This is how I remember you.
I remember your laugh. I remember how your smile made me feel like I was home. I remember the smell of your Red Door perfume, and how it clung to my clothes after you hugged me. I remember winter walks before school, snowflakes grazing our eyelashes in the darkness of the early morning. I remember baseball in the backyard, bike rides around the city lakes, and hikes in the woods up North. I remember spaghetti dinners and banana shakes. I remember evenings spent in the living room on summer nights, either talking for hours on end or simply reading in silence, reassured by the presence of one another. I remember brunch at the French Meadow on the weekends I was home from college, and trips to the local co-op afterward. I remember driving to Duluth one October day, just to sit on the rocky beach and let the lake lick at our shoes. I remember your advice. I remember crying to you the first time I was ever confused about love, and I remember the tears in your eyes because you felt my pain as if it were your own. I remember how you told me, over and over again, that you were proud of me. I remember the joy on your face whenever you heard me play music, and I remember your insistence that I never quit. I remember your kindness and your compassion.
But then I lost you.
It was slow at first. It was a few months of secrets and fights behind closed doors. It was Dad saying, “Mom isn’t feeling well today,” while you tripped up the stairs with a basket of laundry and a beer in your hand. It was the way you slurred your words when you greeted me after school. It was you confined to your room for days, and it was me, wondering if dinner would be on the table that night.
The first time you went to treatment, I was ten years old. Over the next several years, I adapted to the normalcy of being unsure: unsure if you would relapse, unsure of where you were, unsure if I would ever fully get you back. My hope ebbed and flowed as the cycle of sobriety and relapse continued for the next twelve years. The police were at our door nearly every week to drag you away to detox when you couldn’t walk. I became familiar with the flashing red lights of an ambulance outside my bedroom window. I cried when I saw you in the hospital on life support, half of your face covered in blood. I cried when I visited you in jail for the first time. Everything that hurt you also felt like a knife in my heart.
I always carried with me the responsibility of your well-being, but I know now that it was something I couldn’t control. My heart aches for the years lost to treatment centers, hospitals, twelve-step meetings, and hidden vodka bottles. You said that you would never lose this battle, but when I found your lifeless body in your bed that December afternoon, I knew that you had. They covered you with a black sheet, put you on a gurney, and I watched you leave in an ambulance for the last time.
This is what addiction does.
I know that your struggle wasn’t your fault. I don’t blame you for anything. I know that it wasn’t you, it wasn’t the real you. This is what addiction did to you. Addiction made you someone else. It brought you to your knees, and never let you go. But you kept fighting. Despite everything, you were strong. I like to believe that you left me with some of that strength.
I lost you four years ago, Mom. I still miss you, and I will miss you every day for the rest of my life. When I lost you, I also lost a part of myself. I know that you were tired of fighting, and you were tired of living in pain. I’m so sorry that you never found the peace you were searching for here on Earth. I like to think that when you left this world, you finally found it.
Whenever I’m sad, whenever I’m frustrated, whenever I’m lonely, whenever I feel like giving up, I think of you. I still talk to you. I still listen for you. I know that you are there.
And you are free.
[Photo credit to Jaclyn]
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