We Used to Talk All The Time

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Can you cut toxic people out of your life if they happen to be your parent? What if it isn't their fault - what if they are just sick?

Does it make you a bad person to choose a life on your own than carrying the life of someone else? What would you do?

Fuelled by jungle juice and cheap beer, the mixer raged under the blacklights. Bass shook the house to the foundations, raining dust from the basement rafters onto the glow-in-the-dark partiers below—noise ordinances and campus po-po be damned. 

I lived for all of it. The heat of fifty bodies crammed together, mixing spit or dancing ass to crotch, was invigorating. My sweat mingled with the body paint slathered all over my torso, but it did nothing to dilute the rainbow of color I emitted. Not that I cared either way—the only color I focused on was the red of the cup on the other side of the table.

The pressure was on. The game had gone to triple overtime and gathered a crowd, but I was feeling cocky. I was somewhere between a buzz and beer muscles, ready to humiliate the steroid junkies on the other end of the table. The pong ball was light in my hands, its wet surface sticking perfectly between my fingers. I eyed the last cup and bent my knees. As smooth as a canoe on still waters, I let the ball fly. It arched beautifully as it overshot the cup by at least three feet, hitting Lindsay Schwab—possibly the hottest girl on campus—in the back of the head. She turned and leered at us, her hand wiping beer out of her matte black hair. I waved my apologies, wearing a sheepish smile. Oh shit, I might be a little drunker than I thought.

Brett gave me a playful slap on the shoulder. “Dude, that was awful. Do you need water or something?”

I crossed my arms. “I’m fine. Maybe I’m off because my back is starting to hurt from carrying your ass all game, bro.”

The steroid junkies, who were both dressed in wife-beaters, backwards baseball hats, and shorts that would have fit most of the sorority girls, high-fived each other. The tendons in their necks bulged as they screamed their war chants across the table. Steroid junkie number one, whose name was probably Brad, took a shot that landed with a plunk into my cup. Chad—steroid junkie number two—took a shot, water splashing as it landed snuggly next to Brad’s ball. 

Game over.

I drank the rest of my flat Keystone beer. “Alright, assholes, we’ll be back!”

They had already set up the cups on their side, ready for the next game. Brad laughed and leaned onto the table, most likely to flex his triceps for the entire basement to see. “Better luck next time pussies!”

I turned to Brett and leaned in to yell over the ear-rupturing music. “Do you need anything? I’m going to grab another beer.”

Brett drank what was left in his cup and handed it to me. “Yeah, please. I’m going to find Lindsay and apologize on your behalf.”

“Good luck with that. I think she’s fucking Chad or Brad. Maybe both.”

“Well, it seems like she goes for one-syllable names. I’ll try to add ‘Brett’ to that list.”

I shrugged. “I think it has more to do with the muscles, but sure, go for it.”

I left him to the hunt and made my way to the steps through the throng of sweaty bodies. There was a line to go up the stairs, so I pulled out my phone while I waited, hoping to see messages from anyone who cared to text me. I had two missed calls from my dad and a text: Call me. It's important.

 My heart skipped a beat—my dad never bothered me this late unless it was serious. I pushed my way upstairs, eliciting nasty looks.

When I finally got outside, the cold, salty air hit my lungs like I inhaled a slushie. The fraternity house, which was situated on a portion of the boardwalk overlooking the beach, throbbed from the bass of the party, so I had to step away to make the call. I dialed his number and started to pace along the boardwalk, the chill invading my bones. Angry waves crashed in the background, and the wind snapped at my back. I had forgotten I was soaking wet with body paint and it was the beginning of December.

“Hey, pops. What’s going on?”

“Hey, pal. I, uh...well, your mother is in the hospital.”

My hand flew to my head, my fingers ruining my hair. “Oh shit, what happened? Is she OK?”

“She’s stable. I got the text from Jerry about an hour ago.”

“Wait—why didn’t Jerry call me himself? Do Jess or Len know?”

“Yeah, I let them know right before you.”

“Ok. What happened?”

