Chapter Three: Lea
Next “morning” came quickly (considering I didn’t go to bed until after 6 am), and I was finally able to drag myself out of bed by noon. After showering and having my usual breakfast with coffee, I felt like a new woman. I gave Liam a call to see if he still wanted to accompany me to visit my mother. After two rings, I heard his cheery voice, “Well, hello Lea. I thought I was going to have to come over to make sure you were still breathing!”
I countered jokingly, “Well not all of us can survive on such little sleep. I am beginning to think you might be a vampire….”
He gave a little laugh, changed the subject and asked, “So, do you still want company to see your mother?”
Avoidance. Classic red flag. “I would love some. Want to meet me downstairs at my apartment in a half an hour?”
“I will be there,” Liam chirped.
After a few more sarcastic jokes and jabs, we hung up. I fished out something warm to wear, my mind in full contemplation mode. Liam was hiding something. I had to figure out what.
I quickly got ready, grabbed my coffee to go, and met Liam right outside my building. Hugging, we both smiled and walked arm in arm. It felt nice to have a companion, someone who had also had a rough past, someone I felt I could trust.
Boarding the train, we took a seat and Liam asked in a forthright tone, “So, Lea, what am I getting myself into here? Is it ok if I know more about you and your mother’s relationship?”
Deep down, I knew sooner or later I was going to have to talk about it with someone. Since Liam knew more than any friend I had ever had, I decided he deserved to know the truth. I didn’t want to get super emotional before the visit or give Liam any preconceived reasons to hate my mother (just yet), so I decided to buy some time. “Liam, I really appreciate you coming with me. You have no idea how much it means to me. Could I share with you more after the rehab visit?”
Liam looked me in the eyes, “Of course, Lea. I only want to know how best to be there for you.” I squeezed his arm and said thank you. He gave me a playful nudge and smiled saying, “I know you would do it for me too.” I grinned and nodded I looked out the window, lost in thought, trying my best to not think about the worst parts of my life.
Approaching the facility, I became very nervous. My mom could be so unpredictable due to her condition and the meds. You never knew what you were going to get. I just prayed that she was her cheerful self today and that I didn’t bring Liam along to witness the worst parts of our relationship or my past.
We gave our names and IDs to the officer sitting behind a plate glass window, and who looked as if she wanted to be anywhere else but here. She gave us a half smile and a loud pop of her bubble gum and declared in a rather monotone voice, “Leave any valuables, sharp objects or any object that could potentially be used as a weapon in here.” We obeyed. The woman gave another lackluster smile (if you could call it that) and pressed a large, red button that signaled we were ready.
The guard escorted us to the family room. Through the lined glass window, I saw my mom. She was staring at a TV on the wall, with a vacant, overly medicated expression. As I approached her, she snapped out of her trance and jumped up, wrapping her arms around me in an all-consuming hug. I hugged her back and turned to introduce Liam, but before I could even say anything my mom lit up and interrupted “Lea, is this your new boyfriend?!”
Slightly blushing, I calmly explained, “No—mother, this is Liam, and he is just a friend.” They shook hands, “Pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”
“Oh, stop it, Liam. That makes me sound old; call me Sandra.”
“Sandra, it is.” Liam bore that infectious smile, causing her to bat her eyelashes. I put my hand to my forehead, half embarrassed. She could never resist hitting on my past boyfriends, and I should have known she wouldn’t make an exception today, even in rehab.
Mom gave him a once over and continued, “Well, if you don’t snatch him up, I just might have to.” I rolled my eyes. Blood rushed to my face, and I took a deep breath, deciding to let it go. I moved for us to sit down (to hopefully derail my mom’s disturbing and painstakingly blunt thoughts).
We sat awkwardly for a moment until I asked her how she was doing. I doubt she remembered our last visit. Mom hardly ever remembered her fits or severe depressive states—only I was blessed with that luxury. She rattled off her usual complaints that the food was terrible, there was nothing to do, the people were weird, she didn’t understand why she was in here... Hearing her rant that the world has always wronged her, my anger began to build. I was getting so sick and tired of her excuses and blaming others. Nothing was ever her fault.
Without thinking, I blurted out, “Mom! Tell me the truth. How are you actually doing?”
The room grew quiet, so quiet that I would bet my life you could hear a pin drop. I swallowed, looking around, embarrassed by my outburst, but as soon as my eyes returned to my mother’s, my shame turned to anger.
