To whom it may concern. Here’s what you should know, if you don’t already:
1. My mother has a cult following. It’s not as big as my father’s, because her band hasn’t sold as many records as his. But people worship her—lots of people, who we’ve never even met.
2. Some people hate her, though. When my father died I was only about two years old, and some people blame my mother for getting famous off his accident. But his whole band got more famous off his accident, not just my mom. Also, I’ve read other people who say it was having a kid that really killed him, because once he had me, his band didn’t tour anymore, and neither did my mom’s band, and some people enjoy speculating about how my dad and mom probably couldn’t hack domestic life with a screaming infant.
I resent the idea that I was ever a screaming infant.
3. My mom has always done a lot of drugs.
4. Lately she’s been trying not to do as many drugs. Because apparently now I’m about to be taken away by whoever’s reading this, the family courts, the judge, whoever you are, it doesn’t matter. I’m not sure how real a threat you are, but I’ve been spending more time at my grandmother’s house than I’d like to. I was there most of this winter while Mom did another twelve weeks at the clinic. She came out a little fatter.
5. My mother’s band, Sweeter, just broke up, which might be for the best. I think her best albums are “Got It,” and “Have You Seen Her,” but their last one wasn’t as good. She knows I think that. Most people—definitely most of my mother’s cult following—say “Sweeter,” their first album, is the best, but I think they didn’t get really good until later, after dad’s accident, and I’m in a position to know. I’m going to assume that whoever is reading this is probably not into her stuff.
6. My dad’s band, Lander, practiced a lot, which a lot of people like to speculate caused problems between him and my mom. My dad and Stuey and Will and Jer were always at the studio or somebody’s house, messing around, switching instruments and ironically cranking out “Obladi Oblada” or whatever, and recording it all. Between the actual albums and the studio tapes and the demos and everything else, Lander’s catalog is super-enormous, and still growing, every time someone else posts a video of them playing out somewhere, in, like, Alabama. Which people say is part of the reason why they’ve kept being this Internet-culty, conspiracy-theory-obsessive thing, this long after my dad’s death. He’s like Tupac for rock geeks. I don’t know.
But then again, sometimes I think my dad knew all along that he had to record all those hours of basically doing nothing, because pretty soon that’d be all there was to him. His cult following. It’s like he maybe thought he could record enough of himself so that when he was gone, nobody would notice—they’d just put in another one of those endless Lander CDs, the ones with the songs that last twenty minutes, that sound like things falling out of the sky. (It’s weird to think that when he died, people were still mostly listening to CDs.) And that’s probably what a lot of my dad’s followers do—he’s still alive to them.
He’s not, to me. But what I’m trying to say is, he is still alive for a lot of people. Not just for my mother.
7. My mother would never begrudge my dad the size of his cult following. For one thing, his cult following is made up of totally different people than hers—Lander is a head-trip band, for guys with long hair who are good at math, and Sweeter is more of a band for mean, cool, depressed girls who cut themselves and won’t eat meat. But I’m not exaggerating, I’m being literal about the cult following, there really is one. The first time I put my mother’s name into a search engine and freaked out, she told me about it, the family curse. This is some of my favorite all-time advice from her, if you want to know: She said, “RJ, you’re going to have eighteen effin [she didn’t say “effin”] fansites of your own someday, if you don’t already. Whatever you do, don’t look for yourself online. You know that saying about the thousand monkeys in a room with typewriters? There’s a lot of effin monkeys out there writing what you would not call the works of Shakespeare about me and about your dad.”
8. She also once told me, “Don’t start a band, because that’ll wreck your whole life.” But I have a band, which I need to tell you, because it’s important. It’s important to me, but it’s also important to tell you goobs, because of what happened.
So, I play bass guitar. I believe that all the truly awesome women in bands play bass guitar. (My mother plays lead guitar, of course.) I don’t sing. I think I’m being pretty smart about that—if I sang, there’d be the inevitable comparisons to my dad’s voice, and my mom’s. Sweeter and Lander were both built around my parents’ personalities; whatever else you can say about them (and people have said a lot) those bands are totally bound up in my mother and father. Whereas my band would be just fine without me, if for some reason they had to be, and that’s how I like it.
