Oh, woe is me, or Father’s Day

If you know me, even a little bit, and you’ve dropped by to read this because it has “Father’s Day” in the title and you’re a little curious about what I might have to say, then I’ll just apologize right now.

A gratuitous stock image from a Father’s Day card for YOUR dad.

I don’t have any new information or words of enlightenment about my (lack of) paternal guidance in my life. About the only thing new I can impart is that the fucker is still alive and kicking, which makes him old AF; he’s as uncommunicative as he was when I was 10; and my older half-brother still waxes poetic about how “great” our dad is. News flash, big bro……he ain’t great. Oh, he’s great at ignoring his responsibilities, great at pretending he’s without human flaws, great at not reaching out to a child who never asked to be born and never contacted him for anything and whose mother never did, either. He’s great at his imitation of an ostrich; come to think of it, comparing him to an ostrich is an affront to ostriches everywhere.

Does this come off as bitter? I’m truly not. Understand this. I’m so not bitter, I’m your grandma’s homemade fudge.

I don’t know why my older half-brother sought out a friendship with me. We never speak of our relationship. We have two things in common: the asshat who stuck his dick into our mothers and the fact that neither of us is unkind. That seems to be it, though. He’s a Christian, conservative, well-to-do, proud bearer of the family name. I am none of those things.

That being said, sought me out, he did, and accepted his request, I did, so the joke’s on me, I suppose. Every time he posts about dear ol’ Dad, I feel uncomfortable, vaguely numb, and confused. My sperm donor – his dad -seems to be pretty fantastic. He has stories to tell, history to impart, and wisdom for days. Big bro describes a happy childhood and has nothing but elevating, kind, even worshipful words about this person who stole, like a theif in the night, into our home up until he got my mother pregnant with The Male Sibling Unit. He disappeared after that and then became persona non-grata after he renounced his attachment to a son who was developmentally-delayed. My mother “must have cheated on him” ( oh, there’s the irony!) because “no (insert last name I was not permitted to have) could father a retard.” That’s right, folks. That great guy used that word. I was a quiet, stealthy child with a penchant for eavesdropping because that was the only way I ever found out anything in my family; those people were vacuum-sealed when it came to feelings and truth. I also read voraciously, and nothing was more absorbing than the journals my mother kept during this time. This was the age of snail mail, too, and, to this day, I give not a single fuck that I read her mail, both incoming and outgoing. I certainly wasn’t getting any answers to the questions I ventured to ask; when the responses went from “Nevermind” to banshee shrieks of outrage that I would even dare to ask, I gave up. The journals and letters spoke her truth. And so, I understood, even at a young age, that this was no great guy.

I wonder, sometimes, whether or not our Facebook friendship is my seemingly-nice, older half-brother’s passive-aggressive way of reminding me that I’m not one of “them”. I’m not a part of the big family network with the old patriarch holding forth at family gatherings and such. I can’t post cute anecdotes about “that thing my dad said the other day” or wax poetic about him via loving childhood memories, because the well is fucking dry. There has never been water in that well; rain evaporates into nothing because there is no atmosphere. It is a black hole of lacking. There aren’t even tears, and I promise you, on the life of my children, there never have been. I never cried for the lack of what I never had. I never wished for a relationship, or a father figure, or for that great man to have a change of heart and seek out an audience with me; what crumbs he did offer were digested and shat out long ago. I don’t need my life force infected with the obvious intolerance of anyone who throws around the word “retard”. I don’t care that he said it 40 years ago and I give not a single fuck to the consideration that maybe he hasn’t said it since.

“Maybe he doesn’t know you’re his half-sister”; some of you might be thinking this. He knows. He fucking knows. That’s one thing about this town we inhabit together; people make it their business to know other peoples’ business. Just as I was an observant eavesdropper, there’s something in the water or the air here that makes everyone feel entitled to “know shit”. In the 60s and 70s, when I was a kid, the first thing anyone asked you was “Who’s your dad?” Sometimes it was, “Hmmmm, (says last name)…..what was your mother’s maiden name?” Answers like “I dunno” and “Her maiden name was what mine is now” elicited a certain reaction I learned to recognize and to abhor; it was the “Oooo, I’ll have to ask so-and-so about this!” face. It wasn’t a very accepting place with which to grow up when you were a bastard. I wear that word proudly now; back then, it wasn’t a badge I pinned to my chest.

