Lisa Marie Basile
It was when the Division of Family Services took us away from our mother that I became my mother and a thousand mothers, all lined up against the wall to be shot in the head.
It is easy to hate the self when you have only been shown self-hated, as if the body is a thing we hang upon the wall. My mother hung her body against the wall. Sometimes when we passed it down the hall, those mornings with even the light coming in, she looked kind and good, knelt down cleaning the lint from a carpet that smelled of tobacco, bodies, other things. Some days she was just a frame unfillable.
It is hard to describe a mother without analogy. And even then, you want to say
“this is my mother” in plain language but there is no language so bare.
My mother loved drugs. She loved that empty vacuum. And she lost everything and us and herself, and I understood this, because you lose things when you lose yourself.
I must have had some sort of badness in me because instead of resenting her, I thought, “you seem like a sad woman.” And when she never came home at night, I understood that it was sorrow she was out dealing with.
Maybe she could deal herself back to me?
When they took us away, I learned to fear and protect and hate and destroy. Just like her. I vacillated between the daughter of a mother who loved drugs - reckless and volatile - and the daughter who was abandoned and heartbroken.
Which daughter could I be?
People tell me it is not my story to tell; I say I am only translating pain. I don’t want to own her heartbreak. I want to let my mother own it. But then I want so badly to say that she is OK now, and she will always be OK now, and that I forgive and I love her. So much like light itself, it comes and goes, the pain, and it should be captured, is asking to be captured, as in a photograph.
I have lived by thinking that pain was a way for art. But the pain isn’t only for art. The pain is just pain. It just sits there and makes us nostalgic, and even when I am nostalgic, I can’t think of myself as being a separate entity from her struggle and our brokenness. It’s a memory, but it defines right now.
Sometimes I think all of my success as a woman and a lover and a writer is an overcompensation of what I really am: dirty and from a bad, one-bedroom house with the same stupid clothes every week. I am genetically bad. I sometimes think people are not redefinable, but that’s just me. I feel I am exempt from growth, but I can’t say why. Other people can overcome, but I can’t. Even my mother can. But not me. My outside body is a lie and my real self is hidden; in this way I am always displaced, always disassociating, and I don’t know when I will ever live within a real moment. Really, I am never allowed to love myself, because myself is just an illusion.
They call us “codependents,” the children of the vanishing, and I understand this to be true. I live constantly needing and needing and needing. My mother does too. Her father hated the black kids in the neighborhood, and her mother drank herself to death. I mourn for them both, though, because my biggest problem is that I only see a person’s sorrows and not their flaws. It’s the sadness saying, stay.
When will I say enough?
I am addicted to the void. In the void the memories are what define me, and then I am either only of them or slowly transcending them. Who knows which; I am barely real; I only live so that my mother can say, “I made one good choice.” And so the pain is just pain is just art is just a translation. My body is a translation of another person’s fall from grace, and yet it is the rebirth of her death. Are we pain? Or are we art?
The world seems always jovial and light; I don’t believe I am allowed to partake in it and that isn’t a shame; it’s fine. I must be filled up constantly with want, rumination and vice in order to ward off the wound. I do this filling in a lot of ways, ways that are mostly boring and predictable.
My real goal is to live with the vacancy and say that I am sad my mother had a knife put to her neck. I am sad she wants the drug every day. I am sad she hangs potatoes in a basket near the window in a house she should not be living in. I am sad she moved back to her hometown where all of her friends killed themselves. I am sad that she calls to tell me about death and sadness. I am sad to think she had an abortion she won’t admit. I am sad that I can never ever let her read any of my writing. I am sad that she is almost 60 and is still beautiful, accept for the obvious ways she has gunned her face. I am sad that she doesn’t love herself enough to leave the man who put her things out on the front lawn. I am sad she almost married the man who climbed through our roof and stole everything. I am sad we moved into the apartment where she slept with a man whose mattress was arranged over a pentagram on the floor. I am sad I saw my mother’s lover’s face on the news when they arrested him.
Some people used to feel bad for me when I was young. My teachers used to take my hand over the table and say they were sorry. The reality is, I used to feel bad for them. I was different; I was suffering. This was a sort of preservation. I was hurting because she was hurting, and so I lived outside of whatever normal ennui was out there. And it kept me safe.
These days, I don’t want to be on the outside. I want her to be whole, and then I want to memorialize it.
When my mother got us back, we moved into a house in the mountains. A real mountain, up a road, and then down a long dirt trail. Our backyard had its own lagoon, and we made up stories about it, about how in the 1860s, Jack the Ripper would row down the water and catch a whore to kill. Someone said they used to race from it to the sea. Too boring, I thought.
Sometimes I wore white linen and took photos of myself on the porch overlooking the lagoon. I felt I was an angel overlooking the whole of our new great world.
My mother was so healthy then. Sometimes she still is, but I say when we left the mountain we left God.
When the power went out in the middle of summer, we lit candles and wrote stories on unlined paper. We cut cucumbers and put them into a large porcelain bowl and ate them under fireflies while men climbed the wires and sparks jumped out.
When my mother went to bed, a boy came over and we snuck cava into my bedroom. He stole the cava from his mother, who ordered it from a catalog late at night because she was always drunk and always sad. The boy and I made love in my twin-sized bed, with my headboard against the same wall where my mother slept on the other side.
I loved having to hide the wine from my mother; it was a real moment of pride to say to friends, “Don’t let my mother see that,” as if her triumph was an ongoing battle I could fight for her.
Nowadays she lets me open the bottle and I know she is dogs to the table on the inside. Wine isn’t really the problem, though. That’s just the floral reminder. But I like to be a crusader. I like to save and save and save. I shave me off and deal me out in pieces.
I sometimes stare at her arms, but she told me once that she used other parts of her body. I keep trying to look at her feet, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bottom of my mother’s feet.
Whose mother has survived this? This is what makes her holy. I prefer to think of my mother as holy.
She is holy because her war is unfair; she is truly a tormented thing, and when I sit down one day to write the story of her life, I will get her to a place as close to heaven as we will go.
In the end, maybe I am just boring? And maybe she is just a drug addict? Maybe she prefers to die a little because she is weak, and maybe I want to make things pretty.
I hate sadness. And that she is sad. And maybe that is all there is to it.
Why would I say that? Perhaps because I am just like my mother: I am incessantly provoking meaninglessness in order to suppress the wound, and in a way, it allows me to explore the bleakness with the armor of design. Together we turn all that black into language.
About the Writer
Lisa Marie Basile is the author of APOCRYPHAL (Noctuary Press, 2014) and a chapbook, Andalucia. She is the editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine and her poetry and other work can be read in PANK, Tin House's blog, Coldfront, The Nervous Breakdown, The Huffington Post, Best American Poetry, PEN American Center, Dusie, the Ampersand Review, among many others. She’s recently been profiled in The New York Daily News, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, Poets & Artists Magazine, Relapse Magazine and others. She’s been nominated for the Best Small Fiction 2015 and Best American Experimental Writing 2015 anthologies, and she holds an MFA from The New School.