When roles are switched in any parent/child relationship, it creates an imbalance in both parties. It was like this with my mother and I. She the child, me, the parent. It was a role reversal of the worst kind. As a child, I had to be the strong one in times of crisis. A death in the family, my 6-year-old shoulder had to be the rock upon which my mother cried, even though I didn’t understand the implications involved with death.
I was able to attend basic training between my Junior and Senior year in high school. My mother didn’t want me to go to South Carolina because it was so far away from Maine. She tried to guilt me so much, I was happy to leave. So emotionally unstable was my mother that I even once gotten a message from the Red Cross while there to call home, there was a serious emergency. Fearing the worst from my sick & elderly father, I took an hour-long smoking (doing exercises as a form of punishment) from the drill sargent just to earn a call home. Nervously dialing the number, shaking and near tears as I gave the operator my name and waited for the charges to be accepted. The sound in her “Hello.” instantly confirmed my worst fear, my father had died and I wasn’t there to be with him. I couldn’t speak, tears flooded my cheeks and soaked the collar of my PT greys. I finally managed to stammer out “Wh-what hap-happened? What happened? What happened to dad?”
“Nothing, he’s fine. Every one is fine”
Unable to handle the emotional roller coaster ride, I shakily squeaked out “I got a message, a message from the emergency liaison. A lady from the Red Cross…”
“I called them, I had to get a hold of you. We have to talk about something.”
My face went from sorrow gray to rage red in an instant. I couldn’t believe my mother would go through such lengths to reach me for what ever trivial matter that happened to bother her at that moment. I couldn’t believe I had to do that many push-ups and running just to make a phone call home, and for what? Something stupid. I couldn’t believe she had done this to me. Then again, I wasn’t too surprised.
“I’m going to be in big trouble because this isn’t an actual emergency. I told you to only call the base unless something life changing had happened. I need to get back to PT, what is it?” I was curt and emotionless.
“Well, I was going through your room (Nothing surprising there.) and I found a folder with some of your school work….”
“HAFFORD! Someone better be dead if you’ve been on the phone this long! Plan on giving me 20 minutes of low kicks for the extra time!”
F**k. “Mom, could you just tell me, my a*s is going to be in big trouble because of this G******n drama.”
“Well I read the paper you wrote about why you went into the military…”
“Do you really feel that way, who did you let read this?! I told you that nothing leaves this house! You don’t tell anyone anything!” Her voice was shrill, she had found out that some of her secrets left her control and she was on the warpath. “You call Mrs. Bubar and anyone else that read this and tell them it wasn’t true. I never did those things to you. I supported you through everything. Maybe if you hadn’t stopped doing pageants, I would done more…”
“Stop right there, I’m hanging up. This process was for family emergencies only. You not having control isn’t an emergency.”
“HAFFORD! An hour of flutter kicks!”
“F**k, stay out of my s**t.” Click.
And that is what most of my life has been so far. Emotional manipulation and physical abuse. The physical abuse stopped when I was big & brave enough to swing back, but the emotional turmoil continued forever after.
That is, until one life changing cliché day. For the entire seventeen years I had been on this planet, my mother had a problem with medications. Her doctor would give her something for sleep, sore muscles, depression, pain and she would abuse the hell out of anything she could. To her, it was OK because the doctor gave it to her. She could take a handful of memory erasing Ambien without the guilt. The doctor told her to do it. I had dumped so many bottles of useless pills, I lost count sophomore year. I had a pain-killer addicted mother with the emotional maturity of a 6-year-old.
After my father’s death when I was 18, I tried to get as far away as I could. Yet, I always ended up back home. If I needed a little help, it was like making a deal with the devil. “Sure, I could send you a few dollars, but I’m not going to unless you move back here.” She would call and say she was dying, the doctors told her she had days to live. She slept all day and had a pill for everything. If someone had an illness or injury, she had it worse. Due to her unwillingness to care for herself, she developed serious illnesses in which she did nothing for, yet a sliver in her finger would be cause for a trip to the emergency room. She used medical problems to gain sympathy & attention.
One crisp fall day, she had a tantrum (to this day, I can not remember why) staggering to her car, she left almost putting her car into a ditch. About an hour later, I found her at the grocery store, parked in the middle of the small parking lot, passed out. Fortunately, her car was a standard shift and she wasn’t able to keep it from stalling out. That was the only thing that kept her from causing any fatalities. I pulled my car up to her driver side window and yelled at her to wake up, her mouth and eyes hung half-open, drool stringing from the corner of her mouth. I had tried to convince her to park her car and let me drive her home. She mumbled something about turning the car around and parking it. I watched her drive out into the street and instead of parking, she continued down Main street and turned onto our home road. I quickly turned my truck around and sped off after her. We live in a very small town, the usual one grocery store, one gas station, one school and fifteen churches. It was early in the day so there were very few cars as most people were at work or in school. This probably kept anyone from becoming a victim of my intoxicated mother. High on sleeping & pain pills.
