A little over ten years ago, I sat down to write her eulogy, which (as Mom was a long-time teacher) appropriately discussed all the things she taught me in the twenty-two years I was given with her.
And as this first decade passes, it hits me that I have lived another half of that short portion of time. A brutal realization that, when ruminated upon, has the potential to really do a number on my spirit. But, Mom was never one to ruminate. She liked to think of each experience as a chance to learn. So, in the spirit of her courage, thirst for knowledge, and decade-old eulogy, I share with you the lessons I’ve learned in her absence, albeit not without her influence.
Life rarely ends up resembling the vision we’ve created for ourselves, but what do we really know in the grand scheme of things?
You should never fear being yourself. A bigger fear should always be inauthenticity.
Above all, to achieve your dreams you must be tenacious. Statistically speaking, things are bound to work out if you keep at them.
Although dreams should be pursued, it’s often the things you don’t think you need that end up being the most conducive to growth.
Success in life should not be measured by financial freedom, or other societal parameters. It should be measured by your ability to find value in your journey, especially when it seems inherently lost.
The grass often looks greener on the other side, but much of the time that’s just a trick of the light. In reality it’s greenest where it’s tended to best, so take care.
Sometimes the hardest conversations you can have, or the toughest actions you can take, are the only ones that’ll make anything better.
Live in the moment as much as you possibly can. Our time is simply a long series of moments woven together. If you wait until its finished to admire its intricacies, you’ll miss out on the process and much of the details.
No matter how alone you may feel, the fact is you’re not (you know, statistics and all). Someone out there understands and will appreciate knowing that they’re not alone either.
Life will never be without loss or pain, but that should not keep you from living. In fact, heartache is what allows us to see just how sweet the good times are.
A child’s appreciation and love for their parent knows no boundaries, even after death. And, if we work to keep our loved one’s legacies alive, there’s no way for their absence to be resolute either.
I love you more today than I ever have before, Mom. Hope you’re taking good care of Mike, and the other newer arrivals. <3
It’s a funny thing, being a winner. Even saying it – the act alone leaves me with a heavy pit in my stomach. I spent such a large portion of my life honoring a very opposing schema, and to promote any other image of myself seems like a big, fat life.
Yet, five years ago (less a few weeks) I experienced one of my all-time favorite life experiences in which I was (momentarily) the ultimate winner. I had the chance to appear on CBS’s “Let’s Make a Deal.” And I won. I won big. Within a few seconds of the show beginning, I had been selected from the audience and – shockingly – presented with a brand, new car to take home with me! So, why is it that when the final showcase began (the segment when the biggest winners are given a chance to gamble away their prizes for potentially bigger prizes) did I eagerly give away the CAR that I had just won? I think that might be one of the most common questions I’ve ever received.
As I alluded before, if someone had asked me if I was a winner during my childhood, I would have likely responded, “Oh no, not at all.” Then my cheeks would have feverishly burned with embarrassment. My brother would have piped up and said, “I’m the winner. I win everything.” And he did. He always won any contest he entered. I often hid myself in his shadow so as not to face my fear of rejection. Now, as an adult, it’s undeniable to me that I am in fact a winner. I mean, who else can say they’ve won a car, concert tickets, writing contests, an in-home sauna, a high-resolution camera, household items, a high-end car seat, tons of baby paraphernalia, etc? Not many. And it makes the small portion of younger Amy that still exists blush even more, admitting that I’ve experienced all this good fortune in my adult life. But the question remains – what is the difference between adult me and child me?
Simple: as a child, I was a loser in the truest sense because I never even allowed myself to enter the race. I psyched myself out long before any attempt at success was made.
So, that day on “Let’s Make a Deal” I had hoped that I would win more – I mean, how often do you find yourself on the receiving end of a brand new car? For FREE? And if life is THAT crazy, why couldn’t I walk away with more? I mean, how often would I find myself in that same position? Probably never. So, I seized the opportunity while I had it. I put myself out there. And that, my friends and readers, is the reason I am a winner now. Walking away with a sauna, despite a massive drop in prize worth, was still amazing to me. I don’t think, “Shit, I could have had a car.” I think, “Wow. What an experience! I won a sauna.”