So yeah, he knows. Does he know he makes me vaguely uncomfortable with his Pro-Daddy posts? I dunno; if he reads this, he will. Do I fear that he will misconstrue this as a sign of weakness in me? Nope. I’m not afraid of anything; I can honestly say that. I’m certainly not afraid of the opinion of a man who might just read this, discover that his great dad used the word “retard” about a son who looks exactly like his two other sons, and still chooses to regard that man as great. Nope. My battered and bruised heart still beats strong within my chest. I can’t wait to see another great post tomorrow, on the day all the kids thank their great dads for everything.

Bring it.

Advertisements

Of loss, and anger, and giving it the finger when your hands are tied behind your back.

So, the celebrity “creative” world got gut-punched last week.

Two artists, who were seemingly “on top of the world” took their own lives in very similar ways. I call Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain artists because, hello? They were: she, the creator of art one could carry and wear, that shaped how people saw accessories in fashion; he, the creator of flawless food, essays, books, and thought-provoking social commentary on his television shows. If this planet manages to survive the terrible things being done to it, and if the human race can overcome the crisis of stupidity and ignorance that is spreading, like the black plague, throughout the hearts and minds of so many; future generations will read about these two and pronounce them icons – indeed, visionaries – of their time.

Right now, that’s a big “if”.

I wrote from the heart when news of Tony’s death was announced. Kate’s had affected me, but in more of a “Wow, another victim of depression” sort of way; I am not a purse/accessories person. Her death saddened me in a way that I can only characterize as vague.

Tony’s was much more visceral, and that feeling hasn’t really dissipated. His suicide was of a Robin Williams-caliber for me, and I was quietly alarmed by my immediate grief. The husband, family members, and friends were, too, because Robin Williams’ death was the event that sent me closer to the edge of my own, personal cliff. Without reliving the details, my life broke down in numerous ways because I was only just at the beginning of understanding that I was damaged but not broken; I was actually sick, and there were treatments. Three and a half decades of resistance to admitting that I wasn’t the Wonder Woman of my own psyche – and that I needed to allow more capable hands to help me – had taken their toll. That wasn’t so long ago, and I have worked pretty hard to recover and slowly back away from that cliff. There’s actually a barrier between me and the cliff in the form of medications, daily mantras, and people who have made it their business to watch me carefully and either taser my ass or physically hold me back if need be.

Just because there’s a barrier doesn’t mean the urge to climb isn’t there; especially given my brain’s propensity toward taking every little obstacle, every unkind word, and every dramatic event, and adding it, like another rubberband around one of those homemade, rubberband balls people like to make and keep in their desks. The ball has been getting bigger just lately, and I regard it, alternately proud/horrified/fascinated by my creation.

Tony’s death was one of those wide rubberbands that comes around a thick bundle of mail. Not a pretty color, and now that ball looks uneven, so I have been searching for smaller, more colorful scraps to wrap around it. It needs balance. Thanks, OCD! Not only do you try to control the silly idiosyncrasies in my life, but you insist on making my mental illness balanced and pretty, too! Bastard.

That’s a problem.

What I should do, really, is throw the fucking rubberband ball over the barrier and off the cliff. It doesn’t serve me at all to keep it; I don’t show it off proudly, saying, “Look what I made!” It isn’t something to show off. It is something to be ashamed of, because if I don’t get to work, peeling off layers of rubber bands, it’s going to become too big to throw. It will be found on the other side of that barrier, sitting on the ground, and I will be up and over, trying to escape it before it rolls right over me.

It’s difficult, however, to rid oneself of every, single scrap of rubber accumulated even in one, single day. Invariably, at least one gets added to the ball because it’s a good color, or it can’t be stretched around my fingers and shot off over the cliff. I think that I am strong, and that “just one teensy, tiny more” won’t make a difference, but that’s exactly what got me to the cliff the last time, my toes past the edge, my balance at war with gravity’s pull. My balance has never been great, and it’s definitely not something I would bet even a penny on now.