“She took all of her pills…”

Shivers, from the cold, the adrenaline, or both racked my body. “Wait, what? Why? What the fuck.”

My dad let out a heavy breath. “You know she’s sick, these things happen.”

“I just talked to her last week, she was fine.”

“She did it three days ago.”

“Three days ago! Why the fuck didn’t anyone tell me three fucking days ago?” I looked around to see if anyone was close by, as I realized I’d been yelling.

“Because I didn’t know how to tell you. Jerry said she changed her mind in the middle of it, puked some of it up. She was never really in danger of dying.”

I tried to keep my voice down. “So what? Shouldn’t I know right away when my mom tries to kill herself?”

“I don’t know—when it comes to your mother, it’s complicated. I don’t know if you knew, maybe she told you or something, but this wasn’t her first attempt. She tried two other times when we were married and...blamed me for it. She held me hostage with it our entire time together.”

“Are you serious? Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“There wasn’t ever a reason to. Now there is. I wanted to tell you this now because when you talk to her she may tell you her reasons for doing what she did and I need you to know it isn’t your fault.”

My stomach fell through the boardwalk planks. “Why would it be my fault? What did she say?”

“I don’t know what she said. I just know that Jerry said she was upset about something involving you leading up to that night. It might be nothing, but I wanted you to be prepared. She can be very manipulative.”

“Oh my God. What did I do? You have no idea?”

“No, Evan, I don’t. But please listen to me. She’s unwell and always has been—nothing she does is your fault, remember that.”

“I’ll try, but this is all really fucked up.”

“I know. I love you, I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Everything will be fine.”

“Ok…”

My head was in a fog, I could barely hear what he was saying. “Don’t worry about it until tomorrow, I promise I’ll be around to talk.” he said.

“Ok.”

“Ok. Night.”

“Night.”

I hung up the phone and went to the railing overlooking the beach. I was still violently shivering, but it beat walking back inside where I had to pretend everything was alright. I turned around and watched some girls smoke their cigarettes on the lawn and laugh about little things.

When my fingers started turning purple, I put my phone in my pocket and went back into the house. The music under my feet grated on my nerves. I walked through the kitchen, feeling like a ghost passing people who were still alive with the energy of a Saturday night. I reached the top of the stairs and looked down into the basement where, only fifteen minutes ago, my ignorance was still intact. I couldn’t tell if moments like these were what ripped someone from the sweetness of small world problems—like who’s fucking who and what exams you might have failed—to the real world, where the problems consisted of figuring out how to process your mom’s suicide attempts. 

The Evan of fifteen minutes ago was dead. I turned around and started the long walk home, leaving the body down in the basement.

 

In the morning, after a fitful night of sleep, I surrendered to the need to take a piss. The house was quiet. I’m sure Brett stayed out until three or four in the morning and wouldn’t be up for a while, so I snuck quietly downstairs to keep it that way. As I headed for the bathroom, I looked at my phone and saw Brett’s texts and calls from last night: 

Yo, wherea are you?

Dude, come help me out, Lindsay has friens.

Did you ducking ghost me? 

Yoiu bitch

3 missed calls - Brett PSK

I knew I’d have to come up with an excuse as to why I left. I hated the idea of dealing with pity—especially from Brett. He had become somewhat of a role model for me. Ever since I met him freshman year, he always seemed in control and I wanted that for myself. Especially right now.

After I brushed my teeth, I stared at my reflection for an uncomfortably long time. I needed a haircut badly and my beard was frazzled. My eyes were bloodshot, my lips cracked and dry.

Whatever.

I went back to my room, threw on some sweats, and headed out to find some eggs and greasy hash browns for my hangover and creeping depression. I only set one foot on the second-floor landing when Brett’s voice yelled through his bedroom door.

“Yo! Hold up!”

There was a rustling of sheets and the rattling of a pill bottle. I was weighing the options of whether to pretend I didn’t hear him and continue on, or yell an excuse and hide back up in my room. My brain moved like rusted cogs and I froze instead. His steps were unhurried as he finally made it to the door to crack it open with only his boxers on. His hair was standing straight up on one side of his head and the bags under his eyes were the shade of eggplant. Remnants of drool were on the side of his mouth.

