26 Apr That Addictive Wholesome Feeling
The character of Robbie drowning as a child, because of his mother’s indifference, strikes a chord along my heartstrings. He and I have more in common than I care to admit. The first complex problem I encountered at the beginning of my life was the matriarchal indifference I felt as a child. As far as I know, my mom had, and continues, to struggle with her mental health. Normally, I would keep this private, but so many times she’s made this public, even to strangers. She’s probably told everyone to the moon and back by now. Naturally, her behavior affected me especially since the management of her health wasn’t necessarily health-y by modern standards.
I’ll give credit where credit is due, my mother never left me to drown in a lake to ogle hunky men like Robbie’s mother did in our episode where we shared the story Drowned Youth.
But my mother’s disorders did tend to freeze her in a zombie-like state. Where she’d go through a maniac stage of cleaning early in the morning, then she’d collapse and, for the rest of the day, sleep or just zone out to TV. Having a conversation with her in this state of consciousness was mundane. It seemed like we would always have the same discussions, with the same questions, and similar answers, throughout the thirty years we were in contact. Talking with her in this vegetative state felt like treading water.
She did the best she could with what she was given, however, sometimes that’s just not enough to develop a healthy relationship between two individuals. And that’s okay. I don’t resent her. I still love her as much as a son could within these circumstances.
However, I was constantly trying to grab her attention with actions I believed would impress her. Just like Robbie does with Katy Hammond, or Jessica, or the woman he almost hooks up with in Empty Gun Rack, or finally his mother.
And I was terrible at impressing my mother as my heart wasn’t in it for me, only for her.
I pursued acting the way she wanted me to, religion, I mowed the lawn whenever she asked, I tried to repair her relationships, act as a counselor for her, clean her house, and talk to women she approved of, all just to see my her happy.
I wanted to crack that scowl on her face that she carried around all day at home and see that rare, genuine smile she could offer.
My first memory of that smile was when she attempted to teach me to how to walk. I stood on chubby little legs for the first couple of times supported by her encouragement, I remember the joy she had to see it. Witnessing her glow with glee in this memory, I remember it felt like being huddled together with your family on a cold winter’s day and admiring Christmas lights. It left you with an addictive wholesome feeling that warmed you up. She was teaching me how to walk, and I was crawling, stumbling along the carpet, my legs wobbling, struggling with the concept that I was supposed to battle with gravity for the rest of my life and keep balanced on my feet for long hours at a time. I fell on my ass after several attempts at putting one foot in front of the other. Never really standing for more than a second before being petrified and then falling face-first into the carpet. Each time I fell, the glow in her smile dimmed. Her toothy grin shrunk, as she gave up on the task more and more with every one of my ‘failed’ attempts. Eventually, I tired myself out, sat down, and rested.
My mother sighed and laid back on the couch. She turned on the TV and a commercial came on. Observing her just lay there and zone out, it was like seeing her mind leave her body. Like watching a moth break out of a cocoon husk when you expected a butterfly. A stoicism hardened her face when she watched TV like this, her eyes would glaze over like marbles and her facial features would lose their rosy colour. They would take on the semblance of chiseled stone. She looked as if she were instead a statue of a woman gazing at a TV.
I remember looking at her with my mushy toddler brain, thinking “Why?”
I believe it was probably one of my first, greatest feelings of loss.
I remember feeling the sudden urge to lift my mother out of her blues. So, I made sounds to grab her attention, but she didn’t stir. Getting her to listen to me was like Houston using broken radio equipment to try and communicate with NASA astronauts.
We had established a reward system the moment before, if I were to walk, she might smile, again. So, I started crawling, faster this time, sweating, my fat little Michelin-man-toddler-legs aching, getting up, trying to do the running thing I’d seen people do on television shows. I bumped into furniture, I can remember hitting the sharp edge of a table, which I believe just inspired her to tell my dad – who was in the kitchen – to take care of me. I may have been clumsy, but I was walking for the first time, I was doing the thing that made my mother light up like a Christmas tree on a cold, dark night a moment ago when I was just attempting it.
I felt so proud of myself.
But she didn’t seem to notice, or care.
In many ways, Robbie came from that insecure part of me that is consistently trying to grab my mother’s attention. The one that just wants his mom to ‘look’ and ‘see’ he can do things, wild things, that would make her smile. And in the process, he doesn’t first think: should I just accept she’s not interested in her son as a human and pursue my own needs?
I wish I could have stopped the fictional Robbie as he looks at Katy Hammond from across the party and drunkenly jumps off the roof towards the pool like a stupid, clumsy athlete people cringe at.
Instead, like Katy Hammond, like the partygoers, like the rest of you, readers who stick around for our conclusion to this arc, I’ll have to watch in horror as he flies toward the ground. And hope he is given the chance to see his death-defying-dive as a teaching moment.
Josh Ackermann escapes his desk job by writing in his free time. One of his short stories, One Helluva Headache, was published in the English Bay Review. He’s currently revising two of his first novels. And he’s is the creator of the Falling For Stories podcast; among many other titles.