It’s so hard, though. It’s hard to admit to my watchmen that I have been adding rubber bands and that the ball is getting dangerously close to no longer fitting in the desk drawer. I’m like an addict who’s been hiding her gear; I desperately want to shield people from knowing it’s become a problem; seeing me as weak, or unfit, or “less”.

“Less” is awful. And I am prideful. But pride goeth before a fall.

Tony, I know I said I recognized you; the real you behind those dark, inaccessible eyes. I know I said that, while this was a shock, it was not a surprise as much as it was that sucker punch that we would expect to receive when two thugs – apathy and sadness – are holding our arms and that big Mob Boss – Depression – is cracking his knuckles in front of us and shaking his head. I am sure it was much, much more painful for those who knew and loved you.

But fucking hell, man. It fucking hurt. And now I’m looking at my desk drawer, wondering how the fuck I’m gonna get rid of my rubberband ball.

Dude. I am so mad at you right now.

No Reservations. And no vacancies.

Last night, I put CNN’s Parts Unknown on and watched for three hours. It’s one of my favorites, a go-to because I love Anthony Bourdain and have loved him for a decade now, ever since discovering No Reservations and falling under the spell of his self-deprecating, sarcastic brilliance. I recognized him. He was “my people”. I read every book he published voraciously. I watched his many television shows and even enjoyed Ratatouille, a cartoon he had a hand in writing. At least two of my children – one a chef, the other an artist – joined me on the quest for all things Bourdain. I felt that I knew him, from the moment I saw his craggy, handsome face and heard the world-weary tone in his voice. I also heard the wonder.

You see, we recognize our own. We see it, deep inside them. Maybe it’s the shadow that passes over their face in a quiet moment, or the smile they put on that doesn’t quite reach their eyes. It is their love of solitude, and the ease with which they put on their brave face and greet the day when there are so many responsibilities, so many people in cue, wanting their time and attention. Those who suffer with depression are brilliant actors. Never doubt that.

We love, fiercely, that which we seek to understand; we revel at times in the joy of our lives, just as we wallow in the sadness that teems just underneath the surface, waiting for its moment to bubble up and gulp in great lungfuls of oxygen. It always does, you see. Like fire, it needs that oxygen to spread and live – and live, it does. When it does; when it spreads, like thick molasses, and traps us down with it, we simply lay there, captured, like a fly in sticky tape. We let it lie to us for a while, and then we fight it, because we either have people who are strong enough to love us through it, or chemicals we take to summon the strength to fight. Always, always in the back of our minds is the gnawing thought: is this going to be the time that the dark, sticky, enveloping quagmire of desolation finally overcomes me and I succumb to it? We fear it almost as much as we fear the days when we are forced to appear happy to the world when we are sunken into the empty well of darkness that we fall into.

You, who don’t understand this, don’t catch the hints. We, who live with it, see it immediately. It’s not a question of addressing it with our weary, fellow travelers who accompany us on this seemingly endless road of survival; I never once had the opportunity to meet this man. I would have loved to have a drink and a plate of whatever he wished with him and to pick his brain; he was so attractive to me with his rangy, sinewy body and salt and pepper hair. When he was happy – and believe me when I tell you that I recognized those moments even from a remote, impersonal image on a television screen – he was irresistible. And when he was not happy; a state of mind I could recognize in an instant and that haunted his face much more frequently than the happiness visited him, I wished only to be able to grip his hand and say, softly, that it was okay. The husband recognized my fascination and admiration of this man as lust; I did lust because he is in my wheelhouse of men I find attractive; but I really lusted after the ability to look him in the eyes and say, “I know.”

I never got that chance, and was awakened this morning by a missed phone call and a text from the husband, asking me to find a calm place before getting on the internet. If he had discovered this news before leaving for work, he would have called off. Yes, this is that big of a deal. It is not a close friend or family member in the literal sense, but actually, it is. We, who recognize each other in this life; we, who battle demons of the same legion and who try to simply grip each other’s shoulders and to urge each other to FIGHT: we belong to the same tribe.

