The Carrot and the Stick

My life hangs by a frayed thread.

I am a donkey who lives by the carrot and the stick.

The carrot hangs in front of me, just out of reach.  This gives me a reason to keep reaching.  It is valuable, because it means that someone else’s life depends on mine.

I had two carrots; now I only have one.  That one is my dog, Atina.  She cannot live without me, for she is sick and depends on my care to stay alive.

Actually some other benefactor could care for her, but I love her, and she gives me the only joy I have now.  So she is my carrot.

Then there is the stick that follows me, threatening to whack me if I don’t keep trudging along under my load.

The stick is the fear that there might actually be an afterlife, reincarnation, some consequence for taking my death into my own hands.

My life has always hung by this thread, and I have clung to the thread as a mountain climber clings to the fixed ropes, the lifelines that prevent the fall into the unknown, or rather, the certainty of death.

Before the doctor rescued me by cutting me out of my mother’s hostile womb, my tiny organism was flooded by the amphetamines she took to keep from gaining weight while pregnant.

My organism did not tolerate her labor.  My heart began to fail from lack of oxygen.  No doubt my attachment to her womb, my lifeline, was marginal because of the drug that caused constriction of the blood vessels.

I was “small for dates,” four pounds, and struggling to breath, so they took me away and stuck me in an incubator with plenty of oxygen.

My lungs were bad, I suffered withdrawal from the amphetamines, I was unstable, and in those days no one was allowed to touch a fragile newborn except for feeding and changing, so I sucked my thumb and watched the white forms padding on silent feet through the dim space that surrounded my plastic bubble.  This I remember clearly.

Childhood was searing pain, alien to everything, clothes tearing at my skin, terror of my mother, clinging to my father who always had somewhere to go or something to do, only my animals for companionship and love.

Teenage hopelessness, violent rape, runaway, street life, rape, rape, rape, pregnancy, abortion, alone, alone, alone.

Finally mentors, self esteem, push push push degree degree degree, marriage, baby, fell off the balance beam, paralyzing depression, no support, head of my class, medical honor society, residency, depression, mania, no support, ruptured discs, surgery, body jacket, divorce.

Son’s father refused to see him “because it was too emotionally hard” on father.  Really?  Your son cries for you every night and day.  How can you sleep at night?  How can you look at yourself in the mirror and say, “My emotional pain is more important than my five year old son’s”?

We went on, my son and I.  Life was rough, life was rocky.  He was angry, I was numb, except for the pain always there.  Work, the drug.  Work hard, work long, work better.  A nanny in place of a father.  Angry boy, angry boy.  Can you blame him?

Angrier angrier angrier.  Treatment treatment treatment.  Drugs, legal and not.  Go and live with father finally, maybe that will help.  Bribe father to take the boy.  Father likes money, I have plenty.  Used to.

Disaster.  Thrown away, street life, homeless shelter.

Mother now disabled by mental illness, bankrupt.

Son needs help, NOW!

Therapeutic boarding school, but how to pay?  Father and his family refuse to help.  I borrow money from my parents.  They get it by mortgaging their home, to save their grandson.

I leave my career behind, to help my son, no turning back after too much time away.  I am disabled, that’s who I am, new identity.  But I helped my son to save himself, so that’s who I am now, what, a sacrifice?  No, just a disabled person.  It would have happened anyway, in my downward spiral.

Now he is a big shot, finishing his Ph.D., and his father and his father’s family have taken him back, so proud.

His first scientific paper published in the world’s premiere scientific journal.  I am so proud.


We “do” Thanksgiving together, he and I, and every year has been a blast.

This year, something different.

He invites me to his apartment.  Just the two of us.  Why?

Don’t you want to invite some friends who don’t have somewhere to go?  You remember, when you were a kid, we always had students over who couldn’t go home, or were Chinese, or for some reason would be alone.

No, he said.  Everyone already has a place.

I wondered.

The night before Thanksgiving I was invited, with great pomp and circumstance, to go out with he and his friends to a bar.  I was thrilled to be included.

