All right, when did she die? This was the first calm thing I thought to myself after I found my mother dead, because I couldn’t remember her groaning or stirring as I lifted her to the couch, so she might have already been dead. I might have lifted my mother’s corpse over my shoulder and dumped it on her bed, or she might have been unconsciously hanging on when I’d moved her. It didn’t make any difference to me.
It was 11:13 PM when I checked on my mother for the first time since I dumped her on her bed, and I found a dead body. Upon discovering the death of my mother, I gasped and fell into the wall behind me, striking it with my shoulders at the same time and forcefully enough that I knocked the wind out of myself. The sensation of it was nostalgic, calling to my mind instances from childhood when I’d felt the same thing. I’d often slipped off the swing set in the backyard and landed painfully on my back; I remembered staring up at the sky watching the empty swing I’d been riding twist in the wind, gulping air to fill my empty chest.
I’d just lay there for what felt like fifteen minutes, waiting for my mother, who I knew had been watching me, to come to my rescue. When she didn’t, I flipped over, erecting myself and hurrying back to Mom in a huff. “Why didn’t you help me?”
She picked up the pitcher of tea from the table in front of her, retrieved her cup of ice cubes, and slowly began to fill it. She tipped the pitcher as gradually as she could, and I watched the level of liquid in the glass rise gradually while she peered up at me and smiled. When it was full she lifted the glass to her lips and took a pirate captain’s swig of it, sighing loudly after she did. “You’re ten, you had a good run.”
This was my mother’s sense of humor, and thinking of it my eyes started to water. I had laughed, and she’d responded by grabbing my rib cage with both hands and tickling me furiously. I remembered pleading for her to stop, knowing that she wouldn’t right away, at least until we’d both had our fill. I remembered looking up at her, watching as her smile became wider and madder. Her pudgy face lit up, and her teeth glowed bright white as she cackled.
I fell against the wall staring at the dead body on my mother’s bed, and a single sob almost burst through my lips and seeped out of my eyes, but I strangled it down. I made two solitary yelping sounds back to back, like a rim shot, and put my hand over my mouth. I looked at the ground as my wrist hit the front of my chest and I crossed the fingers of my hands so hard that it hurt.
I grimaced as my back slid downward against the wall, and my ass landed on the floor with a painful thump. I sat there for a period of indeterminate length, remaining still and allowing sadness to fill me like water fills a balloon.
My Mom was dead, finally, and all I wanted was to play Scrabble with her. The guilt I felt, that I’d not made it back sooner almost bowled me over. What if she’d been waiting by the game board for hours, praying that I’d burst through the door, and I never had? Would that, I wondered, have given her the motivation to drink herself to death?
I started to hit myself, pounding my fist into my right thigh and left shoulder, and then turned around to face the wall. I put my palms up to it, as if testing that the wall were really solid, and began to strike it with my forehead. Steadily and rhythmically I met the wall with my face, forcefully enough to create a large divot in the drywall.
You idiot, you idiot, how could you? My head started to hurt, not just from the outside, the pain spread out from the center of my head in waves, bringing me to my knees. This too had been a childhood habit of mine, and one that mom hated with a passion. “If you keep doing that,” she’d begun, I’m sure intending to threaten me with something. When there wasn’t even hesitation in my masochism, she’d just scream “Stop it!” and run out of the room.
This occurred at a consistent rate for the first sixteen years of my life. I’d do something wrong, like spill pop all over the living room carpet or fill my desk with incomplete homework assignments, and then punish myself in this way. This continued until my Sophomore year of high school, when mom finally put a stop to it.
It was after I’d spent a weekend at my friends’ parents’ summer house in Michigan, without telling her beforehand. When I called from Michigan to tell her where I was, she screamed at me. When I got home I was ready to handle her anger, and sought to diffuse it by head butting the wall. After putting my head into the wall four times, I turned around and saw her.
Tears were falling down her cheeks, “I won’t tell you to stop anymore, just know that when you do that it hurts me too.” As I recalled this moment, I felt a pain in my head that was a lot worse than I remembered, so I stopped. I turned to look at my mother’s cadaver, fell over her, and wept.
Eventually I called the police, and people in uniforms started filing in and out of my house, taking care of all the necessaries. I told them with a twinge of pride that I’d spent the previous night at my girlfriend’s house, and had come home around four in the afternoon that day, at which point my Mom had been alive though passed out.
I told them my mother was an alcoholic, and that I had no idea how much she’d drunk that day. One officer, a not-unattractive woman with pockmarks on her left cheek and her hair in a tight auburn bun scribbled on a clipboard as I answered her questions. I think she was probably conciliatory, but I hardly noticed, distracted by the war raging in my own head.
I grappled with a deep sense of guilt, but of a different kind than I’d ever felt before. This guilt was not the result of anything I’d said or done. This guilt came from knowledge of the fact that within myself, deep down, I was joyful.
Ding dong, the witch is dead. Which old witch? The drunken witch! As I considered that now I could bring my new girlfriend Sonia to my house, fuck her as loud as I wanted, and that she might even want to move in, a grin unfurled on my face. As soon as this smile revealed itself my face instantly transformed into an expression of horror. This isn’t fun, your mom is dead.
While I watched the sky turn powder blue, and the coroner carried my mother’s carcass away, I sat on my couch and turned on the TV. SportCenter was on, and as I watched it I realized that I could use a drink. I checked what had been my mother’s regular hiding places and found a half-full liter of vodka in the bucket of supplies under the sink in the bathroom, and I used it to make a drink.
I sipped my mixture of two parts Coke and one part vodka, followed by another, and still another. I was woken at 10:30 AM by my phone vibrating in my pocket. After a few moments of half-drunk contemplation, I reached my hand down and retrieved it.
It was Boss Jorge calling. I looked at the name on my phone and remembered that I hadn’t been to work in two days. I poured myself another drink and immediately returned the call. “Boss Jorge?”
“Where are you? What are you doing?” Boss Jorge sounded angry, but more than that he sounded worried. “You missed two days in a row, were you attacked?”
I smiled, feeling an almost familial closeness with my boss of twenty years. “My mom died last night, I’ll be in after lunch.”