Category Archives: i used to be an angry motherfucker

Excitable Boy, or, “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others”

You wake up to a strange voice asking you if you’d like to take a shower before breakfast. As much as you want to open your eyes, the fluorescent canopy overhead stings them, making it hard to make out the blurred form that is speaking to you. Mumbling incoherently, you say something about a cigarette, and the strange voice clucks in disapproval.

“You need to get some food in your belly so we can give you your first round of meds, buddy.”

You sit up a bit and try to focus on your surroundings — two bed room, other bed currently unoccupied. The room has dorm furniture. Your right wrist has one of those plastic hospital bands wrapped around it, name, date of birth and allergies listed in smudged black ink. Looking toward the disembodied voice that is now telling you where you are, you realize where you are.

“West Valley Camelback Hospital. You and your mother admitted you last night, saying you were going to hurt yourself. You did the right thing, buddy. We’re going to help you get well, don’t you worry.”

You worry.

You worry when you head toward the bathroom, and the voice that now belongs to a six foot seven inch black man informs you that he has to shadow your every move.

“I know it seems awkward, but we have to take precautions, buddy. You’re here because you felt like you were going to hurt yourself, so I have to shadow you for the first seventy-two hours to make sure that you don’t.”

You put some toothpaste onto a brush that you’ve just pulled out of a plastic wrapper. You run some cold water over the brush, and then step into the bathroom to piss — your shadow leaning against the door jamb. Your shadow hands you a plastic reservoir to piss into, because they need to run a tox-screen, even though they have already taken pints of blood from you after they sedated you the night before.

“They just want to be sure, buddy. No need getting your meds all messed up and having it interact poorly if you’re already on something.”

You remember the look on your mother’s face again, the look she gave you as they were taking your blood. You remember holding her hand and telling her everything was going to be okay, that this was the right thing to do.

*****

Your shadow is sitting with you while you eat your breakfast. There is nobody else in the cafeteria, because everyone else is off doing their thing. Your shadow has a name, Darrell. Your shadow used to play basketball at Wake Forest. You tell him that you watched him play on television once, against Ralph Sampson. Your shadow laughs at you.

“You like basketball, buddy? I’d have picked you for one of those skateboarding types.”

This will not be the first time something you say surprises people in this place.

*****

You are sitting in a plush leather chair in the office of the psychiatrist assigned to you. The plastic cup in your hand had just held within it three pills. You asked your shadow what they were, and he just told you to take them because they will help you relax so you can talk to the doctor. You try to figure out a way to keep your sneakers from flopping around, as they have taken away your shoelaces. To protect you from yourself. They have also taken away your belt. Your shadow was kind enough to take you outside to smoke half of a cigarette before bringing you in to see this doctor who is running late.

You look at the framed diplomas on his walls. There is an American flag stuck into a little plastic replica of Plymouth Rock on his desk. There is a painting that depicts a tiger being brought down by savages in loin cloths. There is the slightest musky smell in the room — almost like pipe smoke or cloves. The door opens.

“Sorry to have kept you waiting, I’m Dr. D’Javadi, I’ll be your primary physician here.”

You shake his hand, which feels calloused and dry. You introduce yourself, and the doctor then goes through a rambling mess of treatment plans. All of this is happening as he reads your intake folder without asking you a single question about your current state of mind or feelings. Twice you ask him about the medication you have been given. Twice he raised his hand up off of the folder he is holding to give you the stop sign.

You begin to feel furious.

When the doctor finally engages you about your feelings, you take your time with the opportunity to speak. You explain to him that you do not, under any circumstances, want to see your father. You tell him that as a voluntary patient, you understand you have rights, even as a minor. You express to him repeatedly that the crux of your depression and desire to hurt yourself is due to the fact that you feel like you have driven a wedge between the members of your family with your bullshit, and that by allowing your father to visit you, you will do nothing but submarine any progress you might be able to make.

His fingers are tented from the tip of his nose across his mouth. The doctor takes a moment, and then tells you that he will do the best he possibly can to honor your request. He then asks you if there are certain people that you would be willing to see, so you tell him that your mother and sister, your personal psychologist — whom you have known since you are fourteen — and your English teacher are the only people you want to see. He scribbles into the manilla folder. He asks you questions about your relationship with your psychologist and your English teacher and scribbles some more.

You ask him again about the medications they are giving you, because you do not want to take Prozac. The doctor laughs audibly at this, and then finally relents.

“I have prescribed Imipramine, which is a mild anti-depressant. I have also prescribed you, for the first few days that you are here, with Lorazepam, a benzodiazepine that will help you with the anxieties of adjusting to being in a new place. These medications will also help you to adjust to the intensive talk therapy that you will be participating in. There is no smoking in the building, and because some of the other patients do not have parental permission to smoke, your cigarettes will be kept by the nurses and rationed out to you throughout the day.”

