Ketchup on crackers and cycles

When things got real bad I remember looking in the fridge and trying to figure out what I was going to feed your brother and sister. I didn’t have any money for food. One night I fed them ketchup on crackers. Thankfully, there was a neighbor in our apartment building that knew what was going on and she would invite us over for dinner. She knew I was too proud to ask. She shared all she had. 

In my life I can not count the times I saw my mother go hungry. By the time I came into this world things were a bit better for her. Maybe because she was constantly working to support us, busting her ass day and night, just to keep food on the table.

The relationship my sister and I have with food stem from this. From watching her as we grew up. This relationship isn’t noticeable unless you’re looking for it. It’s serving yourself last and least. And watching your babies eat and eating very slowly yourself… Just watching and when they’re done but you can tell they still want more you announce I’m not feeling very hungry… Would you like the rest? Handing over your plate. I have watched my sister do this and I have seen myself do the same. Because we remember and we know what it’s like to go to bed hungry.

The universe, currently, has been handing us a series of fuck yous. We are saving for the new house, the dog got sick, and now my car decided to break down. I am finding it hard to stay positive. I have been throwing mini pity parties for myself on occasion. Always in private though. Another thing I learned from her.

I sat last night thinking about how something has got to give. Something has got to go right because there’s been too much wrong happening all at once, making me question whether or not we should even be trying for our forever home.

I woke up today to a text telling me a got a job I was hoping to get. There’s one good thing. But I can’t shake this feeling like I should be doing more. Working more. Providing more. Saving more.

Things have been tight before and we’ve always made it through. I feel like there is a mountain in front of me and I’m not sure if I should climb it or sit down and have a picnic.

I’m tired and I just want things to be simple again. My thankfulness is low and my anxiety is high. I need some time to regroup.

I need a break.

Nineteen

I have moved nineteen times in my life. I am a master packer. I know how to choose what is of value, what to keep, and what to leave behind. Four of those moves were packed, moved, and unpacked within one day’s notice. My mother liked to move us in the middle of the night, or while her significant other was at work. Leaving behind the tv and one piece of furniture. No notice, just a note left behind on a recliner. The ultimate “f you” so to speak.

I made the decision at 22 to move down to North Carolina to be with Jason. He had been deployed for the seven months before hand and we had spent the 2 years of our relationship before that apart, only seeing each other when leave was available. It would be my first time living without my mother.

You know you can come with me? I’ve already asked him. I said one day, sitting on her bed. You don’t have to go to Jenny’s you can come with me and see the ocean. 

It is time for you to go, Jo. It’s time for you to blossom. 

And so I left.

My whole life if you asked me where my home was I would have probably replied with my grandmother’s house. Mostly because that’s where we’d end up whenever my mother’s relationships tanked, but also because that was the place I felt most comfortable. Most at home in my own skin. After I turned 19 I knew I couldn’t return there. My grandmother had passed and there was too many burnt bridges from fires my mother had started and never went back to put out. So home became my mom. A person not a place.

When I moved to be with Jason I felt very homesick. Calling my sister five times a day to chat. Sometimes I’d ask for Mom, sometimes I wouldn’t. Our talks became more and more less frequent. She got very sick. And it was the end of our story 3 months after my move. No amount of me flying home and sitting by her bedside could bring her back to me.

Jason became a rock for me. He’s quiet and internal 90 percent of the time. A man of few words. But he was there and I latched onto him for dear life. He sat next to me at the funeral. He held my hand and in time, he became my home. Our home in North Carolina felt temporary, because everything in the military was temporary. We got married, had Jack, and then decided to move home.

We moved in with my dad for six months. Then we rented a house in town that Jason had actually grown up in. After we lost Benjamin we became hell bent on buying a house. (A big distraction to ease the grief of our baby dying.) We bought our current home and have been here three years this month. I have loved this house and I have hated this house. But now that we are moving I’m becoming sentimental about what it has been for us.

We’ve always talked about our “forever home”. How one day we will have a place to be that we won’t need a vacation from. We found a house in a better area, with a good school, and a river and woods behind it. It’s big and beautiful. My hope is that it becomes a place where the boys feel completely comfortable and at ease. I want this to be it until we’re sixty five or so.

I am packing today.

Memories- guns and mental health

August. 21 years old. I walk into the house from my shift driving a fork lift for a local laundry soap manufacturing plant.

Jo I hear from her bedroom in the back.

Yeah? Walking into her room I can tell she has been crying. I can tell it’s not been a good day. What’s up? 

I thought about killing myself today… but I didn’t want you to be the one to find me. 

I stand there looking at her sitting in bed. Not really sure what to say or where to go from here.

Well okay.  I say. Well how were you planning on doing that, Mom? 

I was going to shoot myself in the head. But I didn’t want you to have to clean up the mess.

Okay. Okay. Um… just give me a minute? Okay? 

