharp sting, I watch as a bead of blood wells to the surface. It slips down and taints my skin. I watch it still and I get an idea. It blooms in me like a rose. Its petals vibrant. I push on the nick and pause to watch more blood follow the path of the razor, down toward my ankle where it pools in the divot near my heel. I know what to do. I’ve heard about it from one of the girls that slept in the basement rooms of our foster home. She talked about a friend who found a way out. Of pain. Of fear. Of abandonment. Because, even this age, I know exactly what that word means.
I know what the word feels like. The way it wraps around your throat, each letter like fingers tightening as they mold to the contours of your flesh. I know what it sounds like. Rain pattering against window panes as you’re left behind. Watching the cars drive by, wondering if you’ll be remembered or if they will go on with ‘family’ day without you. I know what it looks like. The way it swirls in the air, red in the color of betrayal. It’s a word you’ll feel long after you’ve healed from it. If you ever truly heal.
***
I’m back in the bathroom a few days later and I’m ready. I’ve set myself up by announcing that I haven’t yet showered. My adoptive mother tells me she knows, without looking up from whatever is more important. She says that she can smell the ‘fonk’ on me. “You’re the first one to notice your own stink,” she’s told me so many times. This time, I wonder if it’s just another lie she tells.
I look in the mirror, a reflection that I can see only by standing on the toilet, and I nod. Then I’m smiling like a loon. Here we go. Climbing down, I grab the razor from the lip of the sink and dig my tiny fingers between the plastic sides. With much force, it cracks, but the part with the blades held fixed.
“I can’t even get this right,” I say in a low whisper. The hot tears come fast, welling and falling before I can blink them away. I’m grabbing and pulling and the sharp edge is slicing at the pads of my fingers. I feel the pain but am determined. I might even like the pain. The way with each slice brings up a paper thin flap of flesh.
Sitting on the toilet lid, I pull up my knees and yank until finally the blades are free. They are wet with sticky blood and I almost yell triumphantly. Dropping the rest of the razor to the floor, I bite the fleshy inside of my cheek, sit two blades on the windowsill and take the third in between my fingers. It’s a precious jewel that I cradle fondly, for a few seconds.
Then I’m cutting. Down and down, until I break through the skin and the lean meat of my small wrist. It’s hot, the area of incision, and I wait for the blood. It slips over my skin and drips onto my knee. It’s fascinating and I sit transfixed under the spell.
Next to the first line I make another, pushing until the skin is broken and then I’m frowning. It doesn’t hurt as bad. The initial shock – gone. Switching to my non-dominant hand, I slice into my right wrist and there the adrenaline is again. It fills me and I close my eyes. I roll back my shoulders and stand a little straighter. I’m in control. This is my body. No one can tell me what to do with my own flesh. They can’t take my limbs from me and I will do whatever I want with them. I am defiant, as everyone always tells me, and I’ve taken it in stride.
With the second cut I go deeper, longer than the other three, and I feel a jolt in my hand. A tingle that spears through each finger, then circles up to my elbow and round my shoulder. The shock of it sparks fear and I drop the blade to my feet, where it narrowly misses the bathroom carpet. I sigh in relief as it settles against the tile with barely a sound. A whimper escapes as the pain grows and I’m watching the blood fall quicker from this fourth cut. I scramble to gather toilet paper to the wrist, and it spins off the roll, spilling in white sheets onto the floor. My left wrist has caught up. It’s dripping profusely and I jump up to stand over the sink.
I didn’t want to end it today, I think. I just wanted to practice. I just wanted to see if I could. If it was easy. My chest is tightening, breaths a quick staccato against the silence of the bathroom. ‘She had a panic attack and…’ I remember one of my teachers saying, after I nearly passed out a few months ago, and I stand up straight. I hold my breath, hoping to stop the rising sense of relinquishment. Then I’m counting; One, Two, Three, Four. The blood has slowed, I see. I flick on the faucet and run both stained wrists under the cool water. It stings and I’m sucking in another breath.
I hear someone calling my name. Dinner! I’d completely forgotten. I’m turning the water on full blast now, hoping to wash away my sins. The water irritates the cuts and blood flows again. A vicious cycle. I feel stupid. Useless. Like the waste of space that I am. We have dinner every night. How could I forget that?
Finally, I cut the water to the faucet and then gingerly sidestep to the shower and cut the water there, too, and then I’m wrapping my wrists in wads of toilet paper. I quickly grab the blades from the sill and the one from the floor and wrap them too. I stick them in the small pocket of my jeans and the towel that is in the color assigned to me. Wrapping my wrists, doubly now, I make a quick exit into the adjacent bedroom. My name is called again and I yell that I’m putting my clothes on.
In my room, I change and put on a cropped jean jacket. It’s long sleeved and the material snags on the wadded toilet paper on my wrists. I slide the buttons closed and look at myself in the mirror. My eyes are wide and I know I look feral. There’s a thin line of wayward blood across my check and I’m wiping. Wiping, and wiping and scrubbing it away. I’m scrubbing and then I’m hitting. I’m smacking a small hand against my check for being so stupid. Then I know I must end it. Just not today.