And when one of us falls, we need a minute. We need a moment to catch our breath, need the time to digest it, to send for reinforcements, and to plan for an attack. When one of our biggest, and brightest, and most secretive succumbs, we know that it is only a matter of time before we will be beseiged with an attack from the same, evil empire. It’s inevitable. It lies in wait, ready to jump us while we’re feeling vulnerable. I can’t help but feel angry at Tony right now, despite my my eternal love and admiration for his genius, and for his companionship. He didn’t know that, of course, but he was a member of my tribe. And now he has fallen in this endless battle we are engaged in. In succumbing, he has opened me to an attack. I’m wearily donning my armor and waiting.

Depression, when treated, is like a cavity in a tooth. We know it is there, and we numb it with medications, or booze, or other things that don’t exactly help it, but make it bearable. Because we hate…hate…and fear the dentist. Having to go means having to listen to admonishments about how shitty we are at taking care of our teeth. We regard our mental health like our dental health. There is still shame. We probe it from time to time with the tip of our tongue and the pain returns, fresh, until we go to the dentist and either fill it or remove it. Fillings help us to forget about it, but removal leaves an empty space for our tongues to return to, to remind us that it’s gone, and that the living tissue succumbed because we didn’t attend to it with the same fervency that we would if, say, our child complained about a toothache. We are great at caring for others. Others provide great camoflauge; necessary diversions for us. But we suck at caring for ourselves.

We must try to do better. We must let those around us, who recognize our struggles, help us to fight. Those of you lucky humans who belong to that other faction that doesn’t experience the darkness, who aren’t educated in how to recognize us: you need to educate yourselves because our tribe is under attack; it is experiencing a plague. We can’t do it alone. Please, if you are reading this and you are alone in this battle; if you belong to my tribe: just reach out to me. I know you’re there. I think about you. I can help you fight. And you, in turn, can help me.

Tony, you were my people. I ache for your family, for your daughter. I ache for myself, because you were beautiful, and you were sad, and now you’re free, and that is dangerously attractive. I don’t want to follow you. Right now, I need to mourn your loss and to be angry at you for a little while, because losing you is like losing one of our best warriors in this battle, and you have made our line vulnerable. But we are not weak. You were not weak. You just believed the lies. And sometimes, the lies overwhelm and engulf and all we want is peace. I hope, for you, there is peace.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Please, call it if you are in my tribe and you feel alone. Or message me. I promise you, I am here.

For those of you saying “This feels like a Monday”, STFU, or Tuesday Tirade

Monday was a holiday, so today, I have decided to list some outrages. This could become an everyday feature, but why share my sweetness and light every day? You could become too comfortable with that and I might have a day in which everything is less infuriating and then I’d disappoint you. So, call this the Tuesday Tirade, if you will.

Menopause, you bastard. I tell you this daily. This new symptom that reminds me that you’re squatting in my body is really fucking infuriating, though: pimples. Really? My skin has been basically clear since my hysterectomy. Now, with the death of my shrinking ovaries, you see fit to give me not one, but three blemishes, and one is right near my nostril, and THAT SHIT IS NOT PRETTY. It’s painful, too. The two on my chin aren’t too spiffy, either. Thanks for making an already mildly-distressing glance in the mirror to do light makeup an actual freak show occurrence.

You revellers (who did not read my blog to understand that Memorial Day isn’t exactly a celebratory fiesta) and your fireworks late last night freaked my dog out. Who barked at every stinking sound she heard. All night long. It startled some of my cats. Who jumped in terror and knocked things over. Thanks, you fuckers, for disrupting my ability to sleep, which is tenuous at best.

Cactus weather at the end of May in Pennsylvania? After the winter we had; the one that just kept staying….and going….and returning….and staying….well, that was unpleasant. My skin never got used to it and having hives nearly every day for months isn’t pleasant or pretty (especially now that the pimple issue is back) and begging the husband to “scratch me until I bleed” wasn’t so much a sexual fetish as it was a necessary thing to keep me from running, naked and screaming, outside to fling myself into a cooling snowbank. But really….desert weather now, already? I miss the summers where this wouldn’t happen until August. Now, by the time August arrives, I’ll be so tired of swamps under my armpits, boob sweat (having big boobs is not pleasant and lightness and I do not enjoy them despite the husband’s obvious delight in them and his preoccupation with sneaking up behind me like a sex fiend for a feel), and salt water showers from my soaked hair, that I’ll be moaning for Autumn to please get here soon. I’ll be invoking Nature, doing mystical spells, and laying, prone, on the couch with the air conditioning on high, a fan blowing directly on me, fanning myself with a (sturdy) piece of mail, my head thrown back and my arm thrown over my eyes in a gesture of weary supplication. Oh…..it will be pathetically glorious to behold.

