“Gimme those pills,” my mother says, “I want to die.”
The words begin to sink hollow and I rush to get the bottles out of her hands. She is frantic. It doesn’t matter to her if this was something she could actually off herself with or if it was a fucking vitamin. I had to get them out of her hands. I had to get her away from the pills. I had to stop her.
I am fifteen years old. This isn’t the first time she’s gone crazy. Not the first time she’s gotten pissed to the point where the brother and I have to worry. Not the first time she’s gotten fucked up on something.
It is the first time she’s ever said those words. The first time she tried to end it and dared us to stop her.
I am panicking. My brother is panicking. It is April. I’d known she was going downhill during spring break a week back. We needed to go out and do things. We needed food. She needed to drive us. We were trapped in a one-bedroom apartment with a basketball hoop outside and books in hand and windows open to stir a stale dying breeze.
Not today, she would say, and I knew the day would never come.
She was going insane and there was nothing I could do about it.
She keeps saying she’s going to end it if we don’t do what she tells us. We do those things. Call the shrink she doesn’t go to anymore. He doesn’t pick up. It’s four in the afternoon on a Sunday. Leave him messages. Say that this is his fault he hasn’t prepared either of us. Call the home nurse she got after her last stint in the ward. Tell her we’re useless. Tell her our mother is going to die.
She doesn’t pick up. It’s four in the afternoon on a Sunday. We try to find her in the phonebooks. We call her at home. Her name is nowhere. I keep looking anyway. I call people with a matching last name. I ask if they’re related. None tell me they know her. Some huff and hang up. I’m not surprised. I shouldn’t expect anything else. I’m useless; my mother is quick to remind me. So fucking useless. Stop trying. We should both let her die. It would be easier. It would follow the self-training engrained in me. Do nothing and hope she’ll get over it soon.
Some part of me realizes that this isn’t one of those times. I have to do something. I have to put an end to this. Call. Get her in a hospital. There is something very wrong with her and this is all a fucked-up cry for help. But I don’t call. I do what she says. The old shrink calls back at eight and tells me to call 911. She is sick, he insists. She has to go to a hospital.
“Ok,” I tell him. He sighs again. He hangs up.
I try to convince her then. She calls it bullshit. It’s his fault she’s doing this. She’s tired. She wants to go to bed. She’ll go in the morning. Get her pills. How many did she take? Go count them in the kitchen. Shouldn’t she be dead right now? God, she’s tired.
I go to the kitchen with a piece of paper from my bag. Almost half a bottle. The dose isn’t strong enough. She screams from the bedroom that I’m an idiot and I have to use the paper as a funnel to get them back in the bottle.
No mood for it. I’m numb. I don’t bring the bottle back in the room. She screams for it. I tell her no. She screams that I’m withholding her medication. I remind her she’s been trying to kill herself with it for the past four hours. She says fuck you. She doesn’t get up and get it herself. She screams for us to give and keeps holding her arm out and slamming it against the mattress like a dying fish.
We are useless pieces of shit. It is our fault that she wants to die. This place is a shithole. We never clean. We’re only here because of me so I can finish school without changing it again. I stare back. I don’t respond.
It’s not my fault, I have to keep telling myself. She’s sick. She just gets mad sometimes.
She gets out of bed two hours later. She’s quiet. She glares at us but doesn’t say anything. Maybe her throat’s sore. She says we’d wait till morning and then she’d go in. She wasn’t talking about suicide. She wasn’t really talking about anything. Maybe she had just been pissed and was starting to simmer down. Maybe it really is our fault.
The place gets silent for a while. I sit up on the couch and stare at the television. No thoughts. No words. I know I won’t be sleeping. I’d have to be up at five in the morning and go to school and be normal and never tell anyone about any of this. They wouldn’t understand. I couldn’t expect them to.
Eleven o’clock she tells us to call an ambulance. We do. My brother went outside with her and saw her off. I tried going to bed. He comes back after the flashing red and blue lights fade away from the windows and I ask him how she was.
“Fine,” he says. He isn’t trying to sound harsh but it creeps through his voice. “We’ll find out tomorrow.”
Go to bed, Matt.
I go to my bed and keep my lamp on and try reading-what book, I don’t remember. Maybe one by Philip Kerr since that was my kick then. I pass out later on. What time, I don’t remember. I wake up at 5:30. I go to school. I’m numb. Some of them are more perceptive than others. They asked what’s wrong with me. I tell them I’m tired. It is my excuse for everything.
I was always just tired.