***
At the dinner table, I sit with my hands in my lap, mock respect. My adoptive mother is going on about how it’s ‘just so rude’ for me to make everyone else wait while I lollygag. I know she’s thinking about why does she always have to punish me. And how I can’t be ‘more important than everyone else’.
“That’s not how the world works,” she says and continues on her diatribe of things Jade doesn’t know about the world. I do this so often, always so late, all the time. I know that when she winds down another punishment is in order. I fidget in my seat while thinking of what it might be.
Would it be 12 licks with daddy’s thick leather belt? Mom saying “this hurts me more than it hurts you” followed by “as soon as you stop jumping around and stay still I can finish”? Would it be hours sitting in front of the fire place? A punishment tailor made for me because I had books in my room. And “Go to your room right now and think about what you’ve done” wasn’t a punishment but a reading vacation and one I savored every moment I could. Would it be one thousand admonishments where I’d admit how stubborn I am, write out my crimes and promise to do better? Hands cramping with every “I’ll never waste everyone’s time by thinking I am more important than them again. I apologize. I apologize. I apologize.” Would I be banned from the library for 2 months? The worst punishment of all because the house of books was my only safe space, the only place I truly felt happy, the only place where I can cleanse myself of all the anger and the fear and immerse myself into another life.
More punishments went through my mind as I made myself smaller and smaller in my chair. I get it, at least, I think I do. I’m not important and shouldn’t make myself out to be. “You can’t be something you’re not’ was another of her admonishments. I nod and she corrects me ‘use your words’. I look up and she’s staring right at me. Everyone is.
My brother’s sitting right next to me and yet we feel so far apart. He is the only biological sibling that I have that still seems to love me and I can feel him slipping away. Everyday he tells me how I was ‘found in a trashcan’ and if I slip up one more time he’ll take me back. Next to him is the new girl who’s name I often forget. She smirks at me because she’s a hell raiser, at least that’s what my adoptive mom calls her when she’s on the phone with her prayer group. On the other side of the table, next to Mother, is my adoptive father. He’s my favorite person in the world but I can tell by the look in his eyes that he won’t save me and he won’t stop her rant. He never does. He’ll let her go on and on until my nods are not enough to placate her. I lower my eyes to my lap, submissive, and see a bit of toilet paper peeking from my jacket sleeve.
Can they see what I’ve done? I shove my hands further into my lap and depress the urge to wince as the cuts in my wrists grind against the now sticky toilet paper.
“Hello?” she says to me, sarcastically drawing out the O, and I’m looking around. My brother is smirking at me from across the table and I jump. He’s holding a plate of warm garlic rolls in my direction. I can see butter melting in the slits topping each one. Gingerly, I lift my arm to take the plate, and a roll, before passing it on. She has a screwed look, the one where her lips go to one side and her eyes narrow. I can see it from the corner of my eye and I think any minute. Any minute now and she’ll ask what’s wrong and that’ll be the worst.
I’m a horrible liar, I know. I fidget in my seat and then dig into my food that she’s already plated due to my tardiness. It satisfies her and she instead of dishing out one of her infamous punishments she begins her rounds of the table, everyone having their turn in the spotlight. “How was your day? What did you do? Did you learn anything?”
I take a deep breath around a bite of thick mashed potatoes and relax. ‘One day but not today,’ I think. I sit and listen as everyone tries to find something interesting to say and pretend they did. When it comes around to me I think of my wrists. I think of something I might say.
“I slit my wrists today. I didn’t want to kill myself, only see if it would be easy – should I want to. It hurt. It hurt so bad that it felt good. I still want to kill myself, one day. But for now I just want to revel in the pain that sears through my body. It makes me think of everything that has ever been done to me, will ever be done to me, and how this is different. It’s me, saying what goes. Saying WHEN,” Instead, I shrug and continue eating, slowly chewing so I don’t look like a chow. I remember to use my words and my fork hovers.
“I finished reading my new book,” I say.
“I thought you just got that book yesterday,” she says between bites of fried chicken.
“I did. And I finished it. It was fantastic. It was about…”
“So that’s what you were doing in your room. Didn’t I tell you not to spend all day up there reading? Those people aren’t real. How will you ever learn anything about making a human connection, about god’s creatures, about the true meaning of life, if you just have your nose stuck in a book? All…” I stopped listening. This is what she did.
I was selfish, embarrassed, angry, reserved, I liked books over people. Hell, I liked bacon over people. But it wasn’t until that day, sitting there listening to her explain how books will never make me happy, that I realize books can make me happy. Books can make me positive, optimistic, and light. They can teach me about human connection, about god’s creatures, about the true meaning of life. They can show me a full way to live.
As she goes on, I day dream of meeting a man who will love me for me and about creating a family that I can take care of and show what it means to truly be supportive – like in the romance novels. I think of the thrillers that keep me on the edge of my seat, what’s going to happen next? Who killed who? Why did they kill? Why do humans kill? I think of the adventurous books. How archeology opens you up to the world of old and teaches you that life’s a puzzle to discover. I think of the horror novels when bad things happen to good people and even though they die in the end a lesson has been learned.
I nod and look attentive and she gains her second wind. As she starts up again, telling me how I’m not the daughter she hoped for, I think of stories filled with dragons and vampires that are living and find love despite their soulless nature. I day dream and I wish and I hope and pray and think and decipher and enthusiastically appeal to the witches of fate and then, instead of the blades I used just twenty minutes ago to mar my body, I think of a different outlet. A different way to escape.
I’ll become…a scholar.