Did you know that you can impale yourself on a post earring? That it can, in fact, pierce the soft skin near your heel despite its blunt end? Well, you can. True story.

Finally, all you people who got yesterday off for the holiday where we celebrate dead soldiers who are now complaining that it’s Tuesday….well, yep. Same time every week. So, really? Shut the fuck up and be miserable, like you are every other day of the week at the job you hate.

I know. I’m salty. Like the cactus sweat of a hot, summer day. From June 21- September 22nd.

Of Memorial Day, and Valor, and Reflection

Yesterday, the husband and I watched a movie called Last Flag Flying. Set in 2003, it is a tale of three Vietnam War vets who come together to help one of them transport and bury his son, who was killed in action in Baghdad. It is a very good film, and I encourage you to watch it. It can be found on Amazon Prime Video for free.

It was particularly stirring for me, the mother of two sons and a son-in-law who are veterans. All three have been overseas; South Korea, Japan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany. My oldest son saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is, of course, the one I worried about the most. The other countries may have been less prone to danger, but in these times, one has to worry no matter where they are, and tensions around the globe are high. I will add, though, that when my youngest boy was a submariner, I worried every single time he went underway. Communication was next to impossible for three months at a time, and wondering where my child was, at any given moment, in the vast expanse and depths of the Pacific Ocean? In a large, nuclear-powered tube with nuclear warheads aboard? Nerve-wracking was not even close to describing how I felt, but it will suffice.

My oldest son, getting ready to deploy the first time.
Navy seamen; in the center, my son.
My son-in-law and daughter in a “lighter moment” – attending a Ball.

There was one particular moment in the movie that gripped me and caused a heavy, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and that was the scene in which Doc (played by the brilliantly understated Steve Carell) describes what it was like to see that gray car pull up to his house and a Marine and Marine Chaplain get out.

It punched me in the gut. I don’t know what it is like to receive that visit, that terrible notification, the words that shatter a parent or a spouse or loved one into a million little pieces. I am grateful, every single day, that I don’t know that pain. But I lived in fear of it every, single day my boys were serving. I especially lived with that fear when my child was in the Middle East, where the fighting was. The thought that an official-looking car could show up in front of my house and a soldier could express “The President’s regret” while a Chaplain stood by, clutching a Bible? That was my worst fear and the stuff of nightmares. I did not sleep well during those years, especially when they were in different time zones. I wanted to be awake if my babies were. I wanted to somehow will my love and strength to them psychically, if that makes any sense.

The scene, in my favorite war movie, Saving Private Ryan, where the mother receives that visit and she is given the devastating news that three of her four sons are dead; I think that moment in cinema will be indelibly etched into my consciousness. Every mother who has sent a child off to war understands that moment in a visceral, raw way; it resonates in the deepest, darkest depths of her soul. In that moment, when you see her spy the car kicking up dust along the road as it makes its way to her farmhouse, and then walk out onto her porch and drop to her knees and just simply sit; you feel her pain as if it was real. Because, for so many mothers, fathers, spouses, and loved ones, it was real. It has played out since World War I, and before the automobile and official visits, via telegram. I do not know what is worse, or more soul-emptying: that car or that impersonal, yellow slip of paper. Both are devastating in their business, though; that much is certain.

Today, we are supposed to honor the fallen, who gave their lives for their country. We attend parades and watch mostly old, fiercely proud generations walk slowly down the center of our Main Streets, holding flags, and some of us stick around to listen to the speeches given by officials in parks, in front of Statehouses or Courthouses. We sing The National Anthem and place our hands upon our hearts and some of us shed tears. We pause in solemn, reverential silence to mark the occasion.

