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Gray Matter Revisited

Originally published February 22nd, 2023.




Five years ago I sat in a hospital room gazing upon the body that brought me into this world as machines kept her alive. She eventually woke up and will spend the rest of her life in a nursing facility, a shell of the woman she use to be. As the wheel of life turns and I age, checking off preexisting conditions with each new year, I try to give myself some hope. “You’re not her” my doctor mutters over his notes, doing his best to reassure me that while we have the same conditions we aren’t living the same life. I can count on one hand the number of alcoholic beverages I’ve had in the past two months. I’ve never touched hard substances. I still mask in public spaces and around those outside of my vetted bubble of trust. I don’t overindulge, I exercise regularly, and I operate from a place of love, compassion, and an occasional ass-kicking. I take my medications every morning, attend every appointment, and see every specialist I’m instructed to see.


I do my best to do everything right to combat genetics and the stress of systemic misogynoir, and yet at night when the house is quiet and I’m left to my own thoughts dread fills my spirit as my memories drift to her. The fear that encompassed every fiber of my being as I grappled with estrangement and my own mortality still lingers five years later.


I sometimes wonder if the fear is merely guilt. I’ve spent my adult life doing my best to prove I wasn’t her. I wouldn’t abandon my kids, I would fight my demons and win, and the demons wouldn’t steal the moments that make life worth living from me. When my brother and I arrived five years ago at the place she called home, a transitional apartment complex, those in charge weren’t even aware she had children. Nothing in her records indicated that she once lived in the south where she walked her children to a small pier and told them stories about Medusa, or sold Avon and let us lick the bowl after making brownies. No one knew about the butter on the walls from thrown dinner rolls, or the specially named belt that left welts covered by stockings with little hearts.


No one knew anything.


That decade of life didn’t exist for anyone but us. I tried my best to soothe my inner child while reminding the adult me that I’m not her, therefore, I can’t end up like her. As I packed up various bits and pieces that were her life and saw pictures I never knew existed, a life lived without us, I did my best to breathe through the rage, sadness, and fear.


Death is the great equalizer and always does his best to remind us to stay humble, and even after he packed his bags and left us in limbo I struggled to unpack my baggage.


“You’re not her” I whisper into the wind every chance I get, hoping it will echo back and appease the anxiety that grows with each passing year. At the beginning of this year, one of her sisters reached out to me and asked if I would write to my mother. She thinks it would be good for her to hear from me. But what does one say to the person who left the hole that depression nestled into? What do I tell her?


She missed 28 years of my life. There’s a lot I could say.


Births I could recall, the strength I pulled from a place I didn’t even know existed inside of me. Parenting moments that challenged me to rise above my own abusive childhood to create a home where my children felt safe and secure. I have failed, god have I failed, countless times at being a decent human being and I still get up the next day and try again. I could recount each failure and the lessons learned. I’m stubborn like her, but I have compassion that neither of my parents ever showed me. I’m a ray of fucking sunshine hellbent on making the world a better place before I take my final breath. I could tell her all the ways I’m not her, I could show her who I am, and I could tell her that with every choice I make I still can’t shake the fear that my path will still end in a hospital bed, in a dark room, alone.


Those who love me will assure me that my fear is unfounded. Even if I experienced the same medical emergency she did I wouldn’t be alone when it happened. I would be rushed to the hospital, I would have people fighting to ensure I got the best care possible, and when I finally opened my eyes I would be surrounded by the living embodiment of all the love I’ve tried my hardest to put into the world.


I’m not her and yet as I stand at another crossroads, to either reintroduce myself or to continue pretending that we’re just people we use to know, I find myself questioning the decision I made over 20 years ago to go no contact. I know where she is now and I can contact her whenever I want, that’s all I wanted when I was younger to the point that I would cry myself to sleep from longing. Now I have it, I have what my heart ached for and I don’t know what to do with it. Instead, I’m left wondering if true healing is in forgiveness granted on my own terms.


Does a simple letter have the power to grant us both peace? Only time will tell, but I’ll never know if I don’t at least give myself the opportunity to say what my heart never got the chance to speak all those years ago.


Nothing is final until the curtain closes and the coffin is lowered into the ground. Until there is always an opportunity to write a new version of your story. Here’s to a new story.


Copyright(c) 2023 Rayven Holmes

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