Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Basement

January has been a tough month for me so far.  It marked three decades since I've called someone mom.  That hit me a little harder than I anticipated.  75% of my life has been spent motherless and I am not even 40 yet.  I think back about my childhood and I have very few memories of my first nine years.  I've come to learn that growing up with and being cared for by a mother who is suffering from undiagnosed mental illness doesn't really lend itself to a ton of happy, picture perfect memories.

I've shared before that while my mom loved us, she wasn't able to really be present, ever really.  She was almost always checked out or cleaning something furiously.  I find that I struggle in making sure I don't walk that same road.  When I think of her marriage with my dad, I think of it as a nine year old.  I am not really sure what I was seeing.  I know that they loved each other.  I know that my mother struggled to love herself and that made her tough to love.  I know that my dad tried his best.  I know that for her, that was never going to be enough.

A memory that has been kind of haunting me this month is of my dad digging a basement.  We began life in a mobile home, and my mom wanted a house.  My dad made that happen.  He built on to the trailer as we lived in it, and you'd never know it was once a trailer.  Next she wanted a basement, I can remember them fighting about the basement and upcoming garage project.  There wasn't money to do these things, but my dad wanted nothing more than for my mom to be happy.  Maybe if he dug that basement, she'd finally be happy.

So he dug.  He dug, and he dug and he dug, under an existing house, he brought the dirt out by the wheel barrow full.  Every day he'd come home from work and he'd dig.  He would wake up on weekends and he'd dig until dark and then he'd park the car so that he could dig in the light of the headlights.  As a kid it was glorious.  There was dirt EVERYWHERE.  He dug the entire thing by hand until he could start hauling in the concrete and block, because of the existing house above all of this also done by hand and wheel barrow.  I can only imagine now as an adult his sheer exhaustion, I do recall them arguing, but I don't really ever recall him complaining.

Once the basement was done, he began the garage.  The garage was going to have bedrooms above it.  My sister and I were excited that we were going to get our own rooms, brand new rooms painted in our favorite colors.  Mine would be pink and hers purple.  Those bedrooms never got finished while we lived in that home because one night, my mom made a plan to end her suffering.  She sent us to the neighbor's and she walked the steps to that basement that my dad dug with his hands in hopes of making her happy.  She entered the ceramics workshop he'd built for her so she could spend her time doing things she enjoyed. She picked up the gun she had recently bought for him that he'd had out on the table down there for cleaning and she ended it.

She ended all of it.  EVERY bit of life as we knew it.  Nothing would ever be the same again.  She would hurt no more, but the rest of us?  We'd live with her choices for the rest of our lives.  She used the space my dad painstakingly dug in hopes of helping her to finally be happy and I guess in a round about way she found her peace there.

I try so hard not to harbor anger toward her.  I understand depression, I understand mental illness.  I wish she'd taken time to understand the scars she imposed on every person who loved her.  EVERY person who thought back and tried to figure out how they missed the signs, how they could have helped her, every person who to this day lives with guilt and feels partially responsible.  She doesn't suffer anymore but 30 years later we sure do.

I wish she understood the simple blessing of just showing up, of being present.  Her presence has been missed so deeply.  The truth is that there is NOTHING anyone could have done to make her happy.  Her unhappiness was rooted so deep, largely from her own childhood trauma that no one could reach it and in her desperate need to put on a facade of perfection no one REALLY knew.  I am only learning now that I knew.  She shared a lot with me, burdening my young heart with things it did not understand.  I carried her truths with me after she lost the battle.  It has taken me three decades to process most of the first nine years of my life, her trauma becoming my trauma in a dark and suffocating cycle.

The good news is that the cycle ends there.  I will not follow in those footsteps.  I will continue to be self aware and ask for help when I need it.  I will NOT be ashamed for taking medication that balances my brain allowing me to live a healthier life.  No one else is responsible for my happiness.  That responsibility is my choice.  Some days I do a better job than others and all days I struggle, but I refuse to allow that cycle that has been continued through generations to continue with my children.  It ended in that basement. I will fight with my every breath to do better for my own kids.

I know my dad beats himself up and punishes himself daily for what he perceives as his failure, for not saving her.  I hope one day he'll see that while he wasn't able to save her, and while he'll always ache for her, probably regretting ever even building that damn basement, I don't know because he won't speak of any of it, but her death in that basement may be what saved me.  Without her ever getting help, and continuing the way things were going, I am not entirely sure I would have been able to shoulder it all.  We can't change the past but we sure can do our best to know better and do better and I will continue that quest for all of my life. 

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