It wasn’t the last time. It was always boiling under the surface. I always knew she would try again.
The following February my brother is walking to CVS to pick up some groceries and I’m standing in the kitchen with one foot on the stairs as she stands in the bedroom doorway flashing a pill bottle and tears streaming down her red face.
“I’m gonna lock myself in here and take this bottle and I will fucking die.”
My phone’s in my pocket. I say nothing. I go outside and call 911 and cops come in less than five minutes. She’d locked the door. She won’t talk. They tell me to stay in the hallway below the apartment. I’m pacing back and forth by the front door when they call her name. There’s a pop that stops everything in a moment of absolute silence. Some part of me thinks it’s a gunshot. Maybe she has a knife and they’d just shot my mother dead. Suicide by cop.
I don’t breathe until I hear her voice again. They’d only kicked the door in. One of the EMTs comes down a minute later to tell me to move to the side and I do and then two others stand at either side of her as they walk her to an ambulance. She is still crying. She keeps saying she’s sorry. I say nothing back. I don’t believe her.
It was all part of a cycle that would never end until one of us broke it: Either the brother and I would go or she would die. The choice was made December 5th, 2014. I’ve been eighteen for less than two months and I am already making plans to leave. Fuck college. That’s all pipe dreams now. The house is too toxic. She’s too fucked up. The pills aren’t helping. She’s lashing out every week. We send her back to the hospital. They send her back with new pills that don’t help. We have to send her back. It is a constant cycle with no end in sight.
She’d tried again earlier that week. She went to the hospital. She came back that Friday night while I was at work. She’d locked the door. My key doesn’t work. My brother lets me in. He is wordless. He keeps giving death stares. She keeps flipping shit. I’m exhausted. I take him out for a walk with the ruse of getting her soda from the gas station down the street.
“She has to go,” he says. “Clearly she’s not better and they have to put her on something that’ll help put a stop to this.”
We go back but stay outside. I call. Some cops arrive first. It starts to rain. It sends chills all through me. An ambulance drives by with no lights on, not slowing to turn into the drive.
“They don’t believe us,” I whisper out loud. He doesn’t hear me.
“Guys,” a cop shouts from the doorway to the building, and waves for us to come in.
I was right. They didn’t. They remind us both that we were both of adult age. They told us we had to go. It was the only way to keep us from tearing each other apart.
Whether we came back or not was our choice. I’d already made my choice a long, long time ago. On the bus rides to the job that was the only money we had coming in. On Google searches to local hotel’s weekly rates. On finding the home phone numbers to friends I barely talked to.
I was going and I was never coming back. After we stayed at a friend’s house for two nights my brother went to the father he hadn’t seen in eight years. I didn’t go with him. I was on my own.
We left her that way too.
Estranged is a damning word. I deserve the damnation. I make an effort to keep as far away from her as I can. I ran into her once, at Walmart, in the three years it’s been since I left. I didn’t say much. I let her do the talking. My mother has Parkinson’s. She has people taking care of her. She always has.
I’ve cut her off. I’ve accepted that my life will always be shaped like this. I’ll never introduce her to the girl I’ll settle down with one day. She’ll never see my first car. She’ll never get an autographed copy of my first book. She’ll never get a card for Christmas. I never had a chance at that kind of life. It was all too fucking twisted. It’s something I have to accept. I’ll have to take the criticism on the chin. I know what you will say. I’m cruel. I’m heartless. Say it and get it over with. You don’t understand.
I continue to imagine that she will take her own life and no one will be there to stop her.
I have killed her in my head more times than I can count. I have attended her funeral. I have wept on her grave. I have cried alone in a room littered with pill bottles and years of filth because I wasn’t there to save her. Every unknown number from Connecticut is her final plea for forgiveness before she swallows the pills or slices the blade across pale blue-veined wrists. I am a bad son. I let her do this. It is all my fault.
I have researched the process of grieving a suicide. I have memorized how and where and when and what I will have to do when she dies by her own hand. It is my OCD at its finest and most pure. I am not worrying about my mother dying so much as expecting it.
The car hasn’t moved from its spot in the driveway in three years. There has been no attempt at contact. When I ran into her that one time she said she still lives in that same place but might move “to an upscale healthcare facility” soon. I don’t know if it’s true. I don’t care to find out.
I still have those moments where the call coming in is someone telling me she’s gone. She’s dead, they’ll say, and there’s nothing you could’ve done to stop it.
I will spend my entire lifetime waiting for that phone call.
Cover image courtesy of damn_unique via Flickr