We haven’t played out anywhere yet. It’s just me and my boyfriend and a couple of our friends getting together at my house when we can—when I’m not at my grandmother’s because my mom’s on tour, or in rehab, or in court with you goobs. My band doesn’t want to use my name to get famous any more than I do. If we ever go on tour I’ll probably use a pseudonym, or we’ll wear undersea-diver costumes or something. (We’re called The Deep Below, which sounds pretentious except we mean fish, submarines, aquatic stuff—not bad poetry.) This is something I want to tell you because I think it proves I’ve got my crap together. I am not in a band because my mother wants me to follow in her footsteps, or something. It’s my band and I run it my way. She’s not trying to re-create herself through me.
9. Although. There’s a sort of well-known story behind my name that seems to make people think she is. I’m actually named for my parents’ favorite songs when they were thirteen: Rubyjude, no middle name. I get to pick a middle name for myself when I’m eighteen, which I bet you family-services people would never think of letting your kids do. Right now I like “Margarine” with a hard g and a long i.
Family Services Goob: If you can’t guess what the two songs are in “Rubyjude,” you should probably just put this down and walk away.
My mother told me the reason why she and my father named me after their favorite songs when they were thirteen, as opposed to their favorite songs ever—which, unlike a lot of people, myself included, she could name in a heartbeat—or their favorite songs from the year I was born, which she could probably also name. They had a whole theory about it. They decided that thirteen is the year you really start listening to the music you like, whatever it is, and paying attention. It starts meaning something to you, even if you can’t spell out what it is that makes you feel the way you do, and even if what you like is crap, which my mother says at thirteen it usually is. She says I have unusually good taste, which I do, I think, and it is partly thanks to her, despite their naming me after two kind of stupid songs. She said to me once, “The music you like means more to you when you’re thirteen than it ever will again your whole life.” I think that’s true. That sounds true to me.
10. Okay. This document exists, and you are reading it, because the judge has decided that I am old enough to submit my honest opinion on how my family is doing, what caused our current situation, and whether my mother is safe to live with, and no one wants to subject my delicate feelings to the hideousness of a hearing, so I have been “invited” to put it in writing and submit it for her defense. I have no illusions, I’m telling you now, about how seriously a bunch of family-courts people are going to take my “honest opinion.” They’re going to make up their minds regardless of what I say.
11. Also, I haven’t been given any instructions about what format my opinion should take, so I’m just writing it like this and we’ll see how it goes. Maybe the lawyers will send it all back, maybe they’ll decide it’s worthless. But—and this is not her fault—I don’t really get a whole lot of writing advice from anybody. And another part of the problem is that I’m writing this on my laptop, which likes to crash when I’m working on important stuff that I really need, like songs we’re recording, and this letter might get partly eaten by a crash. Also, I keep opening this file and re-reading it to get to where I left off, which means I keep adding stuff that occurs to me later. It’s hard not to keep adding and adding to what I’m saying, which means I have to renumber everything which is a total asspain, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to revise this, since I just found out the goobs want it by Thursday and it’s Tuesday now.
12. Another important point: my mother has always made sure I was going to school. I wasn’t allowed to take years off like Stuey’s kids. Stuey was the drummer in my dad’s band. When I was growing up our families hung out all the time. Stuey’s son, Ring, is my boyfriend, and he’s in my band. I guess that’s all you need to know about them for now, if you don’t already know it. It’s hard to know sometimes how much people already know or don’t know about you. Maybe that’s number 13.
13. When your mom and dad both have a cult following, sometimes people can know more about you than you even know, which is weird. Like the guy who wrote the biography of my father. Without any cooperation from us—believe me—he found out stuff about dad’s family I’d never even heard but which totally makes sense. If you’re working on this case you may have read it, but I’m talking about the hunting trips his grandfather made him go on when he was only five—who would not be messed up by that? And my other grandmother’s cancer. And some other stuff. But the biographer guy did a totally decent job with my father’s Tragic Upbringing. It was a good surprise.