Brett rubbed his eyes. “Where the fuck did you go last night?”

I could see someone was in his bed. Matte black hair—it was Lindsay. I backed up from the door, as if she might see my face and tell I was on the verge of tears. Then everyone would know.

My throat tightened. “I, uh…” It was as if tiny hands were strangling the bottom of my esophagus, a knot where my words couldn’t pass. My face took on a life of its own, forcing my lips into an ugly frown as tears formed in my eyes. I was embarrassed and horrified. So much for my attempt at a decent excuse.

“Dude, what’s wrong?” He stepped out, closing the door behind him. He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Yo, I’ll tell Lindsay I got something to do today and we’ll order a pizza and chill. We can talk. Ok?”

I nodded, ashamed. I put the hood of my sweatshirt up and walked back upstairs to my room. The harder I tried to push the feelings down, the harder they fought back. 

I sat on the edge of my bed, eliciting a squeak from the springs, and took my shoes off. My toes dug into the carpet. I put my head in my hands and ran my fingers through my greasy, unwashed hair as I tried to recap the last conversation I had with her. I couldn’t remember anything in particular. We talked about a book or maybe a movie, but I couldn’t place what it was since I was late for class at the time—I wasn’t super attentive. It took all of me to not claw my hair out while I wondered what I did wrong and why she thought it would be easier for her to be dead.

I tried to put myself into her shoes.

I remember her telling me what it was like to be bipolar: It was akin to being a prisoner in your own head. How you would be manic and wanted to take that trip to Florida you always wanted to, maybe go to Miami, or drive a convertible down the coast and invite your friends and have the party you always wanted, then maybe take some meth and go to the club, because you weren’t getting any younger. On the other side of the coin, the days would come where the light of the sun threatened to burn out your corneas and the idea of rolling out of bed was as appealing as an ice pick in your ear or nails on a chalkboard. Even if it was the weekend your eleven-year-old son was visiting and you promised him you would come out of your room to say “hi.” 

It was as if she donned a porcelain face and when it finally shattered under the pressure, everyone could grasp the nightmare she was living underneath. Even with the medication, life wasn’t easy. She lost her hair, her energy, and her sense of self, becoming a dull outline of what a person should feel like. And after sacrificing all that, she would still have her bad days.

Anchoring myself to the notion that she was sick helped me to forgive her. Would I have had the strength to live like that? How could anyone blame her? 

But then again. How could she blame me?

Before I could answer that question, my phone started to vibrate. It was my step-dad, Jerry. My palms were instantly covered in a sheen of sweat. I didn’t want anyone else to hear, so I ran downstairs, bounded past Brett’s room to the first floor and out the front door. The sun hurt my eyes and the broken rocks and seashells stabbed the bottom of my bare feet.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Evan. How are you? Your mother is awake and wants to speak with you.”

My teeth clenched and my temples throbbed. I wanted to embrace forgiveness, but my body demanded anger. “Ok.”

Labored breathing was coming through the earpiece. “Hi, hon.” Her speech was molasses. She only sounded like this when they upped her meds.

“Hi.”

“Thank you for letting me talk, sweetie. Len and Jess won’t talk to me. The hospital won’t let me leave, they said they need to keep me here for three days.”

“Why did you do it?”

A pause. “It was a mistake, I tried to throw them up after I realized what I was doing. Sometimes that small voice that tells you to stop isn’t there when I’m on my meds. But, then I thought of you, sweetheart. I wanted to be alive for you, be around for my baby boy.”

It was sunny out and mildly warm, but my body still found a reason to shake off chills.

“What was so bad that a little voice had to be there, anyway? What’s wrong?” 

“Nothing, it was just my meds, hon. Just my meds.”

I started to get a headache and found myself pacing. I focused on the cutting pain on the soles of my feet and kept my breathing steady. Why won’t she just fucking tell me the truth?