But when I arrived, a five hour drive from where I stay, I had a migraine and felt sick, and just wanted to smoke some flower and curl up in my van with Atina, my dog.  I would feel better tomorrow.

So I said, you guys go ahead, I’m going to sleep off this migraine.

OK, he says, eager and relieved.  And ran out the door.  I’ll leave it unlocked he says, in case you need anything.

Morning late, I feel better, he’s hung over.  Coffee, cartoons on the big screen, I’m content.  He starts cooking.  Always happy when he’s cooking!

Dinner: a roast duck, fried rice, greens, cranberry sauce.

Not much to say, and it’s getting weird.  I feel a void, ghosts at the table, who are they and why don’t they come out and play?

So the pipe goes back and forth, and he is drinking more beer and more beer.  I go to bed early, he goes out with friends.  I wonder ?

Friday morning, coffee, and I am served a spoonful of leftover rice.  He gives himself a plate, not a lot, but a plate. ?

He goes to lab to feed his cells, I shower and try to get this migraine to go away.  I’m hungry.  I take a bit more duck, rice, a bit of everything.  Thanksgiving leftovers are the best.  I wish son was here to share, but I’m hungry and my head is pounding, so I eat.

He returns from lab.  I tell him I’m sorry I couldn’t wait for him, I had to eat.  He looks angry.  I feel the old ominous storm clouds.  Why?

I guess I’d better go now.

But I feel like crap, I don’t want to drive.

He’s already holding the door open for me to go out.

Um, listen, I don’t feel so well, do you think I could hang out for a while longer?

Um, sorry Mom, I need my space, he says, with irony face.

Oh, OK, I understand.

Beggar at the door, no place for you here.

What did I do?  Did I eat too much?  Am I too burned out?

I’m not successful like his father, the famous scientist, or his father’s father, the famous whatever.

I’m just a mentally ill disabled person, a failure at life, an embarrassment.

I’m skinny, I look ill, my hair is grey and frizzy, my clothes hang loose, my dog is nervous…

Can I at least use your internet to find a place to camp?

Oh sure, Mom.  Come in.  But please leave Atina in the van.

I thought he liked dogs.  Maybe now that he’s got new clothes and new furniture, he’s afraid she will…

I find a place, guess this is it, he’s holding the door….

Love you, honey….

Love you too, Mom…mechanical doll voice.  Grim.

I drive off, numb.  Can’t feel yet, I have to get there, too much traffic.

Get there, hook up, walk dog, collapse, convulsed with grief.

There goes my carrot.

Now I know that my leaving won’t make much of a dent in his life.

I stay here for him, thinking my exit would destroy him, but not so.

He has his father now, and his father’s father, and he is their prestigious prodigal son.

In some way, relief, that cord is cut, that fixed line down.

The plan has been in place for some time, yet I have held my hand because of Carrot #1.  Now Carrot #1 has shown me the door, out of his life and into ?

Carrot #2 snuggles against me as I write.  Precious baby.  But she is sick.

She may last months, or a year or a few.

When she goes, I go too.

Will I be punished?  Will I have to come back and do it over till I get suffering “right”?  Or, to quote Lewis Carroll, do we just go “poof” like a candle, when we go?

Already I am losing the use of my body.  My shoulders are too full of arthritis to throw a ball.  My left hand no longer works well enough to play my music, which has carried me through so much suffering all my life.

Something has happened to my blood vessels.  They break and bleed under my skin so that I go around with blue lumps simply from the trauma of living.

My skin comes off in sheets if I brush up against anything harder than a pillow.  The wounds take months to heal and leave hideous scars.

The cancer that I had in the 90’s once again inhabits my innards.  I hope it grows faster this time.  No, I’m not going to treat it.  That would hasten my death, and I don’t want to leave my dog.

But some days I can’t move, my bloated belly pushes down like a rock.  Other days, not so bad.  Some days only liquids, others, soup and rice.

I had this one carrot that kept the juice of life running through my broken veins.  Now that carrot is gone, eaten up by some other entity, and the sick carrot and the stick remain.

The stick doesn’t frighten me.  I can’t do anything about the stick.

My sweet Atina will drag me along until her own candle gutters and goes out, and I will follow after, poof, and at least this life will be done with.