My mom doesn’t think I’ve read it, but I know she has—we were both kind of secretly reading it at the same time. I think she kept her copy under her bed and I kept mine in my dresser. And yes, of course I found hers and yes, of course I snoop in her room.
14. You may already know, but I guess I should be upfront here while we are on the subject of Tragic Upbringing: Stuey and his wife got divorced recently, in part because she is a huge powderhead. Ring is living with his dad, and meanwhile his little sister Rama lives with his aunt, which is too bad, because she plays piano and we actually kind of wanted her in the band, at the risk of making Lander’s cult following totally lose their collective freaking minds. Ring is handling it all really, really well, though. So. Here is my point about this: Ring and I are supportive of each other, and we are both good kids who do not consider our family histories to have messed us up as badly as many people would like to think. Although Ring misses his sister, and if you want my honest opinion I think it is ridiculous that she does not still live with her father and brother where she clearly belongs.
14a. I don’t belong here at my grandmother’s. My mother and her mother do not get along. I stay with my grandmother when I can’t live at home, like I said, but I know it totally kills mom to think of me here, and even I know it is not, not, not, not, not where I belong. At all. I don’t like staying here because my grandmother—while she’s a nice enough lady, I guess, in the rest of her life—is a total bitch about my mom. She wants my mother locked up in rehab permanently, “until she’s dried out like a new kleenex,” is how grandma is always putting it. My grandmother hates Ring, hates Stuey, hates everybody but me. She claims she loves my mother but she also says really crappy things about her. “Your mother was always bad at committing to things.” “Your mother and father’s marriage was a mistake, but at least it got us you.” “Your mother wasn’t pretty either, not until she was thirty.” My grandmother drives me up a wall, if you must know, and I hate it here. I want to live with my mother. You know that. But I’ll say it again. I should be with her. I belong at home with her. We’re nicest to each other, of everybody else we know. Anyway. The less said about grandma the better. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, really.
17. (Maybe this is really 13a. This numbering thing is making me crazy.) The main, big point I am trying to make here is that I already know what people think about us, my family. And what you should understand, Goob, is that only me and my mom know how much of it is actually true.
For instance, my mother knows that people know Sweeter hasn’t sold as many albums as Lander. And we both know that part of the reason is that, in addition to being a great, completely great band, Lander also has what my mom calls a “charismatic ghost member,” who is of course my father. So even though Jer has his own new band now, and Stuey’s drinking off the divorce, and Will—well, you goobs know what Will is doing, Will is in Idaho—even though Lander doesn’t exist anymore, people still buy and buy and buy their whole catalogue, plus they stream and stream every live performance, every three-minute shot of Lander playing out, every movie that the four of them just shot of themselves while they were doing nothing.
But none of this, believe me, makes my mother jealous, even though that’s the first thing people expect. While my dad was alive, my mother was always totally supportive of my father’s success, and he was totally supportive of her success. One of my favorite stories about him is one I actually read in that guy’s biography of my dad, where he emailed my mom from the road on the day “Sweeter” was being released, and the email, which I have memorized, said,
“I miss you and the Bump [me]. You made an amazing record, and it’s going to change the world. I am so proud of you, my favorite only. [That’s what he called her: “my favorite only.”] I’m listening to it right now. You’re in my head. You’re going to be in everybody’s head. It’s that good.”
Isn’t that amazing? Because “Sweeter” was their breakout album. Even though it didn’t sell that many copies, people couldn’t stop writing about it—critics, I mean. I think people were amazed that my mom’s band turned out to be actually good, and she wasn’t just this loud gorgeous weird guitar player married to a certifiable rock genius, which everybody knows he was. But that’s the thing: she is too. My mother knows what she’s worth, and she doesn’t sit up at night thinking, “Dammit, my stupid dead husband’s stupid records still outsell mine, and dammit, how can I get out of his shadow or whatever.”