CNF: The Making of a Home

When I was seven I had a hard time keeping my markers to myself.

Everything about this new foster home was different than the other places I’d been. When you step out of the car, you are met with the arch admired only by weddings and those who want to show their best clamoring vines. It stretches over the main path and allows only the skinniest to get by without a scratch. Up the cement walkway and knocking on a bright red door came next. It opens and a fork in the layout shows an immaculate living room to the left. 

It’s a blue room, a color for royals and steamed throw pillows, that elongates the house with a mediocre fireplace and small shining figurines lining a brick mantel. A small den sits in the corner of the room. To the right, a dining room holds a large wooden table, a minimum of five chairs and a large china cabinet. Yes, filled with china no foster kid wants to break. Be wary of this room, it gets even the most obedient children in trouble. It’s dressed in a swirling rug of red, browns, and yellows. Splitting the rooms, a steep skyward staircase leads to three rooms, a master bed and bath, and two smaller bedrooms with a connecting bathroom to the right. 

Back at the fork, going through the dining room will lead you to a small ranch style kitchen with it’s small window sink, fridge equipped with lock to keep out wandering hands, and a sun room (built five years in the future) that leads to the back yard. Going halfway through the kitchen, you could turn left and meet the rest of the house. A living room, where the foster kids can gingerly play video games and a out-of-tune piano, a small half bathroom, and a set of stairs leading down, down, down, to two more bedrooms, a living room for the older kids, a large pantry and laundry room, and home of the spikets. You know, those spiders that look like crickets that jump as high as your waist if you startle them. 

It was too perfect. Too together. Everything needed to be dusted and cleaned and vacuumed and I, not a clean or dusted or vacuumed tiny person, knew I wouldn’t fit there. So I did what every foster kid wants to do.

I made a place for myself.

I took my markers and I drew on the walls. I drew on the pillows. I drew on the pristine glass tables and the thick windows. I drew on the stairs and I drew on the railings. I drew on the ceiling, above my bunk bed, and I drew on the floor by the bottom bunk. I drew in the bathroom and I drew in the kitchen. I drew on the wall outside by that thorny rose bush. I drew on the stones that go round to the backyard. I drew on the wooden fence that falls apart every few years. I drew on the base of a bush near the corner of the yard and a big tree that took up the front. I drew on the leaves of the flowers near the window sills. I drew on the linoleum of the kitchen floor and the tile that lined the back-splash. I drew on the curtains and I drew on the carpet. I drew on a plate that I hid in the china cabinet for four years. I drew on the mail in the mail drawer and the metal where the mail dropped. I drew on it all.

And then I was settled. Nothing was perfect and neither was I.