You shake his hand and go back out into the hallway, where your shadow is waiting for you.

*****

That whole first week is now a dull blur. Your shadow is gone, replaced by a nurse named Sarah. Sarah works the night shift and took a shine to you the night you were admitted. She was charged with going through your personal belongings, and tells you repeatedly that she had to fight really hard to get the administration to let you keep your tattered copy of The Hotel New Hampshire. She tells you that John Irving is her favorite writer, and that you have excellent taste.

You have asked multiple administrators repeatedly if it would be okay if your mother brought you your guitar. You have expressed to them all that it would be therapeutic for you to be able to play, and have explained that if it is a distraction to other patients, you have a headphone amplifier you can play through.

The administrators say no.

Sarah tells you that they had to lock up a lot of the cassette tapes you brought with you to listen to on your Walkman, because as they listened to them, the music felt violent — not to mention the lyrical content. Sarah also explains to you that the reason why they would not let you keep your Jimi Hendrix tapes or shirt was because he “died of a drug overdose, and that is not what we’re all about here.” You calmly try to explain to her that Hendrix died because the woman who was with him at the time was an idiot and watched him choke on his own vomit instead of doing anything to help him, but Sarah isn’t buying it.

“We’re all a little bit older than you — I think we know what really happened.”

You wonder to yourself why it is they will let you keep a book that has incest in it, but won’t let you play your guitar or listen to Jimi Hendrix. You look in the plastic bag that has your approved items, and find an unmarked cassette tape. You smile, because if they had really listened to everything, they would know what was on this tape. You realize that you now possess something they would not want you to have, and you fill up with warm blood for the first time in over a week.

Sarah asks you a series of questions about your current mental state while she takes your vitals. Her hands feel warm and kind, unlike your psychiatrist. She seems to genuinely care about your well-being. Sarah tells you that she speaks to your mother every night, letting her know how you are doing. Sarah also tells you that tomorrow, you will be switching rooms and will now have a roommate.

After Sarah has turned out the lights and left, you masturbate, thinking about how soft her hands are, and about how you will have to share a room with some other fucked up kid.

*****

You are sitting in a room with twelve other patients. They have seated you boy/girl in a big circle. There is a counselor speaking about the rules of the group. Nobody is allowed to talk over anyone else. If someone feels as though they cannot participate, that is fine, but you must not become a distraction to the people who do choose to participate. You feel uneasy, because the girl on your left is attractive. You also feel uneasy because your new roommate, Raymond, is making faces at you from across the circle.

The counselor asks you if you would like to tell everyone why you are there with them.

Instead of just speaking up, you look down at your feet for a moment. The counselor takes this as a sign, and starts to speak again. You put up your hand to stop him, and he, like so many other adults in your life up to this point, exhales forcefully.

“I’m here because I felt like I was going to hurt myself. I bought a gun, and was planning on killing myself.”

One of the other guys in the circle coughs. A girl sighs. The counselor, his name is Richard, asks you to continue. You then spend a few moments explaining the reasons why you wanted to hurt yourself. You realize, as you are speaking, that these reasons are no different than anyone else’s, that this thing you have felt afflicted with is the same thing that each one of these children are afflicted with — a lack of self-understanding. A lack of self-love. A hole in the heart where joy should live.

This was the moment that you realized you did not belong in this place.

You finish speaking, going through the motions. Richard thanks you for sharing why you are there, and then asks the group if they have any questions for you. The girl to your left, the cute one, raises her hand slightly. Richard acknowledges her, and then she beings to speak.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

Everyone bursts into laughter. Well, not everyone — you feel paralyzed by the question. Richard gets red-faced and angry. Raymond shouts from across the circle that he thinks you are a faggot. Another girl asks if you are a faggot. Richard’s face reddens, and he starts to raise his voice to quiet everyone down. The girl next to you who asked the question slyly grazes your shoe with her own, causing you to start to get an erection.

“Do you have a drinking problem? Do you use drugs every day? Are you violent? Do you cut yourself? Have you ever hurt an animal?”

All of those questions come flying out of Richard, spitting venom as he asks. You respond to each question calmly. You shrug your shoulders about the drugs and alcohol questions, because you’ve already witnessed how they march all of the other kids off to twelve-step meetings three times per day, and you’d rather not do all of that talking — this group session was more than hard enough as it was. You explain to the group that you grew up with violence, and that you yourself were only violent if you felt the need to protect yourself. You explained to them that you had a bad habit of bullying your little sister, because your father bullied you. You make it perfectly clear that you value the lives of animals over those of other humans.

Richard moves on to the rest of the group, but throughout the session he makes sure that you see him watching you.

*****

Richard corners you after the group is over. He has red hair, and resembles Cousin Oliver from “The Brady Bunch.” He makes you feel uneasy even though he is supposedly there to help you. Your palms start to sweat and your tongue feels fat in your mouth.

