The image of that exact house in my mind was irrelevant, of course it had its own characteristics but they didn’t matter, since the same events unfolded in every cursed place we inhabited. We brought our defects with us everywhere we went.
Each abode would have the same worn out couch. A great place to hide behind. I crammed my little body between the wall and the back of the couch for no reason other than it seemed like an appropriate thing to do. Vanish was always part of my repertoire. That couch, adorned with auburn colored horse and carriage silhouettes, had to be picked out by my father. When he left he didn’t take it with him. That gaucho only wanted to cowboy and one day they divorced and he rode out into the sunset. I was not the only one in our family with the constant urge to leave everything behind. We had two lamps that were log cabins. I could easily live in one of those somewhere far away from here.
If an overdose was a color, what color would it be? My choice would be green. Gren. There are no wrong answers.
Hattie was fine, but not really, momentarily as she read her tabloids. Tabloid magazines full of lies and gossip was her shit. She loved tabloids and jewelry. She leafed through the magazine as reality blurred and my father sat on the floor watching a Sergio Leone movie for the millionth time. Spaghetti westerns and black coffee was all my father needed. Catherine was asleep in her playpen.
My pops ate a sandwich. Liverwurst. My mom ate some pills. Downers. He sipped his Folgers while she swigged Budweiser, and ate a few more, then a couple more. What’s one more? A handful of pills are easy to lose count of. You lose track and time wobbles and you think maybe another one will get you where you need to go.
There was a vinyl shoe rack that hung on the back of her bedroom closet door in every place we lived. It was the color green. Gren. Each slot was filled with shoes of various design, color, and comfort. The top left corner slot was filled with something unrelated to footwear. The contents cradled in that ghastly pouch were uppers and downers, painkillers and diet pills. The hot pink Bandolinos resided in the slot to the right. Hattie’s dependency to prescription pharmaceuticals would destroy her life, and grievously damage ours. When you’re broken you need your fix.
“Mommy, do you love Clint Eastwood?” I asked. “Daddy loves him.”
“No, baby,” she slurred. “Elvis is my love. The King.” Hattie tickled my neck and sang. “Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart?”
“You’re not a very good singer, Mommy.”
“Are we still friends if I can’t sing?”
Yeah, we will always be friends.
“I hope so,” she said, running her fingers through my hair.
It would not be long before the gruesome transformation commenced. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was on the television and in our living room. Hattie’s body was defunct, inoperable, and had accessed a paraplegic state. Pops spoke calmly to her as he opened her eyelids with his fingers and lightly patted her gaunt face to liven her up. Her pretty brown eyes swirled around her head, feverishly and unsuccessfully trying to hold sight onto something, onto anything but focus was impossible. She didn’t speak, only unintelligible sounds, cries for help mistaken as groans and grunts.
I felt frightened as I assumed she was dying. Her body was now useless and when my father lifted her or tried to move her, it was as if all of her brittle bones had disintegrated. The pills turned her into an amoeba, a paramecium, a jellyfish, or maybe a worm, all of which were things I didn’t want my mother to be. I stood in the doorway, prepared for an earthquake but not prepared for what was happening to Hattie. I didn’t fully understand what was happening but at the same time I was too aware of what was happening. She’s sick. Wilhelm, she’s sick, he said.
He ordered me to go to my room, which I disobeyed. Everything was going to be fine. I don’t think he was consciously trying to deceive me but in the end it was still a lie. Nothing was fine, nothing was ever fine, nor would it ever be.
I had witnessed my first overdose. I was six years old. I would bet my life it wasn’t Hattie’s first and sadly would not be the last.
I waited by the window for help to come with tears streaming down my face. I watched the cars sporadically drive by. No one was outside in the street, yet. It was past my bedtime. I heard the sirens, and then I saw the cherries. What is it about those flashing lights that is so mesmerizing? The ambulance parked right in front of the house next door. Two heavyset guys carried the gurney up the stairs to our second floor apartment, passing the homeowner who lived on the first floor. They were equipped with tools and objects that I had no clue what their use was but I loved that they jangled and seemed important, possibly life saving.
“Sir, what is her name?” asked the first paramedic. He had long brown hair and acne.
Hattie. Her name is Hattie. Help her. Please, help her.
“Hattie, what did you take?” asked the second paramedic.
She can’t talk like this.
“Do you know what she took?”
“Pills. I don’t know.” My father was no help.
“Hattie, we are going to get you to the hospital and everything is going to be fine.” That fucking word again. More liars.
She made noises and the one paramedic looked at me in my glossy eyes and I saw it, pity. They strapped her in, and said, on three. I watched them load her into the back of the ambulance from the window as all of our neighbors watched from street level. The block was not desolate like before. A friendly woman from a few houses down stayed with my sister and I as my pops tailed the ambulance to the hospital.
Hattie would be home in less than 24 hours. She felt like shit for a while but not shitty enough to change her lifestyle. Our days in that apartment were numbered.
There were those mornings when Catherine and I were little and we tried to revive Hattie to no avail. So we made a mess trying to make breakfast for ourselves. Hattie routinely wasted her days away, wasting her life with these little self induced comas. A practitioner of narcosis. We’d prod her, and shake her, peeling apart her eyelids, but her eyes rolled around in order to avoid us and the pesky daylight. My father had enough.
I felt looming trepidation whenever I returned home. If I was returning home from school or Memorial Park, I couldn’t help but worry that I was coming home to find her dead. It was always a thought. Would today be the day? One person felt her behavior was not a cause for alarm, and remained unconcerned. Her current husband didn’t give a fuck.
Whether I entered a silent house, or to a blasting stereo, It didn’t matter, I always expected the worst. I’d call out for her by her name. Hattie. No response. Hello. Hallo. Then I’d resort to calling her mother. I’d tread slowly toward her bedroom, sometimes the door was ajar and sometimes not. I’d discover her deep into a drug fueled slumber, sometimes tucked into her bed, but more often passed out on the floor. The intoxication would kick in quickly, and her motor skills would go haywire, making it too difficult to reach the bed. I’d look at her with a mixture of feelings: ennui and enmity. My acrimony towards her had been home grown.
Displeased with her behavior and obviously bad life choices, I still felt affection for her deep in my fractured heart, after all she was still my mother. I’d cover her with a blanket if I felt it necessary or pulled her nightgown down to cover her up to make her a lady.
These were the moments when I would speak to her. I steered clear from her, but in her unconsciousness I confided in her, I pleaded with her to change. I refused to talk to her about anything when she was awake and sober. My heart was frigid and I admit, I became quite cruel to her. Unlike her second husband, despite any animosity I harbored I still tended to her if Catherine wasn’t already. I wouldn’t just step over her. My father would call the cops, her second husband would just roll the dice. If she were to overdose and die he would be free of the burden of this woman and her bastard children.
I wanted to clap my hands, click my heels, snap my fingers, anything in order to disappear. I wanted to disappear so badly. And no matter how badly I wanted it, I was unfortunately still here. I preferred to escape like my father and not like Hattie.
I found her one afternoon, and I took masking tape and outlined her body. I pretended it was a crime scene, and in a sick way it most certainly was. Hattie played with fire, and this was the only way it was going to end. I wanted her to wake up, preferably sober, and understand what the outline meant. I don’t know what she thought about it, she never brought it up, not like we were on good terms, but Catherine and I weren’t around much longer after that to have any discussions.