Photo: by Meghan Shaffer
One Day at a Time
It was seven in the morning on a sunny fall day as I turned the front door handle quietly to enter without disturbing my parents. I made my way through the small hallway covered in the various pottery that my mother and I made together throughout the years. There was a piece of paper taped securely to my bedroom door and I glanced up briefly to see the big bold letters staring back at me--EVICTION NOTICE. There was an eerie silence inside the household despite the cars in the driveway and the sense of being watched drilled into me. My mother knew where this was going to go and surely she was trying to avoid it. “Here we go again,” I muttered as my fingers hooked the paper and ripped it off, taking it through the door with me. I placed the letter down on my dresser next to the others that came before it and sat on my bed in exhaustion.
The years prior to this were filled with vivid memories of my mother cheering for me in the stands of my basketball games and cooking together in the kitchen. She would delight over doing these things together and heckle me for sampling the meals along the way. After helping with dinner, my mother and I would take our respective spots in the living room to watch TV. She loved to decorate, so the house was always changing but the warmth from the room never faded. Pictures of my sisters and I lined the walls—the family all together for a picnic in the park or sitting on a beach mostly. My mother would reminisce on those days occasionally, picking the embarrassing or funny moments like when I ate a mouth full of sand trying to wakeboard. We were family focused and looked out for each other—something that was evident from the pictures, as well. My parents were still together and I was the youngest of three sisters, but it was not as easy to get close to them as it was my mother. It was something to look forward to—the idea of just sitting down and talking about life with her. She was inspirational to me due to overcoming so many obstacles in her life and working so hard to get what she wanted. My mother had always shown that she loved me and would be there for me no matter what, so it came as a shock to be proven wrong.
That living room had lost its warmth and the usually brightly lit room seemed darker than usual as my mother sat there in silence. My oldest sister sat next to her and adverted her eyes from the couch I was sitting in. There was no television to cut the tension and the realization of what was about to happen was sinking in. There had been threats to kick me out of the house before this, but my mother had always been there for me and it never felt like she would follow through… I was her youngest daughter after all. This time felt different though; my sisters were always absent from the fights we would have over the way I was living. Time and time again my mother had begged me to stay home and warned of the way life could go if I continued, but all my friends would go to parties; it was hard to see how mine was any different from theirs. So what if I liked to drink or stay out of the house for days at a time? I was just looking to have some fun and things felt in control. Glancing at the two of them on the other side, their faces were thin and exhausted. My sister had her arm wrapped around my mother who was silently weeping but with a level of anger behind it. There were a million emotions going through my body simultaneously—disbelief, guilt… but mostly anger of my own. The discomfort of seeing my family on the other side led my eyes to one of those family portraits on the beach. What a fucking lie, I thought as those bright sunny days of the past filled my head. My mother finally spoke after trying so hard to find the right words to say. “I don’t know why you’re doing this and I do not know who you are anymore. Every time you are gone, I don’t know if you are alive or dead… I want you out of this house today because I can’t do this anymore.” She looked down and began to sob. Knowing it was coming did not make those words any easier to hear. “Fine. I am better off without you anyways.” It did not seem worth arguing about anymore; we had already done that charade of her asking for me to change and my empty promises that things would be different. Every time felt like the same routine… No matter what happened, I was still going to drink and if I did not come home for a while, that was my problem—not hers. My stomach turned and anger raged within me at the idea of being abandoned by my family; the very people who are supposed to love you unconditionally. I grabbed my backpack and walked out the door, my mother sobbing loudly behind me.
On the streets, my mind went blank… The events that just happened felt like a dream. I began to walk in the general direction of the closest trolley stop, figuring that a friend might take me in. It was a mile walk and thirty-minute ride to the Northside of the city where my best bets of finding a place to stay were. If my family was going to try telling me I had a problem, then I did not need them. No one had the right to tell me I had lost control. Forty-five minutes later, my friend Max greeted me at the door. His house was mostly just him in it and most of my days were spent there anyway. We stood on his balcony overlooking the city, beer in hand, talking about the events of my day. “I made you a place to sleep in the house. Do you want to see?” Nodding in agreement, we went upstairs to his room, where he proudly showed off a built-in hole in his wall for storage converted to a bed. Blankets were laid down to act as a mattress and a curtain had been hung for privacy. “What do you think?” “It’s great. Thank you.” It was not great though. It was the furthest thing from what I thought would have when waking up this morning, but I was not going to change behaviors that didn’t seem wrong to begin with. Life had sure as hell changed a lot—that’s for sure.
The party was going on its third day and there were no signs of stopping soon. A group of people were on the balcony smoking and talking loudly about nothing. Max handed me a drink and stared for some time into the distance. The day was looking bleak and snow was just beginning to fall. Goosebumps covered my arms, but I had never packed a jacket when I left my mother’s house a year and a half ago. “I’m glad you’re here,” Max quietly muttered, “it’s been nice to have someone else here every day.” He waited for me to reciprocate the feeling, but I couldn’t help but look around at him and the others at the party and feel my mother was right. Sure, it’s normal for kids to party, but it seemed out of hand now. Each day felt mundane and it all seemed to have lost its fun over the length of being away. Waking up not feeling normal—feeling sick all the time—and constant lack of sleep was wearing on me. This isn’t a way to live life… All the anger I felt for my mother had seemed to dissipate over time and it was becoming more and more evident that my mother had no choice but to let me face the consequences of my actions. What once felt like abandonment now felt like it was the push I needed to be where I am now. My heart felt broken at the hurt that was inflicted and I wondered if my mother even knew I was alive. Suddenly the idea that things were not in my control were evident and it hurt to not have seen it earlier. Fear over my mother’s reaction overcame me; worry that our relationship may be damaged beyond repair had my heart beating so fast, it felt like it would burst. Standing on the balcony overlooking the city skyline, I texted my mother for the first time. “You were right and I want to come home, if you’ll forgive me.
The TV was playing some kind of murder mystery while my mother handed over a fresh cup of espresso--It is our bi-weekly tradition. She asks how I like the changes she made in the living room as my eyes catch on the newest family portrait hanging above the couch. In it are my sisters and I with my nieces. It was taken six months prior and is in the gold frame I got my mother for Christmas. Finishing my cup and reaching for my keys to leave, I could not help but smile at the big bold letters on my key tag—Clean and serene for multiple years in recovery. It took a lot of get that tag—so many ups and downs, moments I never thought I’d get it and times I had to restart along the way. So much had happened six years ago, but it now felt like a horrible nightmare; one I’m glad we got out of together.