“Let’s go outside and smoke and talk, okay?”

Richard goes over to the nurse’s station and gets your cigarettes for you as you wait for him by the door to the patio area. As he walks back toward you, you see that he has a slight limp and that he tries to conceal it. He puts his key into the lock for the door, and you hold it open for him to go outside before you.

You are sitting at a picnic bench with Richard, smoking, as he tells you how much you remind him of himself when he was a kid. You’ve heard this rap before from plenty of people — each one of them more sincere than the next. You try to act as though you are truly listening, but each word he utters distorts and becomes a part of the previous stream of words now echoing in your head.

“I’m here to help you. If you ever need anything, just ask, okay?”

*****

Raymond will not stop. He does the same thing over and over again, and each time he does it he howls like a wolf at the top of his lungs.

The windows in this place are three inches thick. Unbreakable. Raymond will back all the way up to the door of the room, plant one foot on the back of the door like a sprinter, and then he takes off — full speed, head lowered like a ram, right into the window.

BANG.

“If you weren’t such a faggot, you’d be trying to break this glass, too.”

*****

The Imipramine causes you to have dreams that scare you. You keep on picturing that last night, when you were sitting outside in the gravel with the gun. The clouds are scattered and the moon is bright. You can smell the sulfur and gunpowder. You are slumped against the wall outside of your window, blood streaming from the wound on your head. You should be dead, but you are still alive, slowly bleeding out. Your hands are numb and you feel cold. You can hear your mother calling your name from inside the house, behind your locked bedroom door.

You wake up calling her name, but the only thing you hear is Raymond calling you a faggot and telling you to go back to sleep.

*****

You are sitting in Dr. D’Javadi’s office, waiting for your mother to arrive to talk about how you’ve been doing. You feel anxious. Your head feels muddy from the medications they have been giving you. You’ve felt for a while like you should be able to go home, because you’ve been playing the game in Richard’s group sessions and he’s been telling you that you’re getting better.

You worry about the incident, though.

There was an incident with Raymond that caused you to get put into a solitary room for twenty-four hours. You’d had more than enough of being called a faggot, so you purposely low-bridged him on the basketball court, causing him to fall and hit his head. When Raymond tried to get back up and in your face, you punched him in the face repeatedly until your former shadow pulled you off of him, muttering “Goddamn, son. Goddamn” as he did so.

You felt like your mother would understand. There was only so much someone could call you a faggot before you retaliated in some way.

Dr. D’Javadi comes in and sits at his desk, smiling. You still feel anxious, but make small talk with him about how things have been going. He appears to be proud of you for your progress, and his tone of voice seems warmer than before. He mentions that Richard is very fond of you, and that a lot of the staff is very impressed with your demeanor.

As the door opens, you immediately feel betrayed.

Your mother comes through the door with your father in tow. Everyone sees you shift awkwardly in your seat. You ask the doctor if you can smoke in his office, and he hands you an ashtray, a lighter and a pack of Winstons from a desk drawer. You refuse to look at your father, who is sitting on the small couch with your mother who will not meet your eyes. You hear a lot of words coming out of the mouths of adults who you felt had your best interests at heart. You hear tell of your father moving back home. You hear your mother telling you that she is proud of you. You hear the doctor expressing to your father your concerns about him being able to visit you, and watch as your father looks shocked.

Everyone sounds like they are underwater to you. Every syllable is muffled, garbled. Your hands start to shake. You fidget in your seat. You can hear your heartbeat in your ears and the light in the room feels dimmer.

*****

You wake up in a very bright room, strapped down on a gurney. Your cheeks are raw from chewing holes in them, and your tongue feels rug-burned. You can barely lift your head to see the heavy door, but you know it is there. You try to speak, to cry out — but you are too sluggish to make your voice work. You can crane your neck and see that you have been injected with something, because of the cotton and the band-aid on your arm.

“You really did a number on Dr. D’Javadi, buddy.”

Your former shadow, now your shadow in this room, slowly tells you the tale. You flipped out, launching yourself across the desk at the doctor, grabbing him with both hands around his throat. Your father tried to pull you off of him, but you were determined to take care of each one of them at your own pace. Dr. D’Javadi hit the panic button as you grabbed him, and your mother ran out into the hallway screaming for help. Your shadow and four other staff members rushed in to try and pry you off of the doctor, but you put up a pretty good fight.

“You broke Richard’s nose, buddy. Pretty badly, too — he’s going to need to have surgery.”

Your shadow tries not to laugh when he sees the smirk come across your face.