Okay. She says.

I walk upstairs and sit down on my bed to call my brother. He answers first try.

I need you to deal with this. I’m saying. I’m not doing it this time. He’s asking me questions, giving me direction, he’s telling me how to handle the situation this time. He says he’s coming. Just give him time and he’ll be there. Okay. I say. Okay.

I returned to her room and she’s still sitting there looking up at me like this is all a completely normal thing. A regular exchange of words in a normal household.

Where’s the gun, Mom? 

I’m not telling you. She says.

Mom, you need to give me the gun. Then I can help you. But I can’t help you until you give it to me, okay? Where is it? 

She pulls the gun from under her pillow. She hands it to me.

Okay. Good. I say. Good. Donny’s coming. He’s going to take care of you. 

And he’s there now, in the doorway to her room. He’s there to take this from me.

Mom, I called the hospital. I have to take you there. You understand that i’m going to take you there right? 

I’m not going back there. She says. You can’t make me go. 

I’m going to take you or I’m going to have to call someone to come get you. Okay? 

Okay. She says, pulling her legs over the side of the bed. Jo, at least get me my makeup? Okay. 

Okay.


It’s late. I am 17 and there is a knock on my wall. I go to her room to see what the trouble is.

Shh… close the door now. Close it. Okay? I’m going to tell you something and I need you to listen? Do you hear me? You do as I say now, okay? 

Okay. Okay.

Take this gun. You’re going to sleep in here tonight. If you grandfather comes into this room tonight I want you to shoot him. Do you hear me? You aim for his chest and you shoot him. 

What is going on? What are you talking about? 

You listen to me. He has gone crazy and if you want to live you shoot him. 

Okay. Okay. 

____________________________________________________________________

17. Two nights later I am sitting on the top of the stairs. I can see him sitting with the gun next to him on the end table.

Jodi. I don’t want you to be scared of me. Do you hear me? Don’t be scared. 

Okay. I say. Okay. 

____________________________________________________________________

21. My mom is in the hospital under supervision. She’s doing group therapy and gets to call home.

Where’s my gun, Jo? 

It’s in a safe place Mom, Okay? 

It better be there when I get back, okay? 

Okay. I say. Okay. 

____________________________________________________________________

17. Driving home from school. My mother flags me down in the middle of the road.

Don’t go home. She says. We can’t go back there. Grandpa has kicked us out. He said you could get some things for school if you need to but I can’t go back there. 

Okay. Okay. 

____________________________________________________________________

21. My mother is home from the hospital. She is in my room. She is tearing through my things.

Where is it? Where did you put it, Jo? 

It’s not here. Donny took it. It’s being destroyed. 

I am so pissed. She storms off crying.

Well okay. I say. Okay. 

____________________________________________________________________

17. Two weeks before the night my mother handed me the gun. She is in the hospital for complications with her sickness. I receive a phone call. There is hurried speech on her end.

I need you to come get me. She says.

Are they releasing you? I can bring you clothes.

No, I need you to come get me now. Meet me by the road. The nurses are trying to kill me. 

Then click. The line goes dead.

Shit. Shit. Shit. I drive circles around the hospital. Half expecting her to be there smoking a cigarette, still hooked up to her I.V. cart. She isn’t anywhere on the roads or side walks. I park. Then run as fast as I can up to the hospital. I nearly have my arm jerked out of socket when a male nurse a recognize grabs me spinning me around.

You’re Kelly’s daughter!

Yes.

I need you to come with me. He says. He’s leading me and talking quickly and quietly.

Your mom. He starts, looking around to make sure no one’s listening. She’s not okay right now. She’s lost all of her eggs out of her basket. Do you understand? Do you know what I’m saying? She tried to break a window with a chair on the forth floor, but she wasn’t strong enough. So she hid in a broom closest. She’s saying crazy things about the nursing staff. Do you hear me? The police are with her now. 

THE POLICE?! Shit. Okay. I say. Okay. 

When I arrive to her room she’s sitting in a chair with her legs crossed. Two police men standing on each side of her. She is spitting her words at them. She is explaining to me, in her most hateful and bitter tone, how the nurses were indeed trying to kill her.

She is telling me this like it is a normal exchange of words, in a normal family.

Okay.  I say. Okay. 

She is admitted onto the 8th floor, psych ward. She is there when I get back two hours later with my sister and a good friend.

There’s a fire on my bed. She says. Don’t you just love camping? 

My friend laughs. She spins her head around shooting daggers out of her eyes.

What the fuck are you laughing at, boy? 

The nurses come in and we are asked to leave.

Okay. I say. Okay. 

———————

21. My mother has been on antidepressants for two months. She is up cleaning the house.

Jo, I need to talk to you. I’m sorry. I’m going to be okay now. It’s going to be okay. 

Okay. I say. Okay.