28 October 2020

Today would have been her 95th birthday.

When my brother called me early on that one morning in August 1999, to tell me that she had died in the night, I was relieved. Hugely relieved. It was over, I was free. Finally. 

I have a memory of that day, of myself dancing, slowly swinging my body around by the open patio door, humming along to some imaginary music, raising my arms into the hot summer air. But maybe that was just in a dream. My boss at the time gave me a week off and warned me to take it easy, that no matter what, I would be shattered. It's the hardest experience, he warned me, the death of your mother. His words. Not mine. I wasn't shattered. Not then, not now, not once since her death.

There was no funeral, she had donated her body to science. She announced this decision the same way she always announced her threats, of starving herself to death, of jumping off the roof, in front of a train, down a bridge, swallowing ground glass, or sharpening the fruit knives. Nothing was ever without drama, nothing was ever normal. This one, she followed through. We did not stop her.

There was a short memorial service, siblings, a cousin, a neighbour from long ago, one of my brother's old school friends. As expected, my father didn't come. 

For a child of an addict growing up is hard work. It marks you. It marked me, for life. Something sitting inside my chest that will never lift. Never allowing me to feel good enough. The smell of stale cigarette smoke coming from a woman makes me wish I could walk away. If I can, I run. But most of the time, I stay, try to be polite. Try to be good. Always trying to be good.

It has taken me years to understand that my mother had not simply been a careless addict but that she had been suffering beyond my comprehension. That all her angry rants, her harsh punishments of our never ending faults, her endless physical ailments, imagined or real, always headaches, back pains, colicky stomach, her inability to eat a proper meal while at the same time forcing us to finish what's on our plates, all her special diets and bottles of medicines on the kitchen window sill beside the full ashtrays, that all of that was part of something so much bigger.

I have no name for it, I cannot call it depression, sometimes I tend to call it PTSD. And under my breath, behind closed doors, I whisper, the war, the war. While just as easily, I could whisper, the nazi childhood, or, the glass ceilings all along her way, or, her 1960s unhappy housewife valium and martini days. Or. Or. Or.

But what I can say now, one month before my 63rd birthday, what I know with certainty is that it was not my fault. I played no part in it. I just happened to be one of her kids. And it has taken me, oh, so many years to understand and accept that.

Addiction is a disease. But often we don’t see it that way. We see only the bad behavior, the actions that wound and betray us. And yes, she did all that. And I admit that much. The wounds will never heal.

25 October 2020

Autumn flare

In sickness, you’re too much with yourself. The whole body burns with memory, the volume of sensation is turned up. You are filled with an excess of remembering. Your skin, wherever you touch it, says “I.” There are muscles here, yes, there are nerves here, yes, there is pain here.
Then the illness subsides and you go back to self-forgetfulness. 
But for the chronically ill, this is what cannot be forgotten. Every square inch of one’s body is at all times crammed with "I," with self.

 Teju Cole



I am an old hand at this, I should think. But it floors me every time something happens that triggers a flare up. Which is where I am currently finding my miserable self. The usual coping mechanisms are in place, dividing up the day into tasks and rest and floating in between these stages with equal degrees of anger and resignation. Autumn does not help, not my season, neither is winter. I could go on.

And I hate myself for it, this over dramatisation of the person I think I am and the futile attempts to pretend I am not. The anger that rises up inside my head when I watch someone about my age being active and fit. The futile attempts to pretend I don't care. That lesson in my childhood socialisation training, the one about cheer up and who do you think you are compared to others who are far worse, it sticks. I crawl to work and pretend I am superwoman.

As for the covid, it feels like an oncoming tsunami at times, despite the detailed information we receive. Numbers are climbing, even the shittiest tabloid has by now dedicated a front page to what exponential growth means and why it happens and what we need to do to keep it as low as possible - and why.

The virus only survives because we host it. It floats in the air because we send it there. It's a people thing.

16 October 2020

sorry sunshine

The test came back negative, the head cold went into overdrive. I am getting better. I think. I cut R's hair today, I made breakfast. The numbers are