*****

Your new doctor, Dr. Phillips, meets with you openly in the cafeteria. Dr. Phillips is asking you about your aftercare program, because you are going home at the end of the week. You tell Dr. Phillips that you would like for your personal psychologist to administer your aftercare, and he agrees to that. Dr. Phillips then tells you that Dr. D’Javadi will be coming back to work the next day, and that it would be best for everyone on the staff if you apologized to him in front of the staff and the other patients.

You agree.

*****

You are packing your belongings in a room you have all to yourself again. Sarah is sitting on a chair talking to you about the things that have happened with the rest of the patients that you have been kept from. She tells you that Richard explained to the group that his getting hurt was not your fault, as he was dumb enough to try and grab you forcefully in the middle of the violence. Sarah also tells you that the cute girl, Maureen, has been passing her notes for the past ten days that were meant for you.

“That girl has it bad for you, kiddo. Real bad.”

You don’t really have much to say, so you give Sarah the same smirk you gave to your shadow in the lock-down room. Sarah laughs and reaches into her pocket, taking out a fistful of notes and shoving them into your bag of stuff. She hugs you, warmly, and kisses you on the cheek.

“You be good to you, okay?”

*****

You are in a car with your mother, on the way home. Your mother keeps asking you about school, and about what your plans are. You’ve missed almost ninety days, and you have a lot of catching up to do. You tell her that you will work something out with the school, and that you did plenty of work there in the facility that should apply in some way.

Your mother apologizes for blind-siding you with your father, and you tell her how sorry you are for everything. You tell her how you realized very quickly that you did not belong in this place — that this place was for kids who were far more fucked up than you were, and that you feel like you wasted everyone’s time. You tell her how sorry you are that your depression and your inability to get along with your father has ruined the family. You cry. Your mother begins to cry.

The both of you spend the rest of the ride in silence.

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Filed under i used to be an angry motherfucker, i used to be stupid, who is sean?

In The Shadow Of My Family Tree.

A little Back-story before I unravel this Ramble –

My mother passed away on Mother’s Day (May 12th, 1996). She was only 52 years old.

Over the last 13 years, I usually write something about her passing/death, or the circumstances that were going on within our family at the time (some of them can be found in the archives of this site – others have long since disappeared into the Black Hole of multiple URLs disappearing or being forsaken). This year, I’m going to flip the script a little, so I’m not going to write about her death.

This year, I’m going to tell you about the time she saved my life…

I was seventeen years old. My father had just left home, leaving the three of us (my mother, myself, and my littler sister) kind of in the lurch. I mean – it was pretty evident that their marriage wasn’t necessarily The Greatest Of All Time, but coming home to find that he’d left was a bit of a shock. My mother was a fucking wreck. And me, being the douchey little bastard that I had the tendency to be, was overflowing with advice and witticisms that I thought could ease her emotional distress.

That didn’t go as planned.

I remember the worst of them all, as it haunts me to this day – one early morning as I was getting ready to go to work (I was going to an “Alternative” High School at night, since I didn’t seem to get along all too well with all the cute and fuzzy bunnies at the High School I was supposed to go to – so I worked in the mornings and went to school at night.), and we were having our customary “Mom and Sean” morning coffee routine. She was sitting at the counter, bags underneath her eyes so big and brutal she looked like she’d been hit in the face by Marvelous Marvin Hagler. I was standing on the other side of our kitchen counter, pouring her a cup of mud. It might have been Spring, but my memory about the minutiae is a bit foggy twenty or so years later.

She started crying, and as her son, her eldest, I couldn’t bear the thought of her being in pain. It killed me to see her cry. Every time she started, I wanted to jack her car from her, drive to wherever my father was hiding out with his new womanfriend, and beat him unconscious with whatever I could find – as any Good Son should.

Instead, I opened my big fat yap and said quite possibly the most terrible thing that has ever come out of my mouth. I can still to this day feel the way the kitchen felt when all the air got sucked out. I can still see the way her eyes just exploded into a million tiny shards of sadness. I can still feel the immediate impulse to grab the biggest knife in the kitchen and commit Seppuku right there on the fucking spot.

“Jesus Fucking Christ, Mom? He dumped us. It sucks, but fucking get over it already and stop being so fucking weak.”

Even typing that sentence out rightfuckingnow I feel like such a fucking shitbird. It’s honestly my one regret in my entire life, my one Terrible Iniquity that I just cannot seem to shake loose from. My albatross of horrific proportion.

ANYWAYS…

Fast forward about six weeks, and I’m losing my fucking mind.

I don’t know for sure what really sparked the fire in my belly, but the level of depression I was suffering from was beginning to become un-fucking-bearable. Not normal Teen Depression in the least – this wasn’t even the regular old “I’m going to walk out into the middle of I-10 and get hit by a fucking Semi” depression. This was “Sean bought a little .25 deuce-quince off a Mexican coke dealer, and plans on shooting himself under his chin in the middle of the night” depression.

