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.
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.