As I’ve mentioned before, my parents divorced around Christmas of my 4th grade year. A few months later, in mid-February, my dad invited my sister and I out to his new place in New Orleans to see and be a part of Mardi Gras. It seems odd to me now that we were able/allowed to get the time off school, and that my mom agreed it was a good idea, but I remember the whole thing pretty vividly. I might write a whole story about that trip one day, but for now I’m just focusing on the first thing that my sister and I found odd : Dad had a girlfriend named Jenny 1not actually her name, but they’ve been married for over 20 years so I’m respecting her privacy.
We weren’t shocked by it, in the way that I think would be normal for kids to see one of their parents kissing someone who wasn’t their other parent, but we definitely had questions. My dad was very slick and cool about the whole thing, acting as normal as can be about it. I think he might have told us “your mother probably doesn’t wanna hear about this”, but my sister definitely reminded me on our plane ride home that we shouldn’t say anything to Mom. Our trip was a lot of fun, I got to meet my extended family on my dad’s side, I got to eat crawdads out of a barrel in a parking lot, and I got to experience Mardi Gras outside of the French Quarter — neighborhood-style Mardi Gras is a whole ‘nother beast, it’s far more loving and festive, as opposed to chaos and cops and claustrophobia.
When we came home, we showed Mom our beads and talked about all the cool shit in New Orleans, and conveniently left out any mention of Jenny. Just that Dad seemed happy and my mom focused on the fact that we weren’t all shook up from having to fly halfway across the country to see a man who was always walking distance down the hall up until a few months prior.
My father and I talk about once a month these days, and we’ve got a pretty good relationship. We’ve talked about this period of our lives many times, so I’ll be peppering in what I know now vs. what I knew then.
One night, shortly after that trip, I heard my mom talking on the phone with my dad. I walked past her room, where her door was open and she was sitting on the bed, and heard “Mitchell just walked past, do you want to say hello?” – and I perked up “is that dad?”, and we spoke for a few minutes before he said he’d be calling back in a few minutes. In that few minutes, my mom told me she’d been talking with my dad about our visit, and about how things were around the house, and how life was with him. I don’t recall if I asked if they were patching things up, or if she just offered up information on her own, but I recall her saying something like “your father and I are working some things out, and we’re hoping we can fix the problems we had”.
When he called back, I went into my mom’s bathroom (an open bathroom – with the toilet area being behind a separate door, this was just the mirror-and-double-sinks area) and jumped up and down in silent joy. I used my my mom’s hairspray, and played around with styling my hair, and being a little spy to hear what they were talking about. Since my sister was away at a friend’s place that night, I was pretty excited to get all the inside info before she did. I heard my mom say “GODDAMNIT! THAT’S NOT FAIR! IT’S NOT FAIR!” and then I heard a thump on the floor, and silence.
I ran into the bedroom to see my mom lying on the floor, phone beside her. I picked it up and said “Dad! Mom’s on the floor! IS SHE OKAY?!?”. He said “she just passed out, it’s gonna be okay. I’ve gotta get going. Just stay by her side, and get her some water when she wakes up”.
What I know now is that my mom and dad had been talking for a few nights, and they’d both expressed interest in talking things out. My dad was busy with a new job, and said she could come out to visit him. The night of that conversation, my mom said she was ready to book a flight and figured she’d just stay at his place. That’s when he had to tell her that she couldn’t do that, as he had a new girlfriend. That’s why she screamed “it’s not fair!”, and passed out from shock. 2not for nothin’, but I feel like that’s a pretty normal reaction to hearing someone you raised a family with for 13 years has found a ...continue.
I sat by my mom’s side with a glass of water, and kept poking her and saying “mom.. wake up. mom… are you awake? mom… can you hear me?”. I was so confused. I’d never seen anyone pass out before. I only didn’t call the ambulance because I put my head against her chest and felt and heard her breathing. I decided I’d give it another 30 minutes before I called someone. Thankfully, she came to about 10 minutes later. She was all out of sorts, but thanked me for the water. She stood up, said “I need to be alone for a few minutes” and I left to go into my room.
Almost as soon as I was about to close my door, I saw my mom hurriedly walking out of her room towards the kitchen. I yelled out “do you need more water?” – thinking that’s what she was doing – but all she said was “I’M SORRY! I… NEED SOMETHING”, in a hysterical-crying tone. I decided to follow her.
When I walked into the kitchen, she was pulling a bottle of pills from out of the cupboard above the fridge. She had her glass of water, and she looked down at me and, still hysterical and crying, said “I’m sorry Mitchell… I’m sorry.. I just… I can’t. I can’t anymore. I can’t do this. I’m sorry..” and started pouring the bottle of pills into her mouth and grabbed the water, and I could hear her chewing. I didn’t know what the fuck she was doing, but I knew it wasn’t good. I jumped up and grabbed her lower jaw, and shoved my hand in her mouth, and started pulling out all the pills I could. They were falling all over. I knocked the bottle out of her hand, and dragged her to the ground, while kicking the spilled pills under the fridge as she tried grabbing them.
She broke down, crying, letting me hold her head for the first time in my life. She said “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t let you see this…”, and I lifted her up, and half-carried her to her bed. She passed out again.
I would later find out that the pills were her painkillers from the first of many pre-cancer treatments (which, I’m sad to say, didn’t stop cancer from taking her life 20 years later), and – given her diminutive size – would’ve only taken maybe 6-7 to stop her heart. There were about 40 pills left in the bottle before she tried to OD.
With her passed out on the bed, I opened her rolodex and looked for any familiar names. I found a woman named Ellie that I knew was a friend and was local, and I called her. This was probably 10pm on a Saturday night at this point, and I don’t remember what I said but I remember she said “ohhh my lord.. I’ll be right there” and she was at our house before my mom came to.
We all slept at Ellie’s place and the next day Ellie took me to what she thought was a friend’s house of mine, as per my mom’s instructions, to ask if I could stay with them for awhile. This kid was actually just someone I worked with on a school project, but who hated me and was friends with guys who bullied me.
So, while my mom recovered in some unknown place, and some unknown way, I spent a month coming home to the enemy’s lair. I don’t blame my mother for that, and I appreciate that she tried to find a place on short notice.
The last day I spent with my mom before her passing, she mentioned – as she had many times before – how sorry she was for that night, but also how proud of me she was that I took action and saved her life. I said what I’ve always said : she was the most important person in my life, and I’d always do whatever I could to protect her.
I usually try to wrap up my stories in a nice little bow, but I’m crying now and I don’t feel like saying anything else.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↩||not actually her name, but they’ve been married for over 20 years so I’m respecting her privacy|
|2.||↩||not for nothin’, but I feel like that’s a pretty normal reaction to hearing someone you raised a family with for 13 years has found a new partner a little over 2 months later|