rock garden


Shortly after Mum threw the hammer at my little brother, I was finally awarded custody of him.

It was a mixed blessing. Tripp, at 14, and I, at 24, were both relieved to have finally escaped Mum’s reach.

But Tripp was already suffering from damage that would take far more than my custody of him to heal. And, in hindsight, I didn’t nearly measure up to the great guardian I thought I’d be.

Within two years, he’d be taken away from me, too, to spend the rest of his adolescence in juvenile detention and court-ordered treatment centers. And I’d spend those miserable years keeping stride, nurturing for him the belief that his addictions were the acceptable result of being mistreated.

Not knowing that lack of personal responsibility doesn’t, in fact, help a boy become a man.

But at the time we were doing the best we could, and one way or another, that’s the story we wrote together.

This many years later, we’re only beginning to rewrite that story.

Be that as it may, for a short time my brother was in fact mine.

We lived first in a crumbling studio apartment on the ground floor of a dirty street. The place was truly terrible. Though we tried to fondly refer to it as the hellhole, neither of us could actually stand to be there. We’d take turns with the bed next to the window and the sleeping bag on the floor, and when I finally got sick of seeing Tripp in the same outfit, I called Mum to let her know I needed to come get his things.

Mum surprised me by conceding to this, the normal level of abuse caused by her own pain absent. Looking back, I know that she did so because she actually loved her boy. But at the time I felt like we were miraculously pulling one over on her.

I made the drive to her house alone, Tripp refusing to join. And as much as I hoped his stuff would be out front when I arrived, eliminating the need for a face-to-face,  it wasn’t.

The house was open, so I walked in. That seems funny to me, now. I hadn’t been welcome in that house for years. But I guess, having done some growing up there, it still kind of felt like mine.

It was the house that dad bought for his family, not knowing there wouldn’t be one.

I found Mum out back, kneeling in the rock garden.

She had a scouring brush in one hand, and a single rock in the other. The hose was nearby, lightly running water.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

It was apparent to me what she was doing, so I’m not sure why I asked.

I guess because I was avoiding the real question, the answer to which lacked logic, but would have been: “Why are you doing that?”

Mum wouldn’t look at me. She just continued picking up one wet rock at a time and thoroughly scrubbing it before placing it to her right. Some of the rocks she had already bathed were by now sun-dried, and bore the exact resemblance to the millions as yet untouched.

It hurt, watching her do this. And the message I received was that I had just destroyed the only mother I had.

It killed me. The lack of sanity. The lack of hope or life or love. The emptiness and hollowness.

I couldn’t help it. I knelt down next to her and took her strange hands in mine. I meant to take my brother from her, but I didn’t mean to ruin her life. The fact that the two were inseparable should have been obvious to me, but wasn’t.

“This is pointless,” I told her.

And Mum did what she always did in the face of love. Pushed me away first, so that she could feel that the choice had been hers.

“Get out of my house,” she said. “I didn’t ask you here.”

And the funny, horrible part is that I was glad she did it. It was easier to deal with her being villain than victim. It was easier to turn my back on her than to try to love someone so far gone.

It’s shameful to admit this, but it’s the truth.

From the beginning of time, I was her daughter. But I never wanted to deal with her depths. I never loved her enough to want to walk through life with her in a constructive way. I preferred her pushing me away. Even when I saw through it, and knew that she was really saying, “Please help me. I am so lost,” I always made the choice to pretend her words were what she meant.

So I left her, in the rock garden.

And let her die.


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