When you hear something enough times you start to believe it. Especially when it comes from your own mother. I believed everything she told me, everything she called me. Even if it hurt me. In the beginning all I wanted was her attention. Being a middle child and the only girl, it’s difficult to receive any of the supposedly shared attention. At 11 years old, I thought my mother was supposed to be my best friend. The one I talk to about mean girls at school. The one who braids my hair. The one who teaches me about becoming a young lady. That’s what moms are for, right?
We were never close, but I have always lived with my mom. I depended on her to be both my mother and father when my dad was in prison. Everything was normal. At least for awhile.
The first year was easy. Nobody knew she had a problem. Including her. By year two, my oldest brother began to catch on that there was a serious complication. She denied everything. I wanted to deny it as well. I didn’t want to believe my mother, of all people, was an alcoholic.
My younger brother was nine, so he didn’t really understand why she got the way she did sometimes. I wished I was too young to understand it as well. Unfortunately, I understood exactly what this meant. No more friends could sleep over. No more Mom coming to Parents’ Day at school. And worst of all, no more Mom.
My brothers and I were able to keep her sober enough to go to work and drive – until late fall, when she lost her job. After that, we depended on my brother to drive us to school, fix us dinner, and help us with homework. He was only 16. I felt bad and wished I could have done more. But he always told me, “T, this is nobody’s fault but hers, and I’m so sorry she targets you. If I could change it, I would take that bullet.” Targets me? There are bullets?
I figured out what he meant.
“You’re just a cry baby.” She blew her vile breath right in my face. I remember crying. She was right. I was just a cry baby. Sitting there with her face so close to mine was terrifying. I hated her like this; I wanted my normal mother back. Not my drunk one.
I was usually able to avoid her during her drinking spells, but I got caught right in the middle this time. Sleep was no longer a normalcy to me: her constant sobbing kept me awake. Her room was off limits, especially during those spells. So the living room it was.
As I wept, I recall the large cushion on the chair swallowing me alive. I wished the chair would have. I wanted to be anywhere but there. Suddenly, her crying stopped. I assumed she had finally fallen asleep and I wouldn’t see her until morning, when she would be hungover and not remember anything.
I was wrong.
She walked slowly to the chair where I sat. I could smell the alcohol on her breath. “What do you think you’re doing?” she asked me, while trying to keep her balance.
“Mom,” I sighed. “ Can we not do this again tonight? I couldn’t sleep so I came out here. Let me help you back to bed.” I started to get up from the chair.
“Don’t, ” she snapped.
“Mom, please …” I tried to reason with her. Now inches from my face, I saw a woman who was no longer my mom, but simply a mother. I saw the wrinkles around her cold eyes and her many freckles popping out against her sickly, pale skin. I began to weep. This is not my mother.
I would have given anything to go back to the days when I was too little to know divorced families were a thing. To the days when I only cared about my friends and riding bikes after school. To the days before my mother ever took a sip of her poison.
My mom’s alcoholism made my early adolescent years a nightmare. Police would come to our house looking for my mom because my grandma was worried. We were evicted because she struggled to get a job while she was drunk. I can’t count the number of times I thought my mom was dead when she passed out, the wasted version of her lying on the floor unresponsive. All these things happened to her, but they affected my siblings and me more.
I lived my life from the back seat. Never once had I been afraid of dying. I had thought when the crash came, I’d be safe in my backseat and seat belt. Even if she wasn’t actually driving, she was always the driver when it came to her children’s lives. When the driver is drunk, things don’t feel so safe. I believe my mom hated this version of herself as much as I did.
One evening my brother was driving us home after picking my mom up from work. “Just drive straight into that pole. At least we’ll all die together.” No hint of sarcasm could be heard in my mother’s voice.
She wanted out. She needed out. Was this the only way?
“Mom! Don’t say that!” we responded.
Fear began to knock on my door. My roof was caving. The ground crumbling beneath my trembling feet. Windows of hope shattering. My safety, my heart, my home, was set on fire in that moment. She struck the match. Was she actually willing to die? With us in the car too?
My brother was not persuaded to veer off the road that day. For that I am thankful. My mother had every intention of dying that afternoon. I am not sure why she thought this was the answer. She was a very strong, intelligent woman before the drinking began. When the drink is filled with dread, hate, and uncertainty, I suppose reality begins to alter. I have never hated anyone or anything, except the woman my mother was when she drank.
My brothers and I still talk to each other about how our lives used to be. So much has changed in these past five years. Now, I live with my father and only see my mother once in awhile. It is better this way. I forgave my mom for everything she put me and my siblings through, and we are building a stronger relationship. Yes, I miss her. After all, she is my mom.
It’s been two months since her last drink.
How long until she does it again? What finally made her stop? Can we be normal again?
All these questions I cannot answer, but I could not be more proud of her today.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.