She hesitated, bowing her head to stare at the floor and twiddle her thumbs. I grabbed her hands and forced her to focus and look at me. Looking me in the eyes, she started to cry (oh, no. I wasn’t prepared for this). Tears rolled down her face, “I am so sorry, Lea. I never wanted any of this. I never wanted to be sick or to choose you over drugs. I never wanted to hurt you.”
Tears welled in my eyes, not of compassion, but anger. “Mom, I have heard this same apology so many times, I am sorry if I don’t believe you anymore,” I choked. Fighting back my tears, I tried not to have a complete breakdown in front of Liam.
“I know I have. I have said a great many things and have followed through on none. After our last visit, I promised myself that I was going to do everything in my power to get better. I have started taking my meds and stopped fighting and resisting my therapy sessions.” Mom grabbed me by the hands and looked me dead in the eyes, “I know it’s just a start, but I promise you, Lea, I am going to do everything in my power to make it up to you and to feel normal again.”
I squeezed her hands, and through the tears, I managed to choke out, “That would mean the world to me, mom, and I hope you can, not only for my sake but for yours.”
She squeezed my hand again, “Honey, I am going to stay here until I feel confident I can make it out there on my own. I realize I can’t keep running from my problems and pretending they didn’t happen. I need to face them and own up to everything I have done. I hope you will forgive me and give me a chance to prove you wrong. I am going to do this, Lea.”
I wiped my tears from my eyes and smiled at her, “I forgive you Mom, and if you can show me improvement and actions instead of words, I know our relationship will be stronger than ever.”
Liam returned with a box of Kleenex for the both of us. As we wiped our eyes and blew our noses I decided our “heart to heart” was good enough for now.
“Would you guys like to play a board game?” I asked. Liam and Mom both nodded. Still slightly awkward from our cry fest, I tried my best to make it un-awkward.
We decided to play “Sorry” (since the options were limited due to the fact the patients could use them as weapons or means to hurt themselves), and it quickly became apparent that none of us liked to lose. The game escalated into a full scale, trash talking and side-splitting laughter competition. Looking at my mom, laughing and joking, it brought me back to the good days when I was a child. I couldn’t help but wonder if she meant it this time. Part of me wanted to believe her, yet another part pleaded for me to resist. The saying, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me,” applied to me tenfold. My mother had promised so many times she would get clean and leave her deadbeat boyfriend—be a better mother. Every time she failed. Every time I was left heartbroken.
Looking at her, I couldn’t help but have hope. A new year was upon us, a chance to start fresh, an opportunity to be positive instead of negative, and I chose to judge her as she was now, and not by who she had been. Staring at her, a smile came over me, one that you couldn’t hold back even if you tried, almost involuntary, deep from within, and I felt light and free as a bird.
Another hour of intense board games and laughter passed before the guard announced that visitation had come to an end. Getting up to leave, Liam hugged my mom and thanked her for the enjoyable day and the great ab workout from all the laughter. Liam gave me a slight nod and turned to exit, giving us some time alone.
I turned to her, and we embraced. She pulled away and looked me in the eyes once again. “I promise you, Lea, I will get better. You have been so patient with me and supporting; I only hope I can repay you financially and emotionally and be the mother I should’ve always been.”
I gave her another hug. “I love you, mom. You don’t need to pay me back financially. Just get better, and I look forward to our new rekindled relationship. Maybe when you get out of here, we can go get a tattoo together like you always wanted.”
With that, she cracked a smile. Unlike my mother, I had no tattoos on my body. Since I was eighteen, she had begged for me to get one with her, to signify our bond as mother-daughter, but I never felt close enough to her to put something permanent like that on my body. “Oh, Lea! You know I would love that. I will be thinking about what we should get once I get out of here!”
I smiled, but on the inside, I was praying that this wasn’t going to end in another heartbreak for me. “Sounds good mom. I should go through. Liam is waiting.”
“Ok. One last thing though Lea. For what it’s worth, Liam seems like a great guy! You two should be more than friends.” (She just couldn’t let it go).
I couldn’t tip-toe through the tulips anymore (and just had to break her heart), “Mother, Liam is gay, so, unfortunately, I am not his type.”
My mother could never hide her reactions; she looked thoroughly downtrodden that she wouldn’t someday be calling Liam her new son in law. “Well, there is always a chance!” she added.
I rolled my eyes and smiled, giving her the, “Yes mother, there is always a chance” line right back. We hugged one last time and walked toward the door. I turned and gave her a final look before heading out. She held her hand to her heart (which she used to do when I was a child, meaning I was in her heart and everything will be ok) and I held my hand to my heart in reply. There was hope.