Then, we hurry home to make picnic food, fire up the grill, and crack open a beer or ten. We have pool openings and loud music and raucous laughter in our yards, on our decks, in parks. We tell each other to “go easy” because work commences tomorrow. For those who are working in retail, in healthcare, on police forces or rescue services, it’s just another busier than normal day of stupid people getting into drunken fights over stupid things or some dumbass lighting a firecracker in a beer can and blowing off a finger or two or assholes demanding an employee “go out back and see if there’s more charcoal/marshmallows/etc”.

We celebrate.

Yes, we did our part. We stood in reverence for a few moments and maybe we even thought about our soldiers past, present, and future and their sacrifices. Maybe the tears we felt prickling the corners of our eyes were heartfelt. Maybe for a moment, we actually thought about war, and how it really is hell. My bet is that a great many more of us were looking at our watches, thinking about “everything that needs done” before guests arrive, or that the brisket in the smoker needs checked soon, or “Did I buy enough beer?” ‘Merica, people.

If you mark this day quietly, or if you hold a gathering and pause to reflect, good for you. You still get it. Memorial Day is a day to reflect on and to honor those who have fallen and those who serve and have served with valor. It’s not “The beginning of summer” or “Pool opening day”. Men and women died so you could have that picnic, crush those brewskies, and dunk your kids in that pool.

Reflect, if you will, on this: as you bite into that burger, somewhere, there is the possibility that a mother/father/spouse/next of kin is receiving a visit from an official car by military personnel. Our soldiers are still dying in a foreign land. They still die because they cannot get the help they need stateside after what they had to see and do when they were deployed. Those very facts should be remembered; not just today, but every, single day. These very facts are distressing and require our attention 365 days of the year; not just one.

I have a suggestion for you. Treat every day like Memorial Day. Speak your mind, speak with your vote, honor the fallen, and help to prevent another death by roadside bomb or sniper or suicide bomber by speaking up and demanding that your government end this warmongering behavior it displays with impunity. Not since World War II have we needed to go to war. How many American lives were lost in the wars after World War II? The statistics I’ve consulted put it at roughly 100,000. That doesn’t include wounded who later died as a result of conditions caused by their injuries, or suicides, but those numbers matter. They matter very much. Those suicides? They are a black stain on our country and on a military mindset that doesn’t recognize mental pain. That doesn’t provide adequate services for those afflicted with PTSD. They are casualties, too. Their loved ones grieve, too. There was no official car for those families; just desperation, pain, and ultimately, heartbreak.

They matter, too.

We need to remember that. We need to remember what matters. We need to quit sending our children over to fight wars in countries that don’t want us, need us, or share our values, shrinking as they are under the weight of a hateful, bumbling President who wouldn’t know courage if it walked up to him in the guise of a model or porn star and offered to teach him what it means to sacrifice.

He won’t remember. He won’t do it. But we can.

I’ll leave you with my favorite poem to mark this Memorial Day, and all to come.

 

A Dance Macabre with Faith and Rats in a Secular Haze

Sometimes, life challenges you.

Wait. I lied. And you see right through me, don’t you?

All the fucking time, life challenges you.

I guess that, what I am meaning to say is that there are specific events and times in our lives when we just want to say, “Stop this crazy train and let me off at the next pasture so I can smell some flowers!”

I’ve been riding the crazy train lately, and it’s been gaining speed with a steady uptick that has let me know that, if I didn’t get off just for a brief interlude, the velocity was going to tear me apart.

This past Wednesday, I pulled the cord and got off the train. I jumped into a shuttle of sorts and traveled to Syracuse, New York, where I stood in my symbolic “field of flowers” and just lost myself in a particular mystical, raucous, and magical three hours. I lost that part of myself that needs to be “on” and let myself be caught up in sight, sound, and emotion. I was in good company with 2,000 + other people who where there to do the same. When I am in this particular zone, I feel enveloped in love, in acceptance, and a part of something larger than life. Music truly sets me free, and I have been fortunate to be carried away on waves of euphoria at many concerts, but this – A Ritual – is different. It is like going to church; this is what true believers in their faith experience. I credit KISS with saving my life, but I credit Ghost with giving me life. I may be back on the train, but I know one true thing:

If You Have Ghost, You Have Everything.

Yo Mama.