And life has a funny way of proving this to be true. Call it statistics, call it luck – its simply this: the more you put yourself out there, the higher the chance that you’ll win. “I never win anything.” I’ve heard that a million times. I’ve said it far more times than I can count. But I bet right after you proclaimed those self-defeating words, you decided not to enter the race/raffle/audience/whatever. Thus, the secret to winning, is simply allowing yourself to face the possibility of failure.
Performed on October 7th, 2016 in Silverlake, CA as part of the live stage show, “Expressing Motherhood”
As Mitch Albom once wrote, “There’s a story behind everything… But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.”
Naturally, my story of motherhood begins with my mom’s. My father and mother were married relatively young and only a few years into their union, Dad cheated. He soon left her and abandoned us; I never grew up with a father figure of any type. In my household, Mom epitomized strength, perseverance, and love. She was a strong character who led by example and taught my brother and I the value of family, hard work, diligence, and honesty.
My brother began to exhibit signs of mental illness in his teen years. Mom did everything she could to get him help, but with a full-time job and two children to care for on her own, this task was nearly impossible. Thus, my brother’s condition worsened over the years. So did the consequent abuse Mom and I faced. He became an expert at funneling all his rage into an emotional warfare against Mom and I. She did a great deal to shield me from the pain and hurt of his violence, but Mom never stopped caring about him or doing everything in her power to help.
After a rather trying and tumultuous childhood, I went to college, and even though I lived at home, I was able to distance myself from the abuse. Time went on and as my brother regressed, I flourished. I can clearly remember an intimate moment I shared with Mom when I was around twenty-one. I had climbed into bed with her after a fraternity party. I snuggled into her (I was quite obviously the little spoon) and told her how much I loved her. I told her that she had been the topic of our drunken conversation at the fraternity house; my sorority sister had told me how much she had wished her own mother was like Mom. At that point, Mom started crying and sharing with me how much that meant to her. She allowed herself to be vulnerable for the first time in my life, and bared her soul to me. She expressed how hard our life together had been for her. She told me how excruciatingly difficult it was to believe in herself when she thought of herself as a failure. We talked all night. This would be one of my favorite memories of her ever; a few months later our ability to make anymore would be stolen.
On September 25th, 2007, three weeks after I graduated college, my brother murdered my mother. I came home to find her lying on the kitchen floor. My brother had escaped and then confessed everything to me over the phone. I should have known he had been telling the truth, but part of me was hoping this was just another one of his manipulative lies. Devastatingly, it was not. My life changed forever that night.
After her death, I floated through life. I had no ties to anyone or anything, and lost my value for everything. The person who had loved me more than life itself was absent, and thus I felt terribly unloved. In turn, I found it impossible to allow myself any type of love or happiness. As far as I knew, I deserved nothing of the sort.
Despite this, I met my husband-to-be a few months later. He accepted me and my flaws, even though I was figuratively scarred and beaten. Allowing myself to be loved was difficult, yet we still ended up on the fast track towards marriage. Eventually I became pregnant a couple years after our nuptials. My entrance to motherhood, despite being somewhat joyful, was extremely tainted. I was jealous of all my girlfriends who had their mother to guide them through the process. I felt alone and broken.
Then I had my daughter and life changed forever yet again. With her birth I was initiated into this – mostly – magical world of Motherhood. A world filled with infinite boo-boo kisses and bear hugs, side-splitting laughter, the most painful of tears, the ability to finally be the big spoon, (yay!) and a connection that transcends everything I’ve ever known up until now. Becoming a mother myself has allowed me to understand the unconditional love Mom felt for both Jesse and me. I had never quite understood how my mother put up with all that my brother dished out for us, but I am quickly learning. My hatred and anger has melted and morphed into acceptance. This acceptance has allowed me to find a semblance of peace and balance in my chaotic world.
As of now, Jesse is in maximum security prison, serving a sentence of fifteen years to life. I’d like to think he’s being rehabilitated, but over his last nine years in a correctional facility he’s added attempted murder to his rap sheet and tacked on a few more years to his time there. I do not speak to him, nor do I have the desire to. But over time that may change, just as everything else has.
I originally answered this question on my blog almost two years ago, but in honor of the many lives a shooter stole today, I thought I would repost it. This conversation MUST happen.
*A quick disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on this subject. I have no impressive degree from an Ivy League school. However, I grew up in a household in which one of three of its members was filled with a hatred so compelling it sparked violence. Thus, Id like you to consider my theory on the subject as a result of a twenty-two year case study. So, why did my brother come out the way he did?
