My husband and I sat at our undersized dining room table across from an escrow agent in a mismatched room ragged at the corners from being both over a hundred years old and a rental home for thirty. The woman’s low voice skimmed over the stack of contracts one by one though none of her words stuck.
The rhythm of my heart beat distracted my mind from paying attention. Going from renting to home ownership at age 24 should have been exciting, but it wasn’t. I went through the entire process kicking and screaming. I wasn’t doing myself any favors with perspective or my unwillingness to cooperate with bank procedures. The truth was, I wasn’t in tune with my inner track because I was unknowingly ignoring it.
As I cast empty signature after another, my dinner fought to stay in my stomach. I was falling apart at the seams. I told myself I was being dramatic and constructing disastrous scenarios out of past memories. I was thinking the worst. Signing the papers meant that the house big enough for my parents and brother to live in with us would be ours. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of my new healthy family sharing the roof with my old and broken one.
Exactly a year ago to the day I had received a call from mom that temporally brought me back into their family years after I jumped ship. That particular moment is one of those memories that if I close my eyes and focus just enough, every sight and smell can be played back exactly the way it happened. My husband and I were playing Magic the Gathering, the kids who were two under three at the time had just finally fallen asleep. Sally, our golden retriever, as a puppy, was asleep by my feet. The moment was peaceful; we had just gotten into a stride where every day ran a little smoother. During the third round of the game, my phone rang. I didn’t answer. My phone buzzed, indicating a voicemail and I went back to playing cards with my husband. Not even five minutes later the phone rang again. Another voicemail. I finally checked it after the fourth call. It was my mother. She didn’t call much, but when she did there was always something wrong. I sighed and told my husband who it was. The messages were pieces of a cracked voice, but all the words were indecipherable. After a glass of wine and a few stubborn moments later I called her back.
All of my procrastinating and unwillingness to talk to her slapped me in the face the moment she said dad had a stroke; he was convulsing on the floor, and an ambulance was bringing him to the hospital. I sat down carefully on the sofa and patiently listened to the recount of the situation numerous times. When my mother was upset, she often lost count of what she was saying. Sadness and self-disdain clouded my mind as she continued. I was able to grab pieces like, “Your brother is on his way to the hospital” and “He was laying unconscious on the floor,” but most everything else was bubbling around with a brewing storm of emotion I wasn’t prepared to have to handle.
Years after I made my escape from that toxic environment, I got on a plane to help out.
My husband and children stayed back in Seattle, and I headed back to my childhood home. Everything was a mess. It was hard to believe that things had unraveled so much since I had last been there. The floors encrusted with dirt, the walls stained, piles of stuff lined the walls. It seemed like every surface was crowded with prescription bottles. It felt strange to be there as a visitor. I slept in my old room even caught up with some high school friends one night. My dad was alive but forever altered. I wasn’t sure how to feel. He was still unconscious when I get on a plane back to my real life. He eventually came to but had no ability to speak or to use one side of his body. My father was the only one who did anything in that house. He was the only one with a job, the only one who paid the bills, the one who did all the chores, took care of the pets, and what was most draining was the people he cared for.
In a thousand different ways he enabled them, but even so, I believe it came from a place of well-meaning. It didn’t take my mother and brother long to spend the remaining money and lose the house. In fact, it took less than eight months…around the time my husband and I were looking to buy our first home.
Time is a funny thing. Once enough time passes, memories get muddled, your looking at things with a different wisdom. As I struggled through the early years of parenthood, I couldn’t help but continue to feel that I was part of the problem growing up. I often felt guilty for leaving, for raising a family that they didn’t have access to. I felt like I wasted the little amount of time I had with my dad, as himself. So what did I do?
My husband and I talked about it, and we agreed that we had to do something, they had to live somewhere. We were buying a house anyway, instead of the purchasing a smaller place in the city, we started looking outside the city at bigger houses. When we pitched the idea, my mother didn’t want to, but my brother said they had no other choices. Signing the mortgage papers wasn’t about buying a new house, it was wondering if I was making a terrible mistake.
After all the shit and all the tears, my parents and older brother were standing in the house my husband and I bought. In that isolated moment when they first arrived after driving all the way across the country, I felt proud to present it.
My mother scoffed and said, “This won’t be big enough.”
It only took threes week for everything to explode, only one until I learned they never had an intention of staying. We were just a stop, in the part of their plan.
Every day was something, just like it always was with them. Another scheme. A series of blowouts. Her negative energy and abusive personality wasn’t better, in fact, it was worse, and it was not only directed at me but my husband and kids.
I was devastated. I wracked my brain, trying to figure out why they weren’t grateful. It was never more clear that keeping her out of my young, growing family was exactly what she wanted. There was no interest in getting know my kids or the man that I married. I felt like the biggest fool. How could I have been so naive?
Depending on the sequences of events during a certain time period it can really affect the feeling of how long that time feels. After a couple of weeks of outbursts and prescription medicine left in the reach of my children, and I was boiling beneath my skin. It became obvious that my brother, the guy the would steal your television and make you feel good about it, was up to something, but we didn’t know what.
I felt like a shell of who I used to be. Honestly, I aged years in those few weeks. I realized very early on in their arrival that we had made a huge mistake, but I had no idea how to fix it. I would just lay awake in bed wondering not only how did I let this back into my life, but that I brought into my children’s too. I couldn’t string two thoughts together. My brand new house suffocated in negativity. The thick fog of shit was the exact film I remember on everything growing up.
The last day I saw them was a Wednesday. I had made cookies. My three-year-old daughter kept coming back for more. My mother snapped at her and said, “You eat that many cookies, and you’ll be fat. No one loves fat people.”
At that moment I felt nothing like the child who once stood before her. I, myself was a mother. I told her that I couldn’t have that kind of behavior in my house. She turned and walked down the hallway. The three of them packed and left by dinner. I have never seen or heard from them since. The opportunity for me take care of my dad gone, as they carted him away.
This time of year always makes me think about that time. It feels strange now to be so removed from it, so free from it, when I used to be so wrecked by it. The feeling that I brought my childhood to my children was more than I could take. At first, I balled up, let the house become theirs for the first bit while I wallowed in defeat before I saw the damage it was quickly doing.
Standing up and saying this couldn’t happen took out a part of me and replaced with a different piece.
There are few moments one can point to and say that moment right there changed me forever, but that was definitely one.