My Mother's Hands

"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, December 2007

All this phlegm in my throat, is that what I get? Just phlegm in my throat -- actually the phlegm started when the sadness began to clear just a little bit, that's when I sat down at the computer I mean the sadness cleared a little bit just when I sat down! It doesn't always work that way.

It's hard to figure out whether this sadness, exhaustion, mind overwhelm is different than usual or just a particularly tiring day. But then I realize I'm thinking about cocktails, maybe it would be nice to go back to Millennium, the posh vegan restaurant where I ate with my mother and sit down for cocktails -- Love Potion Number 9 is what I got -- pomegranate juice, lemon and herbs in a martini glass but Love Potion Number 10 contains vodka, yes vodka! Just yesterday I was marveling about how I never think about cocktails anymore and then boom my mother visits and look at me now.

When my mother gets to the door she looks different -- hair longer and pulled back a little, and I guess she's not wearing makeup maybe that's the difference but also there's the aging process; all her freckles make her look distinctive, engaged. We go to the hardware store to look for dehumidifiers I can put in my cabinets to maybe help prevent mold, and on the way back it's hard to get a cab yes a cab because my mother's carrying things and she doesn't like to take buses. Not that I’m a big fan of buses either but we end up walking kind of far and then we're back at my house and the outside muscles on both of my legs feel so tense I must be holding myself differently. Or just the walk, the walk could be tiring.

Then we’re in my apartment, my mother's assessing what needs to be replaced: do you need both of the sofas, definitely new kitchen chairs, is there other furniture you need? I like both of those sofas because it's like a little living room, I'm not worried about these chairs, what I need to do something about is the mold.

At Millennium, I ask for a table in the coolest part of the restaurant, but they seat us right next to the kitchen. The food’s good but not that good, considering that the only time I go here is when someone's taking me I mean it's too expensive -- Love Potion Number 9 is actually the best part, there are hot peppers hiding in the braised greens and the roasted beets have too much balsamic vinegar on them, my main course tastes kind of uniform without any explosions of intrigue. My mother wants to talk about what kind of pharmaceutical medicine I can try to help my pain, what I can do to make a living even when I can hardly do anything -- even when she just inherited $4.5 million and I've already asked her for what I want, an account to pay my basic expenses so that then I can worry about trying to get better, doing the things that mean something to me. My mother wants to buy me things but she doesn't want to ensure my security.

So my mother's wondering if there’s pharmaceutical medicine I can try, pharmaceutical medicine that's never done anything for me except make things worse and then I have to get off the shit -- I mean when I was trying those sleeping pills and everything got so much worse, other than that I've just tried a pill here and there if it ruined my life overnight I knew it was time to stop. Different than mixing Xanax with a few cocktails, lines of coke maybe a little bit of K and pot to smooth it over and take me to the sky -- that's all in the past now, what I’d like to think at least.

But when I talk about incest, my mother doesn't seem scared -- maybe a little scared, but so am I -- I'm talking about that movie Truths and Transformations and it was originally about gay marriage, then gay marriage and a gay man who came out when he was 60, then gay marriage and a gay man who came out when he was 60 and me. The commonality in our lives: abuse by our families. My mother doesn't flinch, I mean she disappears a little bit but not as much as in the past and this gives me something I don't know what and we go to Walgreens and get razors, contact lens solution, replacement heads for the electric toothbrush, a WaterPik -- her credit card doesn't go through because she just used it, I say soon enough you'll need to send a fingerprint through your cellphone.

Walking back to my apartment the air is so fresh my mother says that's right the air is so fresh. She thinks they could do more work in the lobby of my building to make it more attractive, I say it's not that kind of building. She wants to know why I chose this building in particular, I say because it's exactly where I want to live, the apartment was five times nicer than anything else I looked at, the view is amazing. Back upstairs, she looks out the window and oh, she says -- you're right, the view.

I don't know anything about the world, that's what I'm thinking after I walk my mother downstairs and then I'm back upstairs again -- I don't know anything about the world except that it drains me, I mean I know how to hail a cab. I know how to use voice activation software. I know how to do feldenkrais instead of stretches, stretches push and push against the muscles feldenkrais continues the movement -- actually maybe I don't know how to do that so well. I still don't really know how to breathe, no not really. As a kid I had to hold it all in or risk everything. This didn't make me safer, just alive I didn't want to die there, no not yet. Not even with his hands around my neck maybe I could just go further up up no I didn't want to come down no not ever. Maybe if I stayed still, like some creature trying to blend into a leaf. Maybe I could disappear into a book.

Nothing worked. Eventually I learned to escape, different ways of risk until it all comes back full circle no I'm not that little kid with his hands around my neck no I'm not that broken toy can't keep winding me no I'm not the one my mother called for from the bathroom: can you get me a washcloth? Always something else in the bathroom, something besides a washcloth my father's hair from shaving cutting his own hair caking the floors and my mother's blood, my mother's blood where it was supposed to be this time of the month except why the washcloth, why me and the washcloth ? Why do you need another fucking washcloth, me?

Oh that bathtub was so small, that room and the metallic bloody odor lingering in my nostrils, pink tiles with gray, mold in the grout, I studied the mold in the grout, why. Years later in San Francisco when I first started remembering I had a friend who would sleep over a lot, sometimes I couldn't stand the way she smelled in bed I didn't know why I didn't want to say anything I didn't know what it was until much later -- that time of the month, my mother's blood she kind of looked like my mother too the freckles a similar complexion. I thought I was writing about safety, even just the financial kind right it’s a start, then I can focus on finding the rest. I want rest, yes I want rest but it always comes back to my nose pressed into the carpet all I knew was pain so much pain can they put it back together me? The burlap sack, where’s my head, that knife. My father's eyes, black pins. Bull’s-eye.

I don't know anything about the world except that my father died and never told me anything I wanted his logic so badly, I wanted him to fill in the blanks I wanted something simple like I'm sorry I want to help you now what can I do? Or even I love you, I love you I wish I hadn't ruined it all I wish I could've held you without so much violence my mother's hands no I don't know my mother's hands I don't know I don't know I don't know.