I'm sitting down to write just now because I'm not sure what else to do with these hours awake and alone so late at night. I received a call from the funeral home today in Jacksonville about my mother. Her body is still at the Medical Examiner's office. Because I am extremely unsure about this life insurance policy that she purchased last year I cannot give her the funeral that would have been my first choice: that I think all people should have when they die. Just a clean, respectful end to things. My father, God love him, despite all the craziness and hurt she caused him - basically forcing him to raise me on his own and without contributing one dime to that process - actually offered to allow me to bury her in his section of grave plots right in our hometown. So if I had an extra $12K lying around I'd do just that, but I don't. Instead, I referred her to the indigent burial program the city of Jacksonville has for people of limited means. Apparently though that won't work either because my very lower middle class salary at the hospital disqualifies her. What this means is I have to pony up the $920 or "abandon the body" and allow Jacksonville to cremate her and spread the ashes, after a whole year passes, in their memory gardens after they ring a bell and say her name.
Is a box of ashes worth $920?
Right now, I'm in total self-preservation mode and I think no. I think this woman did not raise me and she let me down over and over and over again in my life. I can remember days where I sat and waited for the phone to ring because she said she would call. Sometimes it would ring, but mostly it wouldn't. I remember the wretched smell of cigarette smoke every time I got near her, usually on the one visit a year that started around age 8, but wasn't every year. I wanted her to love me, to see me, to hold me in some important spot in her life and she just couldn't.
The drugs got her through it.
Two years ago I had her in my home for two entire weeks at Christmas. She nearly drove me bananas with the television being on ALL THE TIME. Watching her and Hal fight over the remote was kind of funny, but all in all, I was very uncomfortable with her here even though on some kind of level in my head I knew I needed to do it. Even when Christmas morning arrived she was too sleepy to watch Sarah open her presents. But at one point during her visit I asked her why she did the drugs - and she flat out admitted that it was because she was trying her best to forget me.
I believe her. Because I very much felt forgotten. I very much felt different from all the other kids at school because I had no mother, because my mother had (gasp) left me - like bad penny. She'd just disappeared.
Last night I found in one of her albums a picture of me taken the day after I was born. Oh the serious look on my newborn face. It's like my soul knew I was in for a wild, complicated, sad to the bones kind of roller coaster ride and my face reflected that from day one. Here we go. Next to that was picture of a very young Gina holding a baby. My heart leapt at
the thought that it might actually be the first photo I'd ever seen of
her holding me as a baby. But then I realized the baby wasn't me. And
my Dad looked at it today and said "nope it's not you." There's not one single
picture of her holding me as an infant. Of her owning me as her child, her baby, her
responsibility. It was simply never meant to be that way.
The summer I was fourteen I moved down to Jacksonville to LIVE with
her. Three weeks into my visit, she'd raided my savings account and
then overdosed on drugs. She couldn't handle being my mother. There was
just no way in hell she could actually contribute to my life in any
meaningful way beyond giving birth to me. I remember vividly sitting in
her hospital room and watching the EKG machine flatline a couple of
times. Obviously she survived, and did some time in a mental facility.
Then a few weeks later when the rest of my family figured out what
happened, one of my aunts took me on the long ride back to Georgia -- with
all my stuff -- and with a very empty feeling inside.
In my mid twenties I spent $99 on a plane ticket to have her come visit. She stayed with me for all of two days, and was mostly drugged during that time too. She was too out of it to even meet my friends. After the second day she had me take her out to the country so she could spend time with her cousins and that's where she stayed for the rest of her time in Georgia. It's like she broke my heart all over again and took advantage of my kindness. Every single time I let her in, I got squashed like a bug. There was my heart.
The night of her birthday this year I got home around 7 and fully intended to call her but my dad called first. She beeped in and left a message and I called her back immediately. Our conversations in my adult life were 85% about her. Once again she dominated the talking and was going on and on about this PBS program she was watching. She wanted the companion book for her birthday. I agreed to get it for her. After about a half hour of her talking I told her I had to get Sarah taken care of and in bed and that I'd call her back after I did. Sure enough, 2 hours later when Sarah was asleep I felt that pulse in my chest - call her it said. But I did not want to. I mean, I really didn't. I don't necessarily know why I didn't, and I feel guilty for it now, but I didn't want to talk to her any more that night. But again I felt that tug at my heart and I called her just long enough to let it ring once before I hit "end" and hung up. Thankfully, she called me back. And we did talk, for almost another hour. I love you was the last thing I said to her. From what I can tell now, she was dead a mere 48 hours later. That damn book she wanted was in my barnes and noble shopping cart on my phone. I'd planned to call her back to ask what other book I could add to it so we'd get free shipping. And there it sits. I'll delete it out of the cart at some point.
Step by step I'm dismantling her earthly existence. We packed up her apartment, and we gave lots of stuff away. Her cat lies here under my feet, happily purring, free of cigarette smoke for the rest of his days. One by one I'll cancel her credit accounts. One by one I'll call her doctors and let them know. I've already started it because this is what she left me with. A great big mess. One by one, erase, erase, erase. Clear up, take away, write off, and delete all the earthly accounting of the mother who could never really be.
But then there's this furniture here in my house, and the not-so-faint smell of cigarettes that go with it, now a constant reminder that she's gone but yet here still. Kind of like when I was a child. Always a part of me but never really there. Something I wanted but couldn't ever have.
What do I do with all of this? For a while I think I need to sit with the final stage of my grief. Final because all my life I've grieved her in some way or another. Even as she lived I never really had her. Now that she's gone I'm the only one who's here to take all the things she left behind.
For now I'll sit with the sad. Then hopefully I can take the sad and turn it into something useful for myself, and for others. It's the only way I can right her wrongs to me. Live my life and make it mean something to me and to others even if it didn't mean enough to her.