I am a firm believer that no one is born with the desire to hurt others. We, as humans, naturally need each other to survive. Some of us may be more genetically inclined to be aggressive, but our relationship with others is purely social. So, why is it that some can ruthlessly murder others while others dedicate their lives to improving society? I believe the difference is simple: attachment.
I have been told Jesse seemed “different” as early as the age of three. This was the age my father left our family. This was the same year I was born. The same year my mother was forced to become a single mother. All of these factors would change someone. I have a child who is now just over three. I feel the incredibly strong attachment we have to each other – if I left her now, I am sure it would effect her infinitely. It would cause a little piece of her to disappear – her confidence, stability, and feeling of security in the world would lessen.
But would it cause her to hate others indefinitely? To lash out and desire to hurt people? I don’t believe so. But, imagine the pain she would feel if she was faced with several other experiences similar to this. Times when other people abandoned her or let her down. The more isolation she feels, the less empathy she would possess.
This was my brother’s case.
He was short, he was teased, he was never really accepted by his classmates. He was ostracized for characteristics that were out of his control. He had been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome as a young child, his tics making him seem even less “normal” than he already was. His behavior became more deviant as time went on, as his laundry list of diagnoses increased. He began to get into fights at school. He was angry and volatile. His school did nothing; this was not in the sensitive days of late. Back then it was “kids will be kids,” and “Do you think he’s cut out for school? Maybe he should get his CHSPE.”
So, in short, as he entered young adulthood and attempted to find connections, everyone but my mother told him he wasn’t worth the trouble. Mom believed in him infinitely. She knew he was capable of so much more than what people had begun to expect of him. The pressure to meet my mother’s standards despite everyone else’s grew too much for him, and he attempted suicide. Twice. And then within a short amount of time, his violent attempts were re-directed at Mom and me (but mostly Mom).
In middle school, I watched these trials. I watched society tell Mom what was doing wrong. I watched society tell my brother how much less value he held because he was different, and how he ought to behave to fit in. I watched them both fail over and over, and everyone around them show them how they were screaming up instead of offering help. It was nearly unbearable for me to witness; I cannot even begin to conceive how hard it was for both of them to go through.
Their increasingly tenuous relationship forced Jesse to leave home for a bit. Unfortunately, his stint away delivered him into a volatile military career. It only took a few months before it came to a screeching halt and his mental illnesses became apparent; he had chosen to stop concealing them under the duress of boot camp. He somehow exited with honorable discharge, and still, very little mental health benefits. Upon his return home to Mom he felt even angrier and isolated.
And, to make an incredibly long and painful history shorter, after twenty-five years of being told he was different, feeling little connection to those around him, and being attached to nothing but his desire to make people feel as little as he had all his life, Jesse killed my mom.
But, quite often people like Jesse hurt strangers. They pack their cars with guns and their minds with plans, and execute others while they’re at school, sitting in movie theaters, or celebrating their freedom. Because people like Jesse, who have never really attached to anyone soundly, often feel the need to show others just how awful this isolation can feel. That’s where the hatred comes from.
So, what can we do to change this? The solution does not lie in any one person’s control. It is not solely our government’s job to restrict guns more. It is not only about how a parent has failed their deviant child. It’s less about guns and parenting (although stricter laws on both cannot hurt our children more than the guns literally have).
This is about love. No matter if you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Islamic, Atheist, Greek Orthodox, Agnostic, Democratic, or Republican. No matter your gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic level, our duty as humans is to help others. To open our hearts to others and aide those in pain and in need. Allowing people to feel part of the human race or tribe, rather than an anomaly or a member of a smaller, less important faction, that is what will end the hatred.
As the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing, “Red black or white, This is my fight, Come on courage, Let’s be heard, Turn feelings, Into words.” Let’s start a dialogue that allows the pained to be heard and the isolated to feel accepted. Then, and only then, will we see the hatred begin to melt away. And until we can open our hearts, stay safe, everyone.
Let me introduce myself. I’m Amy Beth Chesler: a storyteller and lover of food, laughter, & adventure. I chose to title my blog “This House of Love” because Amy Beth can be loosely translated into that phrase. My mom assembled this name for me with the help of my then three year old brother because she wished for me a future occupied by a warm and loving family life.