People like to speculate that she does think that, though, and that this is why she does a lot of drugs.
18. My mother, I should also be clear, has always been protective of me—I hardly ever appear with her anywhere in public. This probably counts in her favor with a lot of people who feel that children shouldn’t be exposed to various things. I am all in favor of children being exposed to things, though. You don’t grow up with my mother believing you’re entitled to think of yourself as a fragile little blossom of sensitivity, and that, lawyers and judges of America, is a good thing for a girl these days. Seriously. I mean it. And no, that’s not her, I made that up and I really think it.
I need to stop dicking around. I know. So. Here are the things you should know about what happened with me and my mother. I’m restarting the numbering here.
1. Except about not doing any more drugs, she doesn’t make promises and then not follow through. What I mean by that is, I don’t need to stress that she’s going to forget something important she’s told me she’s going to do, or take it back. Except for having a hard time kicking her bad habits, she is totally reliable.
2. That said, like many people, my mother does lie. She lies to herself, though, mostly, which makes it cool. She tells herself she hasn’t gained that much weight in rehab. She tells herself it’s okay to wear her hair however she wants even though she’s almost forty. You see what I’m saying. (Don’t worry about her reading this, she’s heard from me about the hair before.)
3. She and I get each other. She talks to me like a normal person, and I talk to her like a normal person. That’s the rule. My mom likes to say I’m the only person in the world who does her that favor.
4. My mother has done a lot of drugs for a very long time, but she never, never, never hurt me or did anything shitty or dangerous with or to me. Except for the one time which you all know about, which is why this is happening. And I know I have to give you my account of how that went down, that’s part of why I’m writing this at all, but I have to leave that for later because I’m not sure I want to get into it yet. Or ever, ha ha. But no. I will. It’s fine.
[I cut this but then I re-pasted it because when I thought about it it seemed important.] 10. For what it’s worth, I think my favorite song of all time is “Superman” by R.E.M. It’s a super super old song, on one my mom’s CDs. But something about the way Mike Mills wails along in the background just kills me. When I was younger I used to flail around the house to that song and crack my mom up. And my favorite song right now is “Goodbye Girls” by Broadcast. Both these songs are subject to change. This letter will be like a favorite-song time capsule. Someday maybe I’ll re-read this and be like, no way could that be my favorite song, Mike Mills is a dork.
Okay, I’m back. It’s later. It’s Wednesday night, actually. I had homework to do. I haven’t had a lot of time to pick this up again, and I have to give this to the goobs tomorrow. So now I suppose we’ve gotten to the part where I need to tell you goobs what happened. I think I’m ready. It was an ugly day, I’m okay with saying that. I think I deserve some credit for being willing to say that to total strangers who want to take me away from my mom. Ha ha. Okay. Here goes.
I got home from Ring’s house that afternoon and when I walked in the door I noticed that it smelled funny in the house. Funny bad—it smelled like puke and piss, actually. And when I found my mom I discovered that I was right, that’s what I was smelling. She had vomited a trail of kind of thin white stuff all over the living room floor on the way to the downstairs bathroom by the kitchen. And she’d actually gone in the bathroom but not flushed, and not all of it was actually in the bowl. Which, yes, that was bad—you don’t really like seeing your own, and seeing other people’s kind of makes you gag.
Mom had managed to get herself out of there, though, and she was in the hallway between the bathroom and the kitchen—it’s more like a passageway, actually, it’s short, it’s kind of dark. It’s where we hang our old pictures. It’s where my father hung old pictures, actually—my mom used to update them when I was little but she hasn’t lately. They make these clear plastic frames that are photograph-sized and I guess my father bought a bunch of them once to put my baby pictures in. There are also pictures of their old house, and pictures of other people from back in the day before I was born. The picture frames are actually kind of cheap-looking and ugly.