I don’t even really remember if I had even talked to any of my friends about how bad it was. I just knew I was cracking, and cracking fast. I had found an old typewriter in the garage, and I would stay up all night, typing out these long as fuck letters to Jimi Hendrix, stoned out of my mind and spun out from eating handfuls of White Crosses. Those fucking letters, man – they were something else. Stream-of-consciousness shit that would probably make old Ted Kaczynski seem like a sweet and loving old man who only wanted to teach children math.

I was so angry that I would come home all kinds of fucked up and just terrorize my mother and sister, locking myself in my room with that infernal typewriter, click-click-clacking away all night long. Some nights, I would crawl out my window with my headphones on, laying in the gravel with the gun in my lap, looking up at the moon to see if there would be some kind of sign letting me know when to pull the plug.

I was slowly turning into something like those fucking Columbine Cunts, at least in my mind. Cracked in half. One half of my mind totally terrified of myself, and the other half willing to embrace all of that beautiful chaos and incendiary anger.

One morning, my mother just flat-out asked me why I was writing letters to Jimi Hendrix.

I just fucking crumbled right there, on the spot. Like, rolling on the floor, speaking in tongues, bouncing my head off the linoleum bawling like a little minge. None of that Nancy Kerrigan wailing, though. Just the physical aspects. I told her everything. I told her that I planned my death in my head almost every hour, and that I was terrified that I might actually do it. I told her that I didn’t want to hurt her or my sister. I told her that I needed help, because I didn’t really want to die, but that it was all I could think about. I told her that her life, and my sister’s life, would be better off without me, because all I did was fuck everything up.

She told me that she knew. She told me that she knew I needed help, and told me that I was going to get some.

She was really patient and loving with me. She waited for me to come to her. She never pushed the issue, even though she knew I was about to go the fuck off. She had been reading the letters, even though I thought I had stashed them in a decent spot. She had already contacted my psychologist, and let him know that I was taking things way over the line of normal Teen Depression. She asked me if I was really intent on doing myself harm, and asked me in that way that only a mother can ask her child – the way that not only makes you feel retarded for having the thoughts, but flips that switch inside of your frazzled brain and lets you know it’s time to take the help.

Later on that night, I was in an intake room for an Adolescent Psychiatric Facility. The Bughouse. My own Ginsbergian nightmare come to life. My poor mother. This intake nurse is sitting there running the magical gauntlet of questions, asking me about which drugs I’ve taken, what my thoughts of harming myself were like, my level of sexual activity, and how often I felt like hurting myself, and she’s having to take it all in. I watch her hands shaking as I answer these questions. I see the fear in her eyes, this sadness that washes over her face and ages her in an instant.

I remember reaching over and grabbing her hand. I remember the both of us, crying. The intake nurse had no idea what to do or say. So I said it instead.

“Mom, you saved my life today. No matter what happens in here, you saved my life. Please don’t be scared.”

I’m not going to go into what the next 90 days of my life were like in that place right now. Maybe some other time. Sometimes, when the shit in my life starts to pile up on me and feels overwhelming, I think about what it felt like in that intake room. I think about how brave it was of my mother to take that risk, that gamble that I would actually go through with it.

I’m thankful that she did.

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Kaddish/The End of Silence

“Obviously the facts are never just coming at you, but are incorporated by an imagination that is formed by your previous experience. Memories of the past are not memories of facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts.”
– Philip Roth

“Why the fuck is there a cross on the wall over her bed – did everyone suddenly forget she’s Jewish?”

Even typing it brings a shudder into my bones. When you’re standing in an intensive care room, anticipating the most shattering loss of your young life, the smallest details are the ones you carry around with you until your own days become minutes.

It’s amazing to me that twelve years have passed – probably because these last twelve years have felt like being stuck inside someone else’s dream, someone else’s movie. I find myself questioning my own memories, much like Roth’s quote – did things go down in the manner in which I remember them? Is it possible that my experience was solely my own, and everyone else involved has their own take on the movie?

It’s more than possible, in hindsight.

Comparing my own memories, I’ve come to find that being much more involved in the loss of my father has shed a fuckton of light on how much less involved I was in my mother’s passing. There were others who shouldered the burden twelve years ago, others who to this very day have still never spoken to me of the circumstances surrounding my lack of involvement and why I was not allowed to be a part of the process.

“You need to go home, Sean. Nobody wants you here anymore. You’re an abomination.”

It still stings, twelve years on. It feels like someone has poured Hydrochloric Acid into my ears when it echoes off the tiny bones inside of my skull, and my immediate reaction is to reach out and smash something, anything. To grab hold of something concrete and destroy it.