I can only hope that the cancer takes me before I have to take myself.

That way I don’t have to worry about the stick.



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  1. Email me. I am going to come get you and take you on a girls’ day out. I understand EVERYTHING you’re talking about. Maybe we could have a few hours of at least pretend joy.

  2. Laura, I don’t know what to say.

    I understand this despair, I understand the sting of rejection and I am very sorry to learn that your cancer has returned.

    It’s a strange thing, this blogging. We open ourselves to people we don’t really know and somehow over time we come to look for certain people. I watch my ‘follower’ numbers rise and fall but what matters are that the people to whom I feel a kinship are still among them.

    You are one of those people. I look for your comments, your wit, the acerbic sense of humor and your intellect.

    I can tell you that you are not a failure. I can tell you that I think that what you experienced with your Son sounds like the normal conflict between generations. Is it possible to have a child who won’t spend a portion of their adulthood blaming their parents for some of the problems they face?

    One thing I know and know this from having had one of the worst Mothers possible.

    I loved my Mother regardless of her failures. I grieved her death and regretted the lost years.

    I would still like to know who she was despite the fact that she never, ever accepted her responsibility as a parent.

    If I loved MY Mother than how much more does your Son love you, a Mother who tried?

    Even if he is conflicted he loves you.

    And when you are gone he will remember these moments and they will haunt him.

    If you must do this; please let him know that regardless of the pain and confusion; that he is your son and that you love him.

    I hope this isn’t stepping over a line..and if it is please forgive me.

    • Rob, you can never step over a line with me. I love and respect you, and I take what you say to heart. I am worn out from this life. There is only so much pain a person can bear. I know there are people much worse off than I am, whose desire to live carries them through. I’m tired. I don’t want to die in agony. Even without cancer, my joints and spine are degenerating, and day by day my function declines. I desperately do not want to end up in some hospital or nursing home. I want to die on my own terms, peacefully. I don’t know how much time I have left. I’ve been getting blood clots in my legs. I can’t take blood thinners because I already bleed spontaneously. I can’t even take aspirin because I’m allergic to it. I’ve already told my mother and son that when things get unbearable, I will go, in my own way. Perhaps that’s why my son finds it difficult to be around me. I saw that happen with my dad when he got sick–all his friends stopped coming around, because he looked horrible and wasn’t himself. It was very sad. All I can do now is keep trudging along and hope I don’t miss the moment. Bless you.

  3. this is a tremendous story. You write really well. Wish there was something more i can do to comfort you. So sorry about the carrot #1 being well, a carrot, for lack of other words. Thinking of you.

  4. Even though I ‘liked this’, I don’t like that life is such a pain in the ass for you, and the only way to survive is to suffer through it. I do like how well you translate raw emotion into words. It’s something I’m working on (without adding strings of expletives). I’m sorry you hurt, and I wish I had the magic to take it away. If nothing else, you’ve reminded me that my parents, no matter how much they annoy me, are humans with feelings. I tend to forget that and have a difficult time empathizing with them because I’m not a parent, so the way they act is completely foreign to me.

    • Thank you so much for your empathy, Kara. It’s been interesting to see what this brings up for people. I’m glad it got you thinking about your parents. Parents are such a mixed bag. It’s especially distressing when they are in denial that we have a serious illness/illnesses that aren’t going to go away, or they minimize our suffering. No parent wants to see their child suffer, but they can’t make it go away by telling themselves it isn’t there. I keep trying to get through to my mother that she will outlive me, and of course she freaks out and says How can you say that, even though she’s seen quite a bit. She still tells her friends how great I’m doing! Oh well. If wishes were fishes, we’d eat fish every day.

  5. I respect your decision, just as I hope others will respect mine, if and when I make it. Doesn’t keep me from feeling very, very sad…

    I don’t have the same carrots that you have, and that’s been a conscious choice for me. I know the intense pain of grief over the loss of a loved one, and I don’t want anyone to feel that kind of pain because of me. In some cases, absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder — it just makes the connection disappear.