My mother was sitting at an angle on the floor with her back against the wall. Her head was flopped to one side. I thought maybe she was passed out. I’ve seen her pass out before, and really it never seemed scary or weird to me. Usually she just goes up to bed and crashes for a while, or someone else brings her home and puts her to bed. It’s just like she’s sleeping only her face looks kind of loose and ugly. Like I said it never really bothered me, and she usually wakes up a little the worse for wear but otherwise fine and friendly enough. So I assumed she was just passed out, and the scene was just a little worse than normal, but I could call Nadia (our housekeeper) and she’d take care of the mess. And maybe if I called Stuey he would come over and take mom up to bed. So that was my plan. I figured I’d call them in a minute—I didn’t want to deal with it right then, to be honest, I felt really tired all of a sudden.
I wasn’t really paying attention to my mother at that point because I thought she was unconscious. I took one of the pictures off the wall and kind of flipped it into the kitchen like a frisbee. I don’t know why I did it, I don’t even know which picture it was, it just felt kind of fun at the time. It scooted across the tile and crashed against the base of the stove and the frame broke. Then I took another one and whizzed it into the sink, from like twenty feet away, which was cool, so I took another one and whizzed it into the window above the sink. The pictures had these little cardboard backings which had thumb-sized holes in them that were perfect for hooking your fingers into pre-flip. I was hitting every target. It was awesome.
Then I heard this raspy noise and I realized it was my mother—she wasn’t passed out at all, she was awake, and she was saying “For Christ’s sake, RJ, stop it you effing freak.” I looked down at her then, totally freaked out—it was like having a dead body rear up and start talking to you. I still remember the look she had on her face, and it was a little scary. She looked a little angry at me, I will not lie. Which I guess makes sense because I was basically trashing my father’s old pictures, which, however ugly the frames are, deserved a little better than being thrown across the room just because I thought it was fun to do.
She said, “RJ. Cmere.” So I bent over low next to her, and once I did that I could see that her skin color was not right at all. She looked bluish and sheeny like a brick of cheese. Her breathing was bad too. Her eyes were dancing all over the place and unfocused. I got scared and took her wrist to feel her pulse, and I didn’t like that either. She was cold, and I could hardly feel her pulse at all it was so slow and wonked.
She started kind of raving then. I can’t remember everything she said, but it was all about me and how much I was loved, and how my mother and father loved me. She likes talking about him as if he’s still alive and watching everything, especially when she’s high. Dramatic stuff like, “You are my entire universe. I’m going to make you a queen. I’m going to shine all over you. Your dad shines all over you, every day.” (Whatever that means.) “You are so gorgeous. Your dad is in wherever-the-eff-they-store-the-dead-people, watching over you and making you tall and strong and gorgeous. People all over the world have been waiting for you to grow up, watching for news of you. The blurriest photograph of you is worth thousands. You’re a princess. You’re dirty America’s princess.” Her eyes were not focusing as she said any of this.
I said, “Mom, Dad would not like this.”
She said, “Your father was ahead of his time. You are untouchable.”
I said, “Mom, I think it’s time to call an ambulance.”
She said, “Eff that. I’ll be fine. Just get me to my room.”
I said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t think that’s good enough.”
She said, “Goddammit Rubyjude, do as your mother tells you.”
Her chest was rising and falling a little faster as this was being said and I thought, okay, maybe she’s coming out of it a little. But her room was all the way upstairs and I just didn’t see how I was going to get her there. I leaned in close, trying not to smell too much. I got my arm around her and my shoulder under hers and tried to wedge her up off the floor, but she was too heavy. She didn’t move. She said she couldn’t move. I said, “Mommy. What did you take.”