I can still see the look in my sister’s eyes in that moment, the way she glassily glanced at me briefly and then immediately turned her gaze out the window, to look aimlessly at a cloudless sky – anything to not see how decimated what was left of my soul had just become. Getting verbally slapped across the face by a family member is hard as it is, but having something so vile slide out of the mouth of someone who supposedly has the same blood in their veins, less than 48 hours after your own mother has come out of an eight week long coma was life-altering.

Nothing would ever be the same again. There was nothing anyone in my family could say that could bring back any modicum of innocent hope and blind faith. Battle lines had now been drawn, and my stupid ass was the only one standing on my side of them. No matter how many red flags had been raised in the weeks previous, I never for a minute thought it would have come down the way it did – with me kicking rocks on my way back to my McJob and shitty apartment in Phoenix, while my mother was in the ICU in San Diego, surrounded by the love and protection of her Holy Roller sister who had just cut me off from my own flesh and blood.

Twelve years later, and I still have not been able to figure out how I was blindsided by all of this in the manner in which I was. Twelve years and three more familial deaths later, and I have still yet to release my own frustration in regard to the loss of the woman who carried me in her womb. The two maternal figures that stepped into the void to help heal the broken little boy in me, are now gone as well, memories of their laughter and kindness fluttering around the everyday routines now in place. I try so hard to keep on keeping on, but there is this thing, this angry thing buried deep into the DNA of me. This thing can turn on a dime and burn up everything within my ever-expanding reach.

“You’re an abomination. Nobody wants you here – not even your mother.”

Flash to Mother’s Day of 1996 – me volunteering to work that day, because nothing was going to ease my mind more than putting my nose to the grindstone. Trying to use work to keep my head together, even though early that morning I found myself weeping and screaming out like an injured child in the shower. Because I knew. I knew even before my pager vibrated in my pocket. I knew even before I saw my sister’s phone number on the little screen.

I knew the day had arrived.

“Get here as fast as you can. Please. Mommy…Mommy doesn’t have much time, Sean.”

I think I was on a plane within ninety minutes or so – it’s really hard to remember clearly what seems like a dream. I remember having a glass of whiskey in my hand, listening to it rattle and shake, its harshness stinging my lips. I can still feel the hair on my arms standing up when I could feel my mother pass right through me upon my descent into San Diego – I could smell her on me as we came down slowly over Balboa Park and into Lindberg Field. The walk off of the plane felt like an eternity – like I was floating above the carpet – until I saw my sister’s broken face, her standing there, being held up by a friend – a river of tears pouring out of her eyes like blood from an artery.

“Mommy’s gone, Sean. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry…”

I couldn’t speak, so I just grabbed her and held onto her as tightly as I could. In that moment I was remembering the sorrow and pain of a family who had lost their Grandmother in the room adjacent to my mother – seeing everyone crack into tiny pieces at the moment of her death, each member of that family grabbing onto one another in a way that no writer could ever do justice to with the limitations of language – and thinking about how I needed to be as serene as possible when our family’s moment came. Squeezing my sister tightly, all I could do was keep on whispering in her ear – “She’s not in pain anymore – it’s alright – it’s okay – no more pain – it’s okay” – over and over again, as if saying it would somehow make us feel better that we’d just lost her.

I remember riding to the hospital in La Jolla, again with this feeling of levitation, as if the car itself were hovering over the highway. We had to go and say good-bye. I had to see with my own eyes that she was truly gone.

Arriving there, I became immediately incensed at the sight of the Holy Rollers, not for one minute thinking of their own pain from the loss – only having visions of vengeance and emotional restitution flipping through my mind. Spying my mother’s Oncologist out of the corner of my eye, I felt acid and bile rising up inside of me, and hoped that I would be able to spit its fury into his eyes and blind him, remembering that he, much like everyone else in this situation, had never once looked me in the eye when speaking to me – everyone using the voice of concern saved for small children, animals, and retards.

“Would you like to see her at peace, Sean? I’ll go in with you – we can say good-bye together, okay?”

Feeling someone taking me by the arm, I realize it’s the Holier half of the Holy Rollers – Saint Chris – he of condescending tone and clouded vision. Not wanting to fight with him in the presence of my sister, not to mention the former presence of my mother, I allowed him to take me into the room where my mother lay. We had to scrub in and don surgical gear, as my mother had been exposed to some form of super-bacteria after her colon had burst from the radiation and chemotherapy. I felt like I did during Chemical Warfare drills in the Navy – trapped in a cocoon of material that probably wouldn’t save me anyway – only this time it felt as though Saint Chris’ hands were made of lava, my skin wanting to melt away at his grip.

The first thing I noticed upon walking into my mother’s Death Room, was that same fucking cross above her bed. As if the wooden Jesus was mocking me, mocking her. I clenched my teeth tightly, and could feel very clearly the lack of her. Slowly looking down upon the gurney, I could see that her face was empty – the woman that I knew, that my DNA was derived from – she was gone. Her hands ballooned up from the fluids building up in her body, the empty and lifeless face barely connected to the woman I had been born of, the woman who had created me.