I am a victim of domestic violence. I am also a survivor of it. My mother, however, is not. She was an incredibly strong, determined, warm, caring woman. She was a teacher who lived her mission of truth and aide in all arenas of her life. I will love and miss her with each fiber of my being every day until I die.
Thankfully, things are infinitely better now as I fulfill my own role as a wife and mother. I’ve found my niche in life; I was born to be Mommy. I knew this from the beginning.
What I didn’t know is how much poop and snot I’d have to deal with on a regular basis. Similarly, no one told me that some days I would laugh so hard I would cry, and others I would feel swallowed whole by my loneliness. Everyone neglected to tell me how terrifying, thrilling, isolating, eye-opening, and powerful parenthood is. They also didn’t mention just how awesome (in the truest sense of the word) it is to have your heart, a replica of you, walking around outside of your body, living their very own life. How dare they.
I am also a writer, although it’s scary to say so. It’s a profession that requires you to paint pictures with only words, a rich story or thought-provoking poem from just the depths of your mind. If your work isn’t well received, your writing is not the only entity receiving rejection.
But, just like my sentiments about motherhood, I knew I was meant for the writing world. As a child, reading was my escape from the harsh realities that were my life. I read books and wrote my own stories to enter alternate universes, ones filled with much less pain and isolation. As an adult, writing has allowed me to process my past and work towards arriving at my life’s destination: a house filled with an infinite amount of love. It’s the most heartwarming bonus knowing that my experiences have helped people guide themselves out of their own dark places.
Thank you for joining me on my journey. I encourage you to do so wholeheartedly, and with abandon. It is in each our own honesties and truths that we find pieces of ourselves and overcome others. Much love always. 💓
I’ve written about grief a lot over the last decade or so. And much of that writing has helped me put in to perspective some of life’s biggest moments and emotions. Ones that could have easily swallowed me whole, and if I’m being honest, almost did.
But with reflection and the right tools, I feel confidently about the direction my life has taken. So, to celebrate my mom’s birthday on January 26th, and all the ones that were stolen because of her murder, here is a list of the pieces that helped me feel less alone while writing. Especially if you have a hole in your heart where a loved one left it, too. Because I think that’s all life is about: connection, community, and catharsis.
Raise your hand if you have a strong-willed child 🙋🏻♀️
This is mine. Here he is shopping in our fridge.
He’s doing that because his Daddy happened to go on an errand right when the Instacart delivery arrived. He wasn’t able to help me carry the groceries to the fridge because he was distracted by a difficult “Goodbye!”
So, as the tears began to spring and his voice escalated into a shriek I said (without thinking, really), “Why don’t you go shopping in our fridge?”
He sniffled a few times, paused, and said, “Why?”
“Well, you can grab what you want from it, put it in a bag, then you can carry it outside. Next, knock on the door and carry them in. Then you’re the delivery person! If you ask nicely, of course.”
Another sniffle, which is extremely promising. Usually by now the teetering on imbalance would have turned into a full-blown tantrum complete with screaming and maybe even some body-writhing on the floor. All over delivered groceries.
But instead, he says, “Okay. Please?”
Little man then proceeds to stuff a watermelon, a half dozen eggs, a yogurt cup, horseradish sauce, half a head of iceberg lettuce, & four carrots into a dangerously thin plastic bag from our stockpile. The bag is close to breaking but I breathe through the sticky chunks of fractured egg shell I imagine all over the floor after he drops their carton. But without my saying anything he puts them back, seeing the loot he’s grabbed is too heavy.
And when he’s replaced everything except the watermelon and the carrots, he trots to the door with his shoulders held high. Then he looks at me to see if it’s OK to go outside, sees my confirmation, and toddles outside.
And there’s nothing more for me to do than hire this second delivery person and hope he doesn’t require a tip. I close the door, take a deep breath, and think, ‘This is ridiculous. What are we even doing here?’
But then I hear his silly, unbridled joy filter through the door in the form of, “Knock knock! Grocery here!”
I smile. He barges in like he owns the place, carries the food to the kitchen, and unloads it back in to the fridge. Then he gives me a high five and we go on with our day. 🤷🏻♀️
Now, I share this because I’m in the same boat as you most of the time, feeling like I’m just barely figuring this parenting thing out as I go. But in this moment I truly felt I figured it out. Or maybe I didn’t, and I just got lucky.
Either way, I stumbled upon a solution to manage his expectations, and at the same time, help him manage his emotions. And if I’m being super real, to manage my own so as to not to meet him at his melting point.