“Mom, please. What’s wrong? It can’t just be the meds.”

“It’s just… we used to talk all the time. Now you’re so busy and we never talk like we used to. I feel like I’m losing my son.”

There it is.

“Mom, I’m in college. I’m busy with school and the fraternity—how is that losing your son?”

“Can’t you make more time to call? Maybe come over for dinner once in a while?”

“I’m an hour and forty-five minutes away. I’d come to see you when I’m home in general. What about Len? Why don’t you call Jess? Why just me?”

“You know you’re my favorite. They don’t like to talk to me.”

It had always been like this. I’d always be in the middle—the glue between my brother, sister, and my mom because I’m the one who understood her the most.

Couldn’t they see it wasn’t her fault that she would give unwarranted and unfiltered opinions? I’m sure she didn’t mean to throw that lamp and call Jess a bitch. Why couldn’t they just entertain the idea that 9/11 was an inside job? 

Of course I was her favorite, I’m the only one who ever defended her. Even through the anger and frustration, deep down, I still wanted to defend her in this moment. Even if she was unreasonable. She was my mom. She was sick.

“Mom, look. I know how you could have done this, I know how hard it can be sometimes. But, I can’t be your only outlet. I don’t want to feel like I have to call or else you’ll hurt yourself. That’s not fair.”

“I’m sorry, Evan—” My heart knew how she would finish this sentence before my brain caught on, and it was soul-crushing, “but, you’re the only thing that keeps me going.”

It was a life sentence.

If I could see time in strands, where all the possibilities were laid out before me like a fraying wire, I would see two very distinct paths my life could take. 

One path was me ensuring that seeing and talking to my mother was a priority. It would be taking a call and excusing myself from a card game with friends or being late to dinner with my wife and her family again because I needed to drop by and say “hi” to my mother on the way home. I would live close by and always make time during the week to visit her house with the dark window shades, cat fur on every piece of furniture, and the low growlings of my step-dad as he complained about the WiFi frequencies and the Iraq war. We would eat his famous BBQ chicken and I would pretend to smile and think of things to talk about when I knew she hadn’t left the house for three weeks, chain-smoked three cartons of cigarettes before I arrived, and waited for me to give her an excuse to swallow her pills again. Every. Single. Week.

The other path was to selfishly live my life. Fly away from the nest and become a functioning adult with my own life and on my own terms. 

So, in essence, willfully choosing to kill my mother. 

There weren't any winning scenarios because she stacked the deck. It was unfair. But...she was my mom. And...she was sick.

“Do you even realize how much pressure that is?”

“I’m sorry, hon. I’m just being honest.”

I threw my hand in the air. “No, you’re being selfish!”

She coughed. I started to wonder if it was for theatrics. “Why? Because I’m asking for my son to call me once in a while? Maybe see me for dinner?”

“Stop making me sound like an asshole. Because I’m not. I talked to you just last week.”

“We used to talk almost every night. Remember? We would talk about Survivor and you would tell me about the book you were reading. Why can’t we still do that? I’m only asking for twenty minutes, Evan. I’m not asking you to talk all day.”

I threw my hands up in frustration. My grip tight around the phone for fear of chucking it into the ocean. I put the phone back to my ear. “Because I don’t want to talk to anyone every day! It’s not just you mom, I don’t want to have to call anyone if I don’t feel like talking. Why is that so hard to accept?”

“Because I’m your mother and I deserve a call.”

I felt crazy, unsure. Was I being too selfish? Was I being too harsh? This wasn’t her fault. I was so frustrated. So angry. But, maybe, after they lowered her dose, she would think differently. I had to hope.

“I don’t know, I have to think about this. This is a lot right now.”

“Ok, sweetie. I know. I’m getting tired and need to sleep. Can I call you tomorrow?”

I saw the small frayed wires of my life start to bend away right at this moment. I didn’t know which path I wanted to choose yet, so like a coward, I chose the purgatory of in-between.

“Yeah, maybe. I don’t know yet. I’m really busy, it’s finals week.”