That seemed to make her laugh, only it wasn’t really laughing, more like a long fast exhale with smiling lips. She said, “What do you mean, what did I take?” Mom has painkillers—oxycontin, vicodin, you goobs have the list. But she also drinks and does other stuff on top of that—which you also know, I’m sure, because by now everybody with an internet connection knows what all was pumped out of her at the hospital. But, and this may interest you, the reason I always knew what kinds of drugs my mother took is because ever since we were old enough to figure out what was going on, Ring has reported back to me (on my orders) everything Stuey says when he’s trashing my mother on the phone to other people they both know. I probably shouldn’t be telling anybody this, but Stuey isn’t really one of my mom’s favorite people. Shocking, right? Who knows what would happen if it got out to my mother’s cult following that she and the guys in Lander all secretly hate each other? Ha ha. Whatever. Stuey and my mother are still in touch because of me and Ring, and because of Lander business stuff, and I guess really because of my dad—they both miss him. Every so often they’ll sit around and drink and talk about him and the old days. But their hearts aren’t in it. They haven’t liked each other for a long time.
Anyway. I couldn’t get mom to tell me what she took. I couldn’t get her up off the floor. Then she threw up again on the floor in front of us and said she couldn’t see, in this kind of horrible slurry voice, and that got me freaked. I told her I was going to leave her for a second and go get my cell phone, and she said, real sharp, like she normally sounds, “No. Wait.”
I said, “What?”
And she goes, “I have my cell phone on me. Right here.”
And I was like, duh, why didn’t you call anybody before, then? And then I remembered she didn’t think up till now anything was really wrong with her, and then I thought, well, wait. She knows when something’s wrong with her. She knows when she’s been “overserved,” as she always puts it. So I said, “Mom, did you do this on purpose?”
She was quiet for a minute. Then she said, “RJ, I can’t see you.”
“I’m right here.” Covered in puke, I wanted to say. “Are you trying to kill yourself?”
She said, “Give me my cell phone. It’s in my pocket.”
I dug it out. She told me to dial Stuey and then put the cell phone to her ear, so I held the phone against the side of her head while she waited through the ring to get to Stuey, and when I heard his big voice on the other end of the line say “What, Marie,” she asked him to please call an ambulance for her at her house, and she said My daughter and I are in the kitchen on the floor, and she said, No, she’s okay. She was sounding more normal, but her legs were twitching. When she hung up she said, “I’m sorry, RJ. I know this is effed up. But it’s going to be okay. We’re gonna get through this together. This isn’t going to happen again. I mean it. This will not happen again.”
So I could see that she was about to get all dramatic and start a big speech about her intentions, but my ears were still ringing and she still couldn’t see, and we were still sitting in the hallway in front of a stinking puddle of throw-up, so I cut her off. I said, “Were you trying to kill yourself? Just answer the question.”
She said, “RJ, that’s not a good question to ask me right now.”
So that’s how I knew it was true. I wasn’t mad. I just wanted to know. My mother is sad, an incredibly sad person—you can’t be angry at her, she is all grief all the time. I understood. I still understand. Yes, she’s a mess, and she can’t stay clean, and she makes people furious at her all the time, but she lost the love of her whole entire life.
Anyway, that was the point at which she started kind of raving again. About how people all over the world were posting whatever pictures of me they could get on the web. (Which I know is not true. We are not that famous.) Waiting for me to get old enough so they could get their claws into me. (I know this is not true either.) But she wasn’t going to let that happen, because she and my father loved me too much to let what happened to them happen to me. They were so young when they put out their first records. They were really only a few years older than me.
And then she said the thing that caused the problem, I guess. She was ranting and going off and we were both laughing a little bit even, just waiting for the ambulance to come. She was telling me how much she loved me and how cool I was, and at some point she said, “Your dad would have loved your stupid effing band,” but she said it as if he would have loved laughing at how stupid it was.
And I laughed at first and was like, “My quote-unquote stupid effing band kicks ass, whatever.”
She was like, “RJ. I know you just want to be like us. It’s okay. But you’re not.”