Because in the end, all he wanted to do was be helpful. But when I get wrapped in my own schedule or presuppositions, I often lose sight that my trying to control his feelings isn’t aiding him at all. That it doesn’t teach him how to do it himself. Instead, finding the point somewhere between his meltdown and my instinct to manage, that’s the sweet spot. The exact place learning for all parties happens.
And if I can do that for a moment or a meltdown, I can do it for another, for a day, for a year, for the rest of their sweet, little lives. And so can you. 💓
Chances are you stumbled upon this post because you have at least one social media account and somehow came to follow a “blogger” like me. You might even have a friend who just made the leap, and now you’ve got a lot of questions.
To be honest, I’ve been blogging for six years, and people still ask me what I it is do all the time.
So, if you’re still asking yourself, “What is a blog?” here’s a simplified answer: a blog is the shortened term for a “web log.”
Blogs began as an online diary or way for people to document emotions/experiences via the Internet.As the internet’s capabilities grew, bloggers potential for content creation did, too.
Now, bloggers capture just about anything via any social media platform. Blog entries come in all sorts of sizes and modes (micro-entry/image, video, livestream, etc).
And when bloggers’ networks (or “followings,” as they’ve become known as) grow, their natural reach does, too. When they can connect with a large enough range of people, some are able to create a business or career out of their content in a few ways:
1) selling physical space on their site for ads to be placed.
2) contributing to larger websites or profiles, being paid by piece (individual followings matter less in this instance as the larger media outlets use their own to amplify for your work)
3) linking products on their own network that they have used and/or believe in to receive product or a commission-like paycheck for sales they ‘influence.’ The majority of this occurs in a barter-like system.
4) creating campaigns that highlight products or missions at a cost, independent of commission (generally this requires the largest-sized followings). These are often called paid partnerships.
Hence the reason your favorite blogger may take a break from their humor, homemaking, recipes, videos, or articles to sell a product they love… because otherwise they’re a self-published creator who’s earning nothing simply for the sake of your entertainment.
So, to answer your question in a different way, bloggers are entrepreneurs who have found a burgeoning market: the Internet.
BTW, if you’re looking for some inspiration or fun content to spice up your feeds, try some of these blogs/accounts 👇🏻
I don’t keep it a secret that life can be isolating.
I don’t sugar coat it that people need a healthy support system, and that without it, adulthood (and most especially parenthood) is nearly impossible.
So, if you feel like you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Maybe it means you haven’t found your village yet, the group of people who help pull you up when you’re down, or wipe away your tears when you can’t bite them back.
And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
It is, however, something that can be changed.
Each day is a new one, and with it brings unlimited potential.
I find whenever I leave myself vulnerable to the people and experiences around me, I am given quite a lot of delightful surprises from the universe.
Like the lovely ladies from the photo above, who have quickly become my village because our relationships are sowed in openness.
I found them at Starbucks, no joke.
In both meet-cutes I left my heart and mind open to finding new friends, and even more importantly, spoke what was on my mind. No cares for what was “cool” or “normal,” I made it clear who I was from the getgo and forged connections on honesty and openness. And I scored some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life in the process.
Simply by being raw and open (both with myself and others), I gathered a village that no amount or type of distance can ever weaken.
So, to those who are still searching for their familial friends: remember that life doesn’t just take a village, it also takes openness.
Learn to be yourself with respectful abandon and like will certainly attract like.
One of the very best things about having children is sharing with them what brings you joy. It allows you to relive that same experience for the first time, perhaps even in a new way, which can be pretty magical. And if I am being honest, as a lifelong movie lover, I’m probably more excited about sharing my favorite flicks with my kiddos than watching them learn to ride a bike (which just sounds anxiety-inducing to me). In that vein, here are the top thirteen films I can’t wait to share with my kids (when they’re of age, of course).
If anything captures the spirit of childhood and the wonder of belief, it’s The Goonies.I can’t wait for a trip down memory lane through One-Eyed Willy’s caverns, to introduce my kids to Sloth, and relive what it felt like to grab my bike and roam. I think my kids will seriously thank me, and then they’ll do the truffle shuffle. What could be better?
A perfectly cautionary tale about how amazing childhood can be, it’s Big. Tom Hanks plays Josh Baskin, a kid-turned-adult who wishes upon Zoltar to grow up overnight. It’s funny, nostalgic, and thoughtful, the perfect movie to bridge the gap between generations.