As I gripped my steering wheel and pressed my gas pedal closer to the floor, I saw the back-end of her car. I caught up and stayed as close as possible to her tail end. I started to sweat as I watched her swerve from one lane to the other, tires sprayed rocks as the car went over the dirt in the ditch. My hand moved towards the horn, ready to let a blast to bring my mother’s attention back to reality. As the car narrowly misses a telephone pole, my hand slipped off the horn.
My gripped loosened off the steering wheel, my foot lifted off the pedal and I let my truck slow down. I kept the erratic driving car in my sight, a strange calm came over me. Scenarios flashed through my mind as we closed the distance to the house. The entire length of the road was a mile and a half, a usual drive from Main Street to the house takes about 5 minutes. This entire experience seemed like hours. A loud bang snapped me out of my daydream, my eyes snapped to the twisted metal wrapped around a telephone pole about one eighth of a mile in front of me. Reality kicked its way back into my skull. What was I thinking? How could I let this happen? I skidded to a stop in front of the crash site, swinging my door open, one foot out of the car before I had time to put the truck in park. I ran around the truck over to my mother’s driver side window. The car gripped the telephone pole like a giant fist, the side mirror almost touching the gas door. The odor of smoke and gasoline filled my nostrils and burned my eyes. My mother was wedged between the seat and airbag, her head flopped to the side. Blood ran down her forehead, it gushed from her nose, ears and mouth. She was making soft moaning sounds mixed with gasps for breath. Glass was scattered over everything, the windshield completely gone, bits and pieces had lodged themselves into the soft flesh of my mother’s cheeks and neck. I looked at the carnage I had created, or at least enabled. I looked at my mother and made the decision. From somewhere deep in my subconscience a dark grey fog clouded my brain.
“I love you, mom. I’m sorry, but this is what’s best for…. Everyone….” Her head lolled forward. I heard the death rattle as the life left her body. I could only hope the drugs that had caused her to die, helped her die peacefully.
I heard an odd noise, like a p**f of air. Then the unmistakable smell of burning chemicals, gasoline, oil, paint, upholstery. The engine had continued to run after the crash (s) and the overheating created a fireball under what was left of the hood. The fire followed the trail of gasoline from underneath the car to the gas tank. The fumes in the tank caused another p**f of air followed by another fireball. I only had time to take a few steps back before I felt the heat burn my clothing, melting it to my skin. I stammered back, dropped to the grass and rolled further down into the ditch. I stopped a few feet from the wreckage, staring up at the bright, cloudless sky. Black smoke drifted into my field of vision, chemicals burned my airways. The pain of third degree burns seared into my nervous system and into my brain. My eyes clamped shut from the pain. White lightning flashed behind my eyelids. Blackness replaced the white light and I heard a loud boom just before the dark overtook me.
I awoke to bright white lights, rhythmic beeps surrounded me, and every part of my being hurt. I tried to sit up, unsure if I was dead or in the hospital. I finally heard the deep voice of my stepfather. “Don’t try to move to much, you’ve got burns over most of your body. You’re lucky you rolled down the ditch.” He choked out.
“I’m sorry. She’s gone.”
Tears rolled down to the outer corners of my eyes then the sides of my face. I stared at the ceiling trying to clear the cobwebs and remember what had brought me to this situation. My stepfather explained that just after I rolled into the deep part of the ditch, the car had blown up. I had sustained third degree burns over parts of my body. I had been in a medical coma for almost a month.
He had a wake for my mother, but decided to hold off on the funeral for two reasons. One, in case I didn’t make it and he had to plan a duel funeral, two, in case I did make it, I could say goodbye.
I spent one more week in the hospital, the treatments had worked wonderfully. I was just about healed one hundred percent. I started my physical therapy immediately and that too, went better than expected. At night, when I fell asleep, I had odd dreams. A man in a dark grey suit would come visit me. He was tall and slim. I would laugh at him because he reminded me of Bram Stroker’s “Dracula” circa 1992. It felt as though I was being visited by an old friend. We would have beautiful conversations about life and other things. In my waking hours, I would try to figure out if he was real or a side effect of the accident and the guilt I felt.
The last dream came during my final night in the hospital. Instead of the usual philosophical conversations, this time was all business. He told me I had work to do, my mother was just the first soul I had saved. There was so many more people who were better off in his hands than on this earthly plane. I would become a crusader, I would deliver tormented souls to my new Lord. I accepted his offer. The next day, I went home and prepared myself for the future.
It was a beautiful day for a funeral, my step-father had it held in the small community church he and my mother grew up in. About 200 people attended. I began my crusade during the sermon and it was beautiful. However, that is another story, for another time.