Lungs Like Saltwater Pearls

The deep darks.

That was my day.

You know that scene in Ordinary People, where Conrad Jarrett remembers holding his brother’s hands over the top of their capsized boat, as the sky falls around their shoulders? There they are, holding onto each other…and then the brother is yanked under by his exhaustion, one good swift tug on the ankles from the strong cold hands of the undertow. Undone. Conrad just screams and holds on to the boat, alone, till he is pulled to safety….Later, traumatized, he traces the tributaries of his veins with a razor blade. There’s a lot of that scene in these days…I just can’t decide which brother I am. On one hand, I am just so waterlogged…lungs like twin saltwater pearls, nested in the shell of my chest…


I am also carving out maps of riverbeds on my arms…

I was trying to wrap presents. Presents for the kids that I bought and paid for all by myself. Presents for the kids that I wrapped all by myself. I sat & stared at the labels, debating whether or not to put their father’s name on there. I rolled back and forth between choices, arguing both. In the end, I decided I did not want them to know how little of a shit he gives about them…so I added his name, even though it felt like I was putting on a shirt that was 2 sizes too small and buttoning it all the way to the straining collar. I just kept thinking, “I didn’t intend to do all this alone.” And then I wept…tape stuck to vortex swirls on my fingertips, little scraps of wrapping paper surrounding me, tears blistering the wrapping paper with moisture…

I never feel more unloved and alone than at holidays like Christmas.

When I was a kid, my mom hated Christmas. By the time I was a teen, she had made sure that I hated it too. I see now, she was probably stressed with the prospect of buying gifts for 4 kids with just my father’s salary & the anvil of expectations that came down on her, as a mother of 4. I’m sure it exacerbated whatever chemical carousel she already had spinning in her brain…but it’s no fucking excuse. Every year, starting right after Thanksgiving, she would lord over us with the statement, “you’re going to wake up on Christmas and I’m going to be gone.” It was like she was holding a pot of scalding water over our heads….about to tip it on us at any minute. She never did leave, obviously…but the threat wasn’t about the follow through…it was about the intent. She wanted us to know her desire was to abandon us. On Christmas.

One year, she completely stopped talking to us the day after Thanksgiving. She only addressed us when raging at us. I remember walking in the house one day, to find her cornering my younger sister behind the tv. My mom was just screaming at her, flying spittle and wide-eyed with craziness. I immediately tried to put myself between Jenny and her, directing her bullshit towards me. Jenny ran for our bedroom, as I dealt with my mother. At a holiday dinner that same year, she was fighting with my dad and I was trying to Benadryl the situation back down to calm, because the kids were there. I triangulated by putting myself in the middle, just trying to lick my fingers and pinch out the fuse. In response, she turned to me, in front of everyone, and said coldly, “why don’t you just die?” Those were the first words she had said to me in months. Everyone looked down at their plates. No one stood up for me. Crickets, all of them. I pushed my plate back & walked away.

A few days later, she verbally attacked me, all mad dog, as I made lunch. I stood my ground and sparred back this time, telling her to stop screaming at me. She seemed to retreat, a spider, leggily crawling backward…till I made a steaming bowl of ramen.  She came over and tried to push my face into my scalding soup. I remember my vision shaking with rage. My lens turned everything to a wall of red as I tried to push back away from the steam. Finally, she tired and left…and I sat there, staring at the broth as it cooled, till I finally just dumped it out…feeding the garbage disposal.

These are the kinds of unhealed hangnails I pick at repeatedly at Christmas. These are the paper cuts I don’t want my kids to ever have to think about at any time in the year. I try really hard to make sure they don’t…but puppy-guarding them from pain means withholding bits of myself from them…And self-imposed exile is lonely even in its steely necessity. I thought I was making a family and I wouldn’t be alone anymore…but it was always already broken…because I am one of the pieces in it.

Then, of course, new this year, I am thinking about how Bernhard ex-communicated me last year on Christmas Eve.

1 yr later….a year colored black with absence…painted on a canvas stretched by survival….

Title: The Art of Loss.

Log in to write a note
December 26, 2018

You work so hard for your kids. You love them truly, deeply, with an eye on your mistakes and the traumas of your life. You love them wisely.

December 27, 2018

@mavis i love how you put that…you love them wisely….I am just so afraid of hurting them with my own damage…

December 27, 2018

I can see how such traumatic childhood memories would leave you feeling jaded at Christmas time. However, you did describe a tentatively positive encounter with your mother in a recent entry — so perhaps, with time, anyone can become a better person?

December 27, 2018


I think people do the best they can with what they have.  I don’t hate my mother for the past between us…but I’m cautious. I take any kindness she gives me with gratitude but try not to have expectations of it.

I will probably never enjoy holidays, due to years of abusive programming…but I do try to make sure my kids never feel this way and have good memories and that’s something….