Speaking of generations, the Addams Family has been a source of entertainment for several. Personally, I like the newer versions starring Anjelica Huston & Raul Julia, but even the TV series is iconic. No matter who you identify with, there’s a character for everyone (plus there are real Girl Scouts in the Girl Scout cookies).
If your kids don’t shy from the grim and they’re a little older, The Lost Boys is a Corey Feldman & Corey Haim gem. It’s a creepy take on high school ala vampires and finding where you fit in.
Speaking of fitting in and high school, there is (of course) Can’t Hardly Wait. It’s the quintessential 90’s teen tale about all the different cliques and misfits (because, aren’t we all?). Kids need to know they’re not alone in their weirdness, and this film is a great reminder that’s what makes us unique.
On the subject of misfits, Teen Wolf has to make the list. It’s prime Michael J. Fox, and one of the most quintessential 80’s movies EVER. I mean, what says nostalgia and fun more than Styles’s screen print tees and van surfing?
Now, when I want to prepare the kiddos for college there really is only one true film to do that with: Real Genius. Maybe college isn’t all laser beams and hallways full of ice, but it most definitely can be expanding your mind, young love, and finding out who you are.
Two guys that have always stayed true to themselves are Bill & Ted. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure AND Bogus Journey are both heartwarming, creative films that span across time. There’s a lot of history, a little bit of mystery, and some rocking music. Plus, the third B & T (Bill & Ted Face the Music) is set to come out in a few years, which means I have to premiere the first two before the third hits theaters. That way the kiddos can be just as excited as me!
Of course, if we are talking time travel, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share Back to the Future I, II, & III with my kiddos. The storylines are all so different, yet each one has a theme of love and family running through it. It seems only right that I introduce the kiddos to the McFlys.
What movies are at the top of your sharing list?? #sponsored #dvdnation #movielover
A few years ago I wrote a piece called “Where Does Hatred Come From?” In it I discuss my mother’s murder and what (I think) compelled my brother to do such a thing. But something else has been on my mind, a question I get quite a lot that usually makes my heart race and my tongue trip up:
“How on Earth did you survive?”
Let me begin by saying that if I’m being totally honest, it still feels some days like I haven’t. Survived, that is. The cycle of abuse is a road that is twisted, long, and arduous. I am still traversing it, and live with the bits of shame that victims often do. On other days, however, I have an answer to the question everyone is really asking – how do two people born from the same parents go in such vastly different directions: one a murderer, the other a motivator?
In more general terms, “How Can Love Find a Way?”
The reality is, it’s almost so simple it’s painful. The answer is that love and hate are both born fromattachment.
See, for almost every experience my brother had where he felt alienated and different, I had one where I felt accepted or celebrated. Or maybe even just O.K. with being different.
I came second. By the time I was born, my parents had been separated for a year. They were divorced when I was two, but my dad never lived with me. So, his absence wasn’t an absence to me, it was my norm. Thus, when dad ripped himself from our lives, it was only devastating to one of us.
Then came all our moves. Within my first sixteen years of life I lived in eight homes. I got used to change, and loved switching schools or classes. It gave me the chance to reinvent myself and make new friends. Jesse, however, was a bit of a pariah. Not by choice, of course, but by social design. He was short, chubby, and an easy target. I was short, chubby, and an easy target, but apparently the world thought that was more acceptable in a girl. I got bullied less and made more friends. So, when people didn’t allow either of us in to their lives or picked on us because we looked a little different, it was only really devastating to one of us. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father.
Soon, my brother started attempting suicide. He was institutionalized and given “help.” Here, at these bleak homes for ‘troubled youth,’ he learned to believe he was even more different than he could have imagined. That now, with a triple diagnosis of “mental illness,” he’d never really escape. This was probably the worst time of Jesse’s life. My dad never visited him; Mom and I were the only ones that seemed to care. And so, while I was in middle school, I visited mental institutions and wrote him letters, begging him to stay here with us. He would keep one of those notes in his wallet for years. Through all of this I learned how dark people can feel. But more importantly, I learned how good it felt to give people reprieve from their darkness. These failed suicide attempts were devastating for him, and of course, extremely devastating to me. But I had my studies to throw myself in to and excel at and friendships to seek asylum in. Thus, it was really only life-damaging for one of us. Especially since Jesse had already been rejected by our father and peers.