Happy Mother’s Day to this bouffant-crowned, sarcastically gifted lady, wherever she is. It’s been six years now, and I still find myself feeling awkward on this day of days meant to celebrate her. I know she is at peace in her ever-after. I hope that it’s a place filled with happiness and love, and that some of the friends and family who were able to see her attitude at its best are there, eliciting MORE attitude and sarcasm.

The look she has on her face in this photo was, believe it or not, how I know she was happy when it was taken. She wore her ballsy attitude like a proud vestment of Queendome when she was in the company of friends and family. This was a face I loved to see, her biting comments always deadpan, her voice modulated and dripping with disdain. A takedown from my mother was to be put in your place in such a permanent way that you thought you belonged there. My mother, when in her element, was the epitome of every synonym for sarcasm that exists. Here is the thesaurus entry for “sarcastic”. Read this to know her the way I loved her:

“Synonyms: saucy, derisive, disrespectful, acerbic, trenchant, brusque, disparaging, sardonic, satirical, caustic, biting, mordant, acid, bitter, arrogant, acrimonious, austere, backhanded, captious, carping, contemptuous, corrosive, cutting, cynical, disillusioned, evil, hostile, irascible, mean, offensive, ornery, salty, scorching, scornful, scurrilous, severe, sharp, sneering, acerb, contumelious, ironical, smart-alecky, chaffing, cussed, needling, snarling, taunting, twitting, weisenheiming”

That – ALL OF THAT – was my mother the way I always hoped to see her, and the way I wish to remember her. Some of that could be construed as less-than complimentary, but when we love someone, we love the bad witch in them as well as the Glenda. She could be those negative things, and often was, in her darker moments. I saw more of those than I wanted, and she fell victim to them more than she deserved. In turn, I fell victim, as well.

It doesn’t matter, though. She went through things. We all do, and we all tend to judge others by the way they handle the shit that’s dealt them. She handled adversity; the challenges, the disappointments, the low valleys of sorrow that so often benched her at the kitchen table with only her tormented thoughts, her cigarettes, her coffee, and a deck of cards with which to play solitaire. Sometimes, the cards stayed in their deck and I would find her with her head bowed into her arms. There was no sarcasm then; only desolation. At those moments, I did not know how to elicit that which I hoped to see on her face. I knew that rousing her would only invite those bad synonyms, their barbs cutting into my flesh as she shot those arrows with precise aim at me. I was target practice for the real dragons she wished to slay. I was there, and available. And I loved her. I didn’t know that I wasn’t strong enough to withstand those poison-tipped arrows. Their venom was both immediate and slow-acting. It afflicted me in ways that, even now, I find myself looking for an antidote for.

But no matter. Because I found enough of an antidote to counteract the worst of it, I can think to myself that maybe that shit was savage as fuck, but that it taught me well. It taught me that I had, within myself, those same elements. I inherited her gift for sarcastic wit and I grew it, encouraged and nurtured it, with an expansion of attitude that colors my writing, my interactions, and my every thought. I bring it out, like she did, and put it on full display when it simply needs to be seen, like the crown jewels in a museum. I go one farther than she did, though: I bench it when my thoughts are too dark. I bench it when it would serve only to hit the batter right square in the face when I pitch my vitriole-tinged words. I consign it to the depths and darkened corners and tunnels of my mind when it would do harm if let loose into the world. There, in its cage, it torments only me. And I am good with that, because I know what a steady diet of acidic, cutting, contumelious, vomitus verbiage can do to break down an unwitting (or witting) victim. It wounds, it desensitizes, it changes the chemistry in their brains. It scars.

It scars forever.

She could not contain herself, no. But I can. So, when I go quiet, it’s because the lessons my mother taught me have taken hold, and I have done what I learned to do long ago, and I have consigned them to the basement boiler room of my inner schoolhouse for a time-out. Sarcasm has its place, but when it schools only to hurt, in turn it seeks only to offend.

And it’s Mother’s Day, after all. This is the day to revere our mothers and to reflect upon all the love, the sacrifices, and the countless life lessons. It’s just that, for some of us, there’s a small mountain of salt to go with. If you have more sugar than salt, embrace that. Embrace your mom. Bake her a cake or take her out for ice cream and celebrate all that sweetness.

I’m just gonna sit over here and eat a whole bag of potato chips.