Life Still Sucks

      It’s Sunday night, and life still sucks. 

      I cannot handle being unemployed another week.  I’m bored, flat broke, and I feel like a failure as an adult.  Today I returned a jar of pickles and a some paper towels to the grocery store (don’t tell mom) so that I could get enough money to buy some moisturizing lotion for my skin.  The climate is hot and dry here, which is nice, but it’s hard on my skin and I’m worried that I’m going to actually get a job interview and show up looking like a mummy.

       I found five new public service jobs in the newspaper, so that’s going to be my day tomorrow.  I also need to ride my bike down to the welfare office and check on my Medicaid application.  I feel bad about that.  I knew that moving back here was going to be a challenge, but I thought I’d find something to do for work within a month! 

      I keep having to call the people in New York that I’m using for references/writing me letters of recommendation–they are mostly former professors or employers.  Let me tell you something: I’m not proud, but it still doesn’t feel too good to be asking a tenured professor at Columbia who once paid me the respect of presenting our research at a conference in Washington D.C. if he can write me a letter of recommendation for a position as a legislative secretary out here in the sticks.  

       “Of course I’ll do it.  I’ll do it this weekend.  Who do I made it out to again?  What’s the address?”

        I told him.

        “Oh, Margo….” he said.  He sounded sad.  

         I wanted to throw the phone. Instead, I said: “Times is tough, Doctor, times is tough.  Tough for everyone.  I walked dogs in New York.”

         And paddled about a million old guys just like you.  And walked on them wearing stilettos.  And let them play with my feet.  And zapped them with a canine anti-bark collar.  And—

         My mother and I had a bad day today.  I almost don’t want to write about this, because I’m really trying to respect her and her privacy.  I feel sleazy sharing our dirty laundry.  I’m happy to throw my father under the bus, because he’s an awful person that nobody should feel sorry for.  My mother, though….I mean, I’m living in her house, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful or disloyal. 

          She pulled some really weird shit today, though.  Some really weird, judgmental shit, and it’s gotten under my skin and hurt my feelings and I don’t know what to do about it.  

          She had errands to run, so I asked her if she would drop me off at a nearby AA meeting on the way.  I walk or ride my bike places as much as possible so as not to inconvenience her, but it was 100* today, and that is too hot to be out in the sun, even with sunscreen on (I wear sunscreen every day, btw.  Everyone should do it, especially women, because it keeps the skin looking young.  Even my makeup has sunscreen).

         Well, she dropped me off, and I could see her checking out a few of the guys standing outside.  They were young guys and they looked a little rough, because they do manual labor, but I’ve talked to them before a few times, and they’ve always been friendly and polite to me.  One of them waved when we pulled up.

         Mom got a little tense.  I felt it.  I also could have sworn that I felt something else: she was embarrassed to be there.  

          Yup, definitely embarrassment and disapproval.  I guess having a child who is an alcoholic isn’t quite the same as having one who wins Gold in the Olympics, but, for fuck’s sake, I never drank in her house or around her and it’s not like I sold the TV set for booze or brought a drunkard boyfriend home.  Nor is it like I’m the only junkie in the family.  At least I’m trying to do something about it. 

         So, I go to the meeting.  It was nice and cool inside and I liked the people there okay, but  had to sit out the conversation because it was about spirituality in recovery, and I know this crowd because I grew up in this culture: The minute I drop the “A” bomb (atheist), I am going to alienate or offend half the group.   Some of the more well-intensioned ones will start bringing me Chick Tracts or invitations to church picnics.  I need to stay friendly with these people.  

         Mom picked me up after the meeting.  She’d run her errands and then taken her dog on a walk at the park across the street.

         She seemed weird.  She had the weird voice, the “We need to talk about something very important” voice.  This is usually the voice she has just before she lays down some sort of reproach.

          Uh-oh, I thought. 

          She drove over to the park.

          “I want you to pay very close attention to the woman standing under the tree,” she said.

           There was a sunburned blonde woman standing under the tree.  She was talking to herself and seemed upset.  There was nobody else around.  She did not look good.  She didn’t look like one of the hardcore homeless–I didn’t see any bags of property or cans, and her clothes looked sort of clean.  But she did look mentally unwell, and her mannerisms were not normal.  She was not talking to someone on a bluetooth.  I tried to listen to what she was saying, and I couldn’t make it out, but she sounded distressed.

         I watched her for a minute, waiting for Mom to say something, because I could not, for the life of me, figure out why Mom was showing me this woman.   This isn’t NYC, but it’s not a tiny little town, either.  We have homeless and mentally ill on the street here.  It’s a part of living in any community of size. 

          “Huh,” I said.  “Well, that’s sad.  It’s too bad.”  I didn’t know what else to say.

          “If you don’t quit drinking, that’s going to be you one day!  That woman is clearly an alcoholic.  I watched her while I walked the dog.  She’s been talking to herself the entire time.  That is what will become of you.”

          Well, well, well.  Where to begin unpacking this?

         I sighed.  “Actually, Mom, I’m not a psychiatrist–and neither are you–but to me, it looks like she’s mentally ill, maybe a schizophrenic suffering from hallucinations, and I don’t see her drinking anything, and, if anything, we ought to leave or call her an ambulance instead of using her unfortunate condition as some sort of morality-play figure to teach me a lesson.”

          I don’t get it.  For the life of me, I have no idea what was going on in her head for her to do and say something like that to me.  I found it troubling and rather harsh on her part, not to mention WEIRD, and I wanted to tell her that I’d kill myself before I was reduced to homelessness and frying on the lawn in this shithole town, but that could be construed as emotionally manipulative of me, not to mention sort of unfair to that poor homeless lady.

        I don’t know.  Weird.  In fact, I think it was mean.  Why would she be mean?  I pick up after myself and don’t ask her for anything.  I’m not exploiting her hospitality.  I am eating her food, but I don’t eat that much.  And if she didn’t want me here, she could have told me not to come, or ask me to leave…but she’s been nagging me to move back ever since I left for New York years ago.  

        Confused.  Maybe she’ll be better tomorrow.  She can be moody.

       But I can tell you this much: from now on, I’ll bike to the AA meetings, or get a ride from someone else.  

2 thoughts on “Life Still Sucks”

  1. There are so many things to say about this piece.

    Firstly, you should not feel guilty that you cannot get a job commensurate with your ability and qualifications. Entry into academic life was never easy, despite the ‘ivory tower’ jibes of those who detest the very idea of publicly-funded universities, and who despise intellectuals. But it is immeasurably more difficult in the current social and economic climate.

    With reference to your mother, I speak as the parent of a child who had his ‘walk on the wild side’ and came through. What contibuted to saving him was that he had been given much love as a child. He looked over the brink, and pulled back.

    Parental judgmentalism, or statements of the bleeding obvious would have made no difference. It had to come from him, which does not mean that boundaries were not set when he went off his head.

    There’s no guarantee that you can protect a child from all the dangers that will beset them when they go forth into the world. But you can give them a head start by giving them love and by not abusing them.

    Every clinical psychologist worth their salt knows that a child who has suffered abuse, by which I mean either neglect or harsh and destructive treatment, including verbal and physical abuse, is far more likely to suffer mental illness or bouts of self-destructive behaviour (including substance abuse) when they meet adversity later in life. The stats are irrefutable.

    Now, given your mother’s role in leaving you to the tender mercies of your father, a cruel, messed-up abuser par excellence, I don’t think she’s got too much to complain about if you carry a few scars.

    Good luck with your battle. You need encouragement and support, not threats or homilies.

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