When my mom was released from prison after that particular incarceration, she asked me to pick her up from the bus station. She needed her purse, money, her driver’s license, and to be driven to a hotel because she no longer had her apartment or many of her belongings. She was going to have to start all over from scratch. Getting a job with a felony was a mountain to scale but at least this time, they hadn’t revoked her license. My mom was no more a criminal than Bambi. Instead she suffered from alcohol dependence and had gotten behind the wheel while intoxicated. She had served prison sentences a number of times for this offense yet had never been court ordered for rehab. If she had had more money and a better attorney, she might have escaped her jailbird fate.
Her car had been parked near my house so I could keep an eye on it. The first thing she wanted to do was get her hair colored because apparently, it looked terrible. Grey roots were showing.
I couldn’t do it. When I thought about picking her up from the downtown Greyhound bus station, making small chitchat after she’d been gone from me for a year, fear hit me like a tsunami. I was a terrible daughter. I was letting her down. I was abandoning my mother, but if I went, I was going to abandon myself. I wouldn’t have a self anymore.
My friend, Lori volunteered to meet my mom at the station. She would give my mother her belongings. Lori also cut me a check for $200.00. “I know money is tight right now, but you need extra therapy support. Take it. It’s my pleasure.”
By not meeting her at the bus and offering her any support, was I leaving her an orphan, lost and alone in the world? Would blood be on my hands? The first time my mom was released from prison, she’d jumped from her apartment balcony, puncturing a lung and breaking a few ribs. I was a selfish bitch of a daughter.
Somehow my mom figured it out. She established herself in an apartment and found a job as a home health aid. She picked up the pieces of her shattered life and put them together again. I owed it to her to see her. That was all she wanted: to see me, her daughter. Thanksgiving was only a few weeks away. I knew that too was on her agenda. What were we going to do for the holiday? I hated the fucking holidays!
I was in the middle of moving apartments, I’d just started a new job, and my father had died only a year prior. I was a selfish bitch of a daughter, but my sanity was as fragile as my mother’s.
I decided that we should meet at Whole Foods and eat at their take out bar. It was quick, it was simple, and I felt safe amongst their gourmet cheese and flower displays. It was civilized and serene. We’d be spared the ordeal of cooking and awkward silences while waiting for a meal in a restaurant.
I stood outside the familiar building and saw her little White Hyundai pull into the parking lot. Because it was almost Thanksgiving, and Whole Foods catered, huge storehouses occupied space in the parking lot. It was difficult to find a spot. My mom had to circle a bit.
Whatever I feared would happen, didn’t. On the contrary, my heart opened when she got out of the car. This was my mother, the woman who had taken me to Girl Scouts and to Halloween carnivals. She was the woman who I had matching mother/daughter outfits with. Oh, how I loved my pink, green, and white plaid bell bottoms with the matching pink top. I’d beg her to wear hers so we’d be identical.
As she came forward to hug me, she kissed the air instead of my cheek. Whenever I hugged her, her body would collapse in and away from me. Direct, bear hug contact made her uncomfortable, no matter who was hugging her. With authority, I led us to the hot bar area of the store and gave her an overview of our selections. She picked out roast beef and macaroni and cheese. As a habit, my mom barely ate. She consisted on diet-coke and vodka, but when she occasionally would have a meal, she was still a meat and potatoes girl from Wisconsin. She didn’t like fruits, whole grains, or vegetables. She maintained a stellar figure for years, until starving herself finally messed up her natural metabolism. She affectionately called me, “Little Piggy,” which infuriated me. I was far from “piggy.” I was actually quite slender, but she didn’t understand where the food I ate went. I would lecture her that dieting was the worst thing one could do for one’s health and figure.
She insisted on paying for our food. I knew money was tight for her, but it would have insulted her if I had made the gesture.
It wasn’t awful. She asked me about my new job and how I liked it. I asked her about her new apartment. Even though I was working as a psychotherapist in a program that supported ex-felons in a their re-entry into society, I couldn’t ask my own mom about her experiences in jail. We both had an unspoken rule that it was off limits for discussion. Despite it all, I was proud of her. She had more spunk and strength than I’d given her credit for. Time in a state prison would have destroyed me; shattered my soul.
Every holiday season, when I see those storehouses, or generators, or whatever that thing is that takes up a number of spaces in the Whole Foods parking lot, I think of that encounter with my mother.
Incarceration is like a death in the family. The person leaves and then suddenly resurrects upon release. I went through this process with my mother five times, until she actually died for real.