-.

“Ok hon, I love you.”

“Ok...love you, bye,” I said with hot coals in my stomach.

I hit the end button and put the call out of its misery. I couldn’t tell if I felt better or worse. I would have sat there for hours, chewing on if I had said the right things, but then my stomach rumbled, giving me a much-needed distraction. I went to open the front door when it opened for me. It was Lindsay, she was leaving. She was wearing one of Brett’s shirts over the dress she wore last night. It was still covered in paint and smelled of stale beer. She was still the hottest girl on campus.

I moved out of the way. “Uh, hey.”

“Uh, hi.”

Awkwardness reigned.

“Ok, well I’ll see you,” she said, hurrying out the door to the parking lot. 

Watching her complete the walk of shame was like a shot to the arm. A reminder that I was entitled to have a time in my life where I could be selfish. Enjoy myself. To figure out who I was and what I wanted as an individual, maybe even have the chance to have someone like Lindsay leave my room in the dress they wore the night before. But, because my mom decided to chug her Prozac, she ended up poisoning anything I might’ve enjoyed—because I needed to think about my mother’s wellbeing first. She was clutching to me like a drowning victim pushing me underwater.

“Why are you just standing there?”

I realized I was still staring at the parking lot. I turned around to see Brett, somehow still in his boxers. I guess pants were just for the weekdays.

“Oh, sorry, I was just thinking.”

“Well it’s freezing and I’m starving. Order from Joe’s?”

“Yeah, that sounds good.” I walked inside and closed the door.

 

An hour later, after I told Brett to please take a shower and please find his pants, pizza had arrived and we went upstairs to sit on my crooked black futon. I opened the box, grabbed a slice, then blurted out, “My mom tried to kill herself and she blames me for it.”

Brett froze mid-slice grab. His eyes were wide. “Holy shit man. I thought it was something to do with a chick. Bro, that’s so heavy, are you ok?”

“I mean,” I paused to think. “No. I’m not.”

 I forced pizza down my throat. I looked down at my feet. I knew Brett would understand, it was saying everything aloud that made it so painful. In your head, it’s safe, sane. The words I had to hear fromout of my own mouth to explain everything sounded made-up and crazy, not my life. But, Brett was a good person to hear my crazy.

He dealt with his own issues, crossing the same threshold I had the other night, way earlier in his life. He was always picked on for his height, he couldn’t gain weight if his life depended on it, his parents were racist alcoholics, and he had debilitating Crohn's disease. His life wasn’t easy, but he took it by the horns and butchered it for dinner. 

Then, had women like Lindsay over for steak night. 

I needed his perspective. I told him everything and waited for his counsel.

He seemed to weigh his words before speaking. “No offense...but she sounds toxic.”

“I hear you, but think about it man, you can’t really blame her.”

“Yes, you can. You can be fucked up and not push that shit on to other people. I don’t start yelling at people when I have painful dumps.”

I shook my head. “It’s different with her. She never had a chance.”

“Everyone always has a chance, man. I’m sorry, that’s bullshit.”

I turned to him, and looked him in the eyes, as if begging him to really listen. “Not really. Look, here's where I have the most trouble with this. Her dad died when she was nineteen and it was just her mom around. My grandmother was sort of a bitch. Made fun of my mom’s weight and put her on diet pills. The pills back then were basically speed and she got hooked. She met bad friends and they turned put her onto meth. I’ll spare you the other details, but you get the point. She’s probably bipolarbi-polar because of all the drugs that her mom put her on in the first place. How can I just turn my back to someone like that?”

He put a hand on his chin. “That’s tough.”

“Yeah.”

He shrugged. “But, she shouldn’t put it all on you. It’s not your fault she had a fucked up childhood.”

I stood up. My nerves begged my muscles to twitch, so I paced. “But, I’m her son. Don’t I, like, owe her something for being my mom.”

“This will sound fucked up. But no, you don’t. We don’t get to choose who our parents are, but they do get to choose to have kids. If anything, they owe you. Maybe, we give back when they are old enough to wear diapers but this is our time to make fucked up choices. You shouldn’t still be tied to your parents.”