When my brother left high school after being told he didn’t fit in to the mold they provided, he eventually found exercise and drugs. He grew fit and powerful, more toxic. He had grown sick of being told by society how different he was, and with his newfound strength his previous shame was gone; now his emotions had morphed in to anger. In turn, he became extremely violent towards Mom and me. We were his scapegoats. There were tires slashed, holes punched in the walls, swift kicks to our guts (literal and figurative), obscenities screamed, and so much more. It was Hell.
Mom, left with little other options, called the police on him several times. When he was released, Jesse slept in an old car he bought from Craig’s List, other times at friend’s houses. But he wheedled his way back home each time, as many abusers do. Then Mom would eventually kick him out again. Within this cycle he somehow found his way in to the army twice, despite a juvenile record of domestic violence.
Mom and I reveled in our freedom from him whenever he was out. Without him home we were able to focus on our personal and professional endeavors. I was sailing through college with a 3.9, was an officer in my sorority, and had a great job working for Arnold Schwarzenegger right out of high school. For every hurdle Jesse had collided with, I was jumping over two at a time. And when he was eventually kicked out of the military a second time for erratic behavior, he came home to find me even more successful. Which made him that much angrier. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father, our peers, the school district, mental health professionals, and now the military.
He brandished his isolation like a sword, swinging it at anyone he saw as a threat, which eventually became everyone. Girlfriends, strangers, it didn’t matter. However, he swung most often at home. Jesse reached out to my dad a few times at this point, but Dad was dealing with his own demons. So, while my brother’s identifying parent was slipping deeper in to a depressive, drunken state far from us, seeing us less than he ever had before, Mom and I grew closer. She and I became best friends. We didn’t speak of our heartache much, because I’m not sure we ever had a grasp on what ‘it’ was, but our bond was deep and inexplicable. We knew we needed each other to survive the toxicity in our lives.Which made Jesse hate us even more.
Thus, two weeks after I finished college, Jesse killed Mom. It had been a long time coming; there were aerosol cans sprayed at lighters, knives thrown in to walls, online dating and email accounts hacked and spoiled. And despite my world being rocked, I survived. Because I had been shown in life that bad things happen. A lot. However, they always stop. And there’s always love on the other side. Or on the underside. Or somewhere; it can always be found somewhere. In the encouraging words of a teacher who didn’t know why I was at school as much as possible, but still let me have my safe place. In the stalwart support system of a sorority. In the home of a best friend whose parents may not have known exactly what was going on, yet still had an open door policy. In believing in someone even when they don’t. In my mom’s encouraging words and resiliency. Where there is hope extended, wherever connections are made, love can be found. That’s the answer to what saved me from a life of hatred and bitterness: hope in the form of attachment & love.
So, remember that next time you see someone who may seem different, struggling, isolated, or even angry. A little love can go a very long way, especially for those who haven’t received much. In some cases it could be the difference between a life of love and a life of hatred.
Thank you to everyone who helped me see the love when it may have been difficult to do so on my own.
If you believe you or someone you know may be the victim of domestic violence, please read the resources on the National Domestic Violence Hotline and consider reporting the abuse to the authorities.
I had the pleasure of being a part of the Expressing Motherhood cast for a third time this past month. Originally, I wasn’t going to share my piece online because as much as I pride myself on my openness, I know some things are too much. However, it was pretty damn freeing to share with a bunch of strangers and also well-received, so why not with my online community? 😬
A huge thank you to everyone who came to see it live this time around, and especially to Lindsay Kavet for giving me a little soapbox.
It was undeniable that my mom had a favorite story from my childhood. She called it, ‘THE POOP TRAIL.’
Of course, she had a few other anecdotes dear to her heart, but as I lost Mom when I was twenty-two, the only tale that left a lasting impression on me was the shocker. Now, as a thirty-something year old mother, I’d love to learn about her pregnancies, birth stories, the challenges of being a single mother, and so much more. But I couldn’t have known I would miss out on the chance. So, Mom’s legacy remains to be: THE POOP TRAIL.
It began like any other day in our new condominium, I presume. On this, let’s say, dreary September morning (Mom was never one for minor details, so pardon me while I embellish a bit), the three of us were sprawled out on our couch. My older brother Jesse and I were early risers, and as we had just begun sharing a bedroom for the first time, we were waking even earlier. After satiating us with some snacks and turning on the tube, Mom expected Jesse and I to settle in for a Saturday morning cartoon session, so she could take a hot shower.
