A Letter For Mom


Dear mom,


Why did you fall apart so quickly? Why did you quit your job as an ER nurse when I was six and my sister was nine? Why do I distinctly remember you taking literal soup ladles of pills, some antipsychotic, some vitamins, and some an eternal mystery? Why were your hands always shaking? Why were you in bed for days on end, leaving my sister and I to eat dry ramen noodles for dinner? Why did you start drinking so heavily that you once rushed us to school at 6 a.m. because the VCR was blinking 12:00? Why didn’t you take me to the ER when I gashed my finger while carving a pumpkin or take my sister when she sliced her toe on a razor that slipped into the bathtub? Why were you forced to foreclose on our house in Las Vegas and declare bankruptcy? Why did you lie about dad abusing you to bolster the support case after the divorce?

Why did you run away from home when you were a teenager? Why did Janis Joplin speak to you so profoundly? Why did you follow her and The Grateful Dead on a whistlestop tour of Canada? Why is the only story I heard from you about how deer would eat from the window gardens of a cabin you had in Colorado? Why did I have nostalgia of our home the first time I smelled weed as an adult? Why did your parents hate you so much?

Why did you date Chuck? Why did you date a half-blind, health-crazed, pothead who shoveled horseshit for a living? Why did you once take me to a meeting with a drug dealer and compensated me for it with Alice In Chains’ MTV Unplugged? Why did you seek solace online at forums for SSI recipients and admit to them you were fired as a waitress at Denny’s for having “too nervous a personality”?

Why did you cry when my father died, a man you hated? Why is one of my earliest memories you throwing an orange plastic cup full of ice at his head, and his only response was to take us to Del Taco? Why did my father’s friends call you Janet The Planet? What earned you such a disregard for basic dignity and respect, the sort demanded of any human? Why did I learn more from complaints about you than praises for you?

Why did you not force me to talk to you more? Why would I go a month or more without talking to my own mother? Why did my aunt and uncle remove me from your apartment because they thought it would be too stressful? Why were you always stressed? Why did you not work harder towards removing that which caused you such paralyzing fear?

Why did you, a former ER nurse, overdose on morphine? Why, if it was intentional, did you not leave a note? Why did Chuck make your death entirely about him and his sorrow? Why did you not ring in my ears when I started college six months later? Why did you always tell me reading could do more than any teacher? Why did you buy endless boxes of cake mix and yet never bake cakes?

Why am I so filled with questions after the only person who could answer them is gone? Why is adolescence so selfishly bent on ruining you that I never bothered to ask you anything? Why don’t I know your favorite color? Why don’t I know your favorite drink? Why did I have to learn through Ancrestry.com you had a husband before my father?

Why aren’t you talking to me? Why aren’t I learning about your adulthood as I build my own? Why are you now a wisp of half-filled pages with the spills of youth holding them together, only revealed by being torn? Why don’t I have shoebox after shoebox overfilling with your life in sepia and color? Why is all I have a scrapbook you made about me with you barely in it? Why do I hold your driver’s license in my wallet as the only photo I have of you? Why does my family wash away your existence by being coy and polite, muttering how much you loved me and never answering to who you were? Why was my mind so limited as to never crack open your own past? Why was I imagining my life as a dramatic indie movie while you struggled with addiction and illness? Why was I being guarded by my family like a glass swan from the bruises of your reality? Why are my nightmares filled with you weeping? Why was I never told I could lose your love?

Always your son,

Ben Branstetter

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