That was when I looked at her and saw that she had this sort of mean glint in her eye. My mother, I should emphasize, was in the process of almost OD-ing at the time, otherwise I know she would never have said it at all. She has apologized to me since then a thousand times and told me how great she thinks The Deep Below is, and how much greater we’re going to be when we get a few more years of practice. But, okay, I guess I should just say that at the time she looked like she was trying to mess with me. Or like she thought it was true, and knew it was mean, but wanted to say it anyway. Like she’d been wanting to say it for a while. I’m just explaining this so you know why I did what I did. She said, “I hate to think what would happen if a tape of you guys playing ever got out.” Here she did some not-so-nice impersonations of our lead singer, Martin, Ring’s best guy friend, doing our best song, which she knows I wrote. She laughed then and said, “Honey. It’s not good. You guys are never going to be another Lander. You’re never even going to be as good as my band was, back when we didn’t suck.” Maybe I looked like I was going to cry then because she said, almost to make up for it, “I just want to protect you from making a big mistake. Your dad wrote ‘Jealous’ when he was only fifteen. You’re not in the same class.”
Then I said, “Shut up.” It felt scary, not good, to say that, because actually, like I said, we’re usually nice to each other. She treats me like I’m made out of gold, usually. Maybe to make up for taking a lot of drugs and being such a nutjob. And I return the favor. I think we have an understanding that we have to be good to each other, because so much bad stuff has already gone down in our family—I have always thought so, even before I had the words to express it. Even when I was a little squirt I was the politest, least rebellious little squirt you could imagine. For that very reason. Seriously. So it was out of character for me to do what I did.
But, I know, okay. The point is to write what happened. What happened next was that I said, “You shut the eff up you washout.” And I stood up. My mother fell over because I wasn’t supporting her anymore, and she slid down into her puke. I looked down at my mother in her own puke and I thought, Good. I am ashamed that I thought that. I am ashamed of what I did. If I could take this back, any of this back, I would do it. Even if it cost me everything else I’ve ever wanted. I wish I could take this back: letting my mother fall into her own puke when I knew she couldn’t move, when I knew she’d just tried to kill herself because she was so sad and lost and wrecked-up. Letting her lie there and breathe in it.
She begged me to help her sit up and I wouldn’t do it. I just let her lie there with her face in it while I stood over her and watched. She kept trying to talk to me but I wouldn’t listen. I remember standing over her hating her so hard it was like knives were coming out of my eyes. I have played and replayed this scene in my head about a million times, like I can make it end differently if I just think it through again. I have watched myself do all these things, hear all these things, say all these things, a million times. But I still can’t believe that person I see standing over her mother like that was me. I am not a good person. I am hateful, full of hate. She said please, RJ, please don’t leave me here like this.
This is the worst thing I have ever done: when she said “please” like that, I slid my shoe across the floor and pushed some more of the puke toward her face. She started crying. I can’t explain myself. I am the worst girl alive, I don’t deserve to get another minute of happiness for as long as I live. But I was standing there thinking really misguided stuff about my father, and it was making me hate her—I was thinking about how things would be different if he were alive, about how he’d never say something like that to me, how he’d have taught me guitar and kept his opinions to himself even if it was true that I did suck ass, how he would have cleaned up and gotten sober for me. I wasn’t thinking about my mother the right way, and she wasn’t in her right mind. Clearly I wasn’t either. I don’t know what happened to us in that hallway. It was like we were two completely different people.
When the ambulance came they found her crying and unable to move, and me just standing there over her, both of us reeking and shaking.
But the most important thing is for me to be with her. We’ve talked it through on the phone, and my mother said to me, “You have nothing to make up for, RJ. I have the whole rest of our lives to make you happy and that’s all I want to do.” She isn’t even mad. She cries every time she hears my voice. Despite everything that’s happened I know I’ve got to get back to her. It kills me that you goobs are the ones who get to decide this, but listen to me: I’ve got to get back to her. We have to be together. I don’t expect you to understand this, but I’m the other love of her life.
Siobhan Adcock’s short fiction has appeared in Triquarterly, The Massachusetts Review, The Florida Review, and the young adult anthology Not Like I’m Jealous or Anything: The Jealousy Book. Her first novel, a literary ghost story about motherhood, work, and marriage called The Barter, was published by Dutton in September 2014. She earned an MFA from Cornell University.