My mother was in a healthy state for a while after Michelle was born. We lived together in Buckland and Michelle’s father came to visit every Friday. My own dad was still out of the picture, although he did call me to let me know when his father died the year I was in fourth grade. I was young and barely remember the funeral. although I do know that it was the first I ever attended. I also remember that despite having no previous relationship with him, my father hugged me warmly when I saw him there. This was not the start to a newfound father-daughter story. This was just him performing as he was expected. I actually didn’t see him for years after this.
At the time, my mother held a job doing payroll at Lane Construction in Northfield. After my grandfather died my grandmother made an effort to see me from time to time. On days off from school I would sometimes join my mother on her trip to work and my grandmother, who also lived in Northfield, would pick me up and I’d spend the day with her. Truthfully, I don’t know or remember a lot about her. I can see her face clearly, and sometimes it makes me sad to think about her. I wish that I had known her with some adult perspective. Or really, any perspective at all. I wish that I could have known her when I was old enough to know to call her more or to have been able to drive over and visit her on my own. As it were, she died only a few years after my grandfather. But before that, I would go out to lunch with her. I don’t know what we talked about. She used to tell me she had all these records of my family’s genealogy. I didn’t care at the time, but I’d be interested in looking at them now. One time we ran into my father when we were going out to breakfast. I don’t know if it was awkward then, but the memory is very uncomfortable for me. He hugged me and acted happy to see me. But how strange to see your estranged daughter with your mother one morning when you barely talk to either of them. Actually, now that I think about it, before we moved to Buckland, my dad visited a total of two times. He gave me a playstation for Christmas, as I was always struggling to get my old nintendo to work. I think that’s the only present he ever gave me. By the time I bumped into him with Grandma, it had already been a significant amount of time since that.
In sixth grade I started struggling. I was definitely still unpopular, but I had friends…I was just never cool. This is when the effects of my depression started to become clear, I think. I just randomly stopped doing my homework, particularly if I found it uninteresting. I wasn’t busy, and I had no real reason for not doing it. I just stopped. My grades suffered, in part also because I landed in Ms. Marshall’s class, and she was known for being a tough marker. Maybe that’s true, but I can say that she was exactly who I needed to be taught by, although I didn’t know that until later. Everyone pretty much thought she was a whacko, and not usually in the fun way. But man, that woman knew what she was doing.
Truthfully, nothing particularly eventful happened in those first few years living with my mother and sister. But like I’ve said, my mother is mentally ill and although I had no way of knowing at the time, something was brewing brewing brewing.
When I was in either sixth or seventh grade Mom developed kidney problems. This woman took terrible care of herself. Granted, I don’t think anybody ever really taught her how to eat well and how to prepare food or that boxed food from the dollar store isn’t actually food. In some ways, it’s not really her fault. I can’t blame her shitty nutritional choices on much other than ignorance. (I say this as I write at 2 in the morning eating IHOP. God help me.) When my mother was in her prime (and indeed, these years were her prime) she cooked us shepherd’s pie (made from boxed mashed potatoes and canned corn) and hamburger helper (that shit out of a package that you add hamburger and water to) and “chicken with that pink sauce” (something vaguely Asian. Who knows.) For herself, my mother prepared a steady diet of coca cola and cigarettes. She supplemented this with a box of cheez-its, little debbie’s snack cakes, or maybe just nothing at all. A screwdriver here and there or sometimes a Hershey’s bar. The point is that she should have been constantly ill and the fact that she developed a legitimate health issue is really no surprise. She also suffered from intense migraines and often had to take shots to cope with them. So, she got these kidney stones, got them blasted, and all went back to normal. Briefly.
Suddenly there was a new problem at work: her boss, who she had been friends with for years, was out to get her. There was some sort of unspecific problem between them and this woman was being horrible to my mother. I don’t know what the issue was, or if there was ever a real issue, but I do know that one time my mother saw her at the grocery store and flipped her off and that my sweet grandmother referred to her as “a dried up old cunt.” I suspect she was undeserving of this, but my grandmother sided with my mom in nearly everything. Blood was always very thick in her mind.
Soon after, my mother left her job. She did not delay so as to find another source of income. I guess she didn’t have to, really. She always had my grandparents and government funding on her side. I think that she immediately filed for unemployment and disability. Food stamps too. To her credit, she did try to find a job for a little while. I remember her having interviews and never getting hired. It makes me really sad, because even though she’s out of her fucking mind, she does really have good streaks. I think she did want to get another job and that she did want to provide for her children. I mean, it’s not like I was ever going to have a college fund or anything like that, but I think she was content for a while, being able to buy our clothes and throw food in the crockpot and play mom the best she knew how. It wasn’t great, but it was what she could do. She had just paid off all of these bills that she had had left over from her heroin days and things really could have been on an upswing; she had good momentum. For whatever reason, she couldn’t maintain it.
She was flat out rejected for disability. As you might guess, they don’t really see having kidney stones as being debilitating, least of all in the long term. At this point she hadn’t worked for months and months. For as long as I had lived with her, I had had a list of chores to complete. This is pretty standard, even though I was the only one among my friends who did not receive an allowance. Actually, I’m pretty sure I also had the longest chore list. Sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming the house were all my jobs. So too were scrubbing the tub, loading and unloading the dishwasher, and feeding the cats and cleaning their litter boxes. (Yes, boxes. We had three or more cats at all times. Super functional.) One morning I had no school and I was going next door to babysit for the triplets who were the same age as my little sister. The night before I had fought with my mom about the amount of chores I had to do while she spent all day at home. The next morning, I apologized, ashamed at having insinuated she was lazy. At this point, although it had been a significant amount of time since her procedure to take care of her kidney stones, she was still consumed by the role of the ailing patient. Angrily, she told me that while I babysat I was to research in depth the side effects and long term effects of having kidney stones. I was to print these out and bring them home. At the time I thought that this was just an elaborate guilt trip and punishment, and that’s probably true. But I only realized later that she was using these printouts as evidence in her appeal for disability.