“Even for twenty minutes a day?”

He rubbed his temples. I could sense his frustration. “Dude, that’s up to you, but if you don’t want to talk everyday, that’s your call. Not hers. And she certainly shouldn’t hold fucking suicide over your head.”

“Maybe it’s just the drugs they have her on now. I don’t think—”

“Didn’t your dad say the same thing? She held him hostage?”

“Well, yeah but—”

Brett was known to have a short temper. It wasn’t necessarily pointed my way, but when it got close to shorting out, the air would waver with his energy.

“Evan. Stop. You’re just making excuses and it’s fucking bullshit. I don’t give a fuck if we are talking about your mom or the girl the who’s sucking your dick. That behavior is fucking toxic and you need to accept that or you’ll end up miserable and alone because your life will consist of making your mom happy and not yourself.”

He was like an angry Buddhah. And he was right. But, sometimes you can hear the truth but never feel it settle in your bones.

“I know you’re right, I just can’t stop feeling like shit.”

“Do yourself a favor and give yourself some time. Go to class, hit some girls up for some dates, be a fucking college student and call her in a few days. She’s in the hospital, she’s not going anywhere. She’s safe for now.”

And that’s what I did.

For the next few days, I tried to focus on my life. I went to class, got lunch with some of the other fraternity brothers, and tried—unsuccessfully—to set up a date with some of Lindsay’s friends. 

My mom did call, but I ignored it.

She left three minute messages and I ignored it.

Sometimes, she would call four times in a row. And...I ignored it.

I owed it to myself to get some space, but by Wednesday, the pressure built up so intensely I felt as if I couldn’t breath. I had images of her stealing pills from the nurse, or tying her bedsheets up in the night. Of her escaping and running into traffic, her last thoughts fixated on how her youngest son didn’t love her enough to care. It didn’t matter if it was actually true—it wouldn’t stop her from feeling that way. I was a source of pain for someone I loved and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

That afternoon, I ended up skipping my bio class. I went to the outskirts of campus where there was a stone bridge overlooking a small stream. It was surrounded by giant oak trees. I found a spot by one of the trees and leaned against the trunk, drinking in the soothing sounds of the water babbling over rocks. I pulled out my phone and held it like a loaded gun.

I went to my messages and played the most recent.

“Hi, sweetheart. I don’t know why you’re ignoring me, but it breaks my heart. All I have ever done is love you. My sweet sweet boy. I meant what I said. You’re the only thing that keeps me here in this physical plane. My body is breaking down and my mind is getting worse, but I stay here so that I can see you and talk to you. But, I want you to know I’m not scared, I know what awaits me when I die and it’s ok. If you decide that you want nothing to do with me and that I would take up too much time in your life, then I can’t see how I can continue to live. Jerry is ok, but he won’t keep me here. He’s not enough, and neither is Jess or Len. They hate me. Everyone hates me. But, I thought I could at least count on you. I love you, I’ll see you in the next lifetime, Evan.”

I put the phone down, my arms numb. I sat there, staring at the immense oaks trees, thinking about the crossroad that demanded my decision.

I went into my backpack and took out an index card. I wrote:

She’s toxic. You did the right thing.

I folded it and put it into my wallet.

For the next year, I would occasionally take out my wallet and unfold my reminder. My mom didn’t try to kill herself again like she said—at least as far as I had been told. She would occasionally send me lyrics or a poem from Jerry’s email, since I blocked hers, but overall she kept her distance.

Life had been tainted for me. A heavy shadow accompanied me everywhere I went, whether it was to class, to a party, or on a date. It would ask me questions, whispering into the back of my mind, where I tried to lock the mounting guilt that threatened to spill over:

“Do you think she’s still alive?”

“Do you think she’s crying?”

“Would you ever forgive yourself if the last thing she ever thought about was you?”

 


Submitted: June 08, 2021

© Copyright 2021 EeeBee. All rights reserved.

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