    And so I wonder just what it is that holds me to this place, inside this bubble of pain… Right now, I couldn’t tell you. Sometimes I think the carrots change from day to day, even from hour to hour, especially during a pain storm. Do chocolate and bud really have the power to keep me here? Right now, at this very moment, it appears so. 🙂

    If bud has has the power to keep me here, is there something else that would do the same? If your beloved Atina is enough to keep you here, isn’t there anything else that would do the same? Not saying there is, just want you to think about it.

    I’m also wondering if your perception of the last visit with your son is maybe colored by your mental state. Seems premature to say that you’ve lost something that may still be there, even if it is in a different state.

    I thank you for having the bravery to share your story. Peace out. 🙂

    • Thank you so much ❤. My son’s reaction might have been triggered by my intense depression/migraine. I also think he’s experiencing his own unmedicated bipolar, to which he is in denial. I also think he is drinking way too much, self medicating no doubt. He has always had a love of bud, but so do I, although I avoided it for 25 years due to my profession. But this brooding hostility…I don’t know. I will have a conversation with him once I get out of this episode.

      He knows the condition of my health, or rather, lack thereof, and he may be in the anger stage of grief, I don’t know. Besides being honest and supportive of him, I don’t know what I can do. I always thought he’d be there for me if I really needed help, but I guess not. If I had had any idea that my illness would get this bad, I don’t know whether I would have brought a child into the world. But on the other hand, he is a top notch scientist who develops technology that will revolutionize medicine. When he was five years old, in the throes of Asperger’s combined with his father leaving, I had his natal chart done. The astrologer summarized it: if he survives adolescence, he will be a global leader in his field. She was right.

      As painful as it is, the reality is that at some point we lose our parents. Ideally it’s from old age, in their sleep, but most of the time it’s not. It will be rough for him, but he will survive, and likely be stronger. That’s how he is. I’d like to live to see him defend his dissertation. I think I can make it that long. I’d love to see him get married and have children, but I don’t think that’s realistic, considering the tumor.

  6. Dear dear Laura. I do so wish I had found your blog earlier. I know and communicate with more people through my blog than I do with “real” friends. It would be foolish and arrogant of me to make any comment about the hurt and upset and despair that you write about. All I can say is that I will look forward each day for your next post. And the next and the next.

  7. Laura, that’s just the way kids are. Don’t take it personally. He’ll be back. Get busy with something else. That sounds weird but it’s true. Love and kisses.

  8. Family is rough
    My brother is a shit
    He always plays the game by his rules never once can he see these
    Don’t work for me
    Even when I tell him he’s a shit
    He’s still goes back to being a shit
    Look I feel your pain
    Love you Laura
    As always Sheldon

  9. Sitting with you and listening so keep talking. I understand the love for the dog, I feel that too for Nitro. He’s my strength on most days. Sending you many hugs and much love… and I want to invite you to my private blog at I went underground for a while only inviting certain viewers. XX

  10. I honestly don’t think that the Almighty would be cross with you for any plans you might be making. I mean, if Jesus really is the Son of God, then God understands suffering far better than we as humans can (until we’re in that place ourselves, and even then it’s different for each one of us). So I don’t think that you’d be punished for chosing your time.

    • Thank you for that! Jewish mysticism says otherwise, that pain is to fix broken places in the collective soul, thus we should welcome it…I’m afraid I’m not that spiritually developed.

      Even Jesus quoted King David (I forget which psalm, I’ll look it up soon), when he said

      “Ayli, Ayli, lama azavtani?”
      (My God, my God, why did you forsake me?”)

      He also was not immune to pain.

      It says that the Hebrews are God’s chosen people…we say, chosen for what? To shoulder the burden of suffering for the world.

  11. I hope that God is merciful and does not punish those who choose to die. I believe that God loves you now and will continue to love you.

  12. I’m so sorry. I know it’s a pithy response to such an outpouring, to the reasons behind the deluge, but I’m sorry, and I’m thinking of you. Please take care.

    • Thanks, Sister. So many questions, crowding together, could be crocuses, redolent with saffron, could be a tangle of Multiflora rose, sweet scented deadly trap. How to know? Or, more likely, how not to know?


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