I imagine she wasn’t gone long because she was a careful woman, and as a parent I now know these two general rules to be universally true: 1) a child can move at either the speed of light or the speed of a snail, dependent entirely upon if you’re asking them to do something or not. And as Mom was in the shower, and no adult was applying any pressure to me whatsoever, I know I was working quickly. Also, rule number 2: parents never get long in the shower, especially when their kids are little. A single, working mother no less? She would have washed only the ‘essentials.’
So, when Mom came out of the shower, safe to assume no more than two and a half minutes later, I was nowhere to be found. Now, I’ve had those moments – those ‘HOLY SHIT WHERE DID MY KID DISAPPEAR TO CPS IS GOING TO FIND ME WHAT HAVE I DONE’ moments – And for me, those ‘moments’ have never lasted more than one minute and twenty-six seconds in total (true story, the panic setting on my alarm can attest to this). But, I have had technology, my husband, and a guardian angel or two on my side. Mom, on the other hand, was a new divorcee with no help and no clothes on. Still wrapped in her towel, dripping with beads of water, her large, maternal breasts threatening to break free from our new, cheap towels, Mom would have started calling my name mildly.
I know this because when I lost my son for the first time (don’t judge, he’s wily) I first thought, ‘No, he’s not lost.’ Denial is almost always the instant reaction. ‘Adam. Adam? Adam!’ I called out optimistically, as if he would actually come on command. He did not (duh). Mom also had no luck, saw no sign of my tiny feet hiding behind a curtain, heard no telltale giggle from inside a closet. That’s when her fear set in, the same fear I tasted the day I learned my son could open our front door and release himself into the wild.
At this point, Mom surely grabbed Jesse by the shoulders and shook him.
‘Where did your sister go?!’ she would have growled.
But Johnny Quest was probably on, and if my brother was anything like my zombie children, his head would have flopped back and forth, and his eyes would have stayed glued to the TV. Maaaaaybe an inaudible ‘I dunno,’ or a lackadaisical shrug would escape. Otherwise, Mom was on her own.
‘Amy! Aaaaaamy!’ she would have screamed then. A frantic scan of our small space ensued. Maybe she tripped over her towel tail; she couldn’t be too nimble in such a state. And as she spun, gaining a full view of our new den and common area, Mom noticed our condo’s front door wide open. She launched herself towards the open portal and yelled her loudest, fiercest battle cry, “Heeeeeeeelll-“ but before she completed her S.O.S., a warmly punctuating squish between her bare toes cut it short.
She drew her foot up slowly, and on the floor, now entangled with our hideous (but also coincidentally brown 1980’s shag carpet), was a piece of poop. It was misshapen and- well, nevermind, I’ll spare you the details. But, what I will tell you is that, as any mother would know (I understand this now), Mom knew in a heartbeat that poop was *mine*. She grimaced, maybe even gagged, noticing an abandoned diaper a few feet ahead, just outside the threshold of our home. Several other pieces of poop lay before and after it. Mom stopped screaming, wiped her foot on the carpet (I mean, at this point, what did it matter?) and took off down the hallway half naked.
It didn’t take her long to find me. I had left a trail of turds leading two flights and four doors down. Mom followed it to the door of a condo owned by an elderly woman. The woman would later tell Mom that she had opened her door to a soft thumping sound, only to find a diaperless almost-three-year-old rhythmically wiping her butt on the dingy hallway carpet right outside 1A, shit-eating grin plastered to my face.
Our brand new neighbors, thankfully, were relatively understanding (albeit totally grossed out). The building manager was not that forgiving, however. Mom was forced to pay a pretty price for the building’s sanitation. I’m not sure how related the two incidents were, but our stay there was cut very short, and it wasn’t long before we moved out of our condo and into a small home across the Valley.
Now, the reason I bring any of this very self-deprecating, disgusting talk up is to consider the most important lesson I ever drew from my mother: Things can only impact you as much as you allow them to. Because I’m not sure I could turn a story about losing my child and wading through poop into one of my favorites to tell. In fact, it sounds like an absolute nightmare to me. Thus, life has to be less about what you go through, and more about the way you look at your experiences. So, the next time you feel like you’re having a truly shitty day of Momming, think of Mom and me, and just know that you are not alone.