“She’s with The Lord now, Sean – can’t you tell by looking at how peaceful she looks?”

I started to vibrate, right on the cusp of going thermonuclear, but my mouth wouldn’t budge – everything clammed the fuck on up other than me whispering out an obligatory “Yeah, peaceful”. None of the simmering anger inside of me could come out, at least not in that Death Room, not where what she once was had been left for me to see. No matter how disrespectful I had been made out to be, I wasn’t about to allow anyone to point a finger in my direction and say “I told you so!”

I asked Saint Chris for a moment alone with my mother, but for some reason he continued to hover close to me, and I could feel him wanting to reach out and touch me again. I finally turned and calmly told him that the best thing he could do right now was leave me with her for a few moments, so that I could speak to her before they took her away for the last time. It took him a second to realize that I was serious, and that it was time for him to leave me in the Death Room with her. Alone.

Twelve years later, and I can still feel how cold the skin on her forehead was as I kissed it for the last time. Feeling the lack of life, lack of energy within her hand as I put it within my own. I can still remember how a wash of emotions came over me as I released my lips from her forehead, emotions that to this day I still cannot truly put words to. My mother was dead. My mother, the one woman in my life who believed in me, the innermost me, was gone forever.

Leaving the Death Room, Saint Chris tried to grab me, to hug me, but I brushed beyond him like a gust of wind, headed for the Charge Desk – full speed ahead. Chock full of unanswered questions and boiling over with rage, I asked the Charge Nurse for an autopsy. I demanded it, since nobody involved in this entire situation had ever once bothered to give me a straight answer as to what was happening to my mother.

In my peripheral vision I could see the other Holy Roller, Saint Carole, my mother’s older sister who had forsaken her Judaism to become an Evangelical monster, shaking her head at the Charge Nurse, in what seemed like a well-rehearsed unspoken dialog – “He’s crazed, please do not listen to him” came tumbling out of her mouth like venomous snakes.

“She’s with the Lord now, Sean. Nobody wanted you here – you’re an abomination.”

Standing out in the middle of the parking lot now, burning holes in every passerby as I smoked a post-viewing cigarette, I finally start to pace. Violently. Temples throbbing and hands shaking, I see my sister coming out of the entrance, flanked by the Holy Rollers. None of them look my way, they just slowly plod their way over to the car, as if I weren’t even there. Realizing that they will probably leave without me, I stomp out my cigarette and make my way over to the car. Nobody speaks a word, we all just pile in and head South to my mother’s house.

“We’ll go to the mortuary tomorrow, and start making arrangements for her burial.”

Barely onto the highway at the moment, and I am already boiling and churning again. My head, pressed against the fogged window, throbbing and pulsing with what was left of my heartbeat. Burial? I asked if anyone had ever discussed with my mother what her wishes were, and Saint Carole became unglued, saying that conversations of that nature were “unholy”, and that I should just allow everyone to come to terms with the decisions that she was making for all of us. I couldn’t take it anymore, and started grabbing at the headrest behind Saint Chris as he drove, begging him to pull the car over to the side of the highway so I could throw up, the bile and acid working their way into my mouth, scorching my tongue.

Crouched down in the brush at the side of the highway, spitting out the remnants of my stomach, with my head in a dizzy haze of anguish and sorrow, I decided that it was time. Only Saint Chris had gotten out of the car to make sure I was alright, and I looked up at him with my boiling eyes, trying to cook the skin right off of him.

“She didn’t want to buried in the ground. She wanted to be scattered over the ocean. How dare you. How dare all of you. None of you had the decency, the common human decency, to even ask her what she wanted, when she was the one who was dying? How dare you people, you fucking hypocritical cowards, hiding behind your Lord and Savior! She was my mother, not some pet who couldn’t speak and gets buried in the fucking yard!”

I don’t even remember getting back into the car, nor do I remember getting to my mother’s house. The next memory that I have is of me, digging into the bottom of my duffel bag for my pipe and bag of reefer, taking off to walk on the beach and smoke myself into a peaceful state of being. I didn’t want to be in the same room with anyone, and I certainly didn’t feel like sitting around and talking about what a fucking monster I was for speaking my mind. I do remember asking if anyone had the balls to call my grandmother, since nobody had even bothered to tell her that her daughter was sick, let alone dying of cancer.

“You’re an abomination. A monster.”

High, I went to a pay phone, and called my father collect. He knew as soon as he picked up the phone. I could hear his voice break, him telling me to “hold fast” and all I could do was sob. Even though they were divorced, they had spent over twenty years together – and twenty years of marriage, no matter the circumstances, that counts as time served – he was crushed. Telling him about the Holy Rollers, their naked aggression toward me, and their planned-out “burial”, I could hear him pushing a stream of air from between his teeth. There was a moment of silence, and then I could hear the ice in his glass of scotch cracking.

“I’ll be on a plane tomorrow morning. I’ll call you at the house, and I want you to commandeer whatever car you can and pick me up at the airport, okay?”

I stumbled around Pacific Beach for another couple of hours, intermittently smoking more pot in between bungalows and underneath piers. The conversation in my head was as one-sided and broken as could be – me asking myself over and over again why I was in this situation, why I was an “abomination” and a “monster”. I couldn’t come up with anything, other than the fact that I had always been honest about my disbelief in “God”, and that I had once thwarted the Holy Rollers attempt at converting me, when I was fourteen years old – even calling them out on it in front of my parents.

Slowly working my way back into my mother’s house, I could see that everyone else was still awake. The three of them sitting around the kitchen table, already going through old photo albums, glasses of wine and two empty bottles on the table in front of them. Before I could even open my mouth, the conversation went right back to deciding on a service that we could all agree upon – the three of them suddenly coming to the realization that they might not have understood the greater picture, and that there were other people’s feelings at stake here besides their own. I made mention that there should be a Rabbi, considering the fact that she was a Jew, and her mother would be present – a very proud Jew as well.

“Uncle Chris will do the service with the Rabbi, then. We should have representation for both religions, don’t you think?”

Instead of being angry anymore, I decided the best thing for me was to curl up somewhere and sleep. The weed wearing off had made me ropey and gooey, and even thinking at this point had become torture. I kissed my sister on the forehead, and gave both of the Holy Rollers genuine hugs. I knew that the next few days would be a blur of shaking hands and making small-talk with people who had no idea who or what I was – and that most of them had already been painted a not-so-rosy picture of who Sean was.

I remember picking up both my father, and my grandmother at the airport the next day, as I had been relegated to chauffeur duty. I remember how fragile and elderly my grandmother suddenly seemed to be, her grief hidden behind over-sized sunglasses that made her appear so tiny. I remember my father, eyes bloodshot and skin reeking of scotch and shame. I remember meeting with the nice man from the mortuary, and noticing immediately that he was able to sense the tension between the Holy Rollers and myself – and that my grandmother and my father were my only allies in the world.

The man from the mortuary showed us this amazing lily pond, and showed us the rock formations surrounding it – little crypts to spend eternity in, overlooking the beauty of the pond. I remember how my grandmother grabbed hold of my hand so tight in that moment, as if she knew this was The Place. I caught a glimpse of my father, shuffling his feet and fighting back tears as we stood there in awe of all of this heavenly glory.

“This, this is what my daughter would have wanted. If anyone else has issue with this decision, too bad – I’ve made the decision for all of us.”

She was squeezing my hand so tightly as she spoke, as if she was trying to reassure me as well as use some of my own strength to say what she knew I had wanted to say. Everyone else kind of looked around in a daze, nodding their heads in an unspoken approval. Saint Carole gave me a sharp and quick look, but then looked back to the pond, silently.

I remember meeting with the Rabbi back at my mother’s house, out in the parking lot before he even got to the door. I remember him getting out of his beat up Rabbit, papers falling out around his sandal-covered feet. He knew who I was right away, walking over briskly and taking my hand with an assuring grasp.

“You must be Zalmen, the good Jewish son. I’m deeply sorry for your loss. Are there really Evangelicals in there, waiting to eat me alive?”

I loved him instantly.

Twelve years later, and I remember the sweet smell of pipe smoke that wafted off of him. Twelve years later, and the blur of memories surrounding the service comes down to me only being able to remember sitting between my sister and my father, holding both of their hands as they silently cried. I remember little bits and pieces of the service – people coming in to my personal bubble slowly, to give their condolences and quietly move along and slip back into the crowd. I remember riding to the cemetery with my father and a little cousin – herself an unlikely survivor of childhood leukemia, a champion of epic folklore.

I remember the cat very clearly.

During the crypt-side portion of the service, my sister and I both looked up simultaneously. Up above us, sitting out in the branches of a tree directly over my mother’s new resting place – was a sunbathing cat. The cat kind of cocked it’s head to the side, giving my sister and I a sly little wink. My sister and I both stood there transfixed, and I nudged my father’s arm slightly so that he would look up as well.

Twelve years later, and I still don’t know why I was an “abomination” or a “monster”. Twelve long years of unanswered questions and unresolved suffering. Couple all of that with the other losses that I have suffered over the last few years, and you might begin to understand why I live so cautiously now. Losing my mother was the first really challenging moment in my life, but there were, and are, many more to come. Memories fade with time, and sometimes the stories all blur themselves together as if they’re all a part of one another. Maybe Roth is right after all – these memories can quite possibly be all of my imaginings of the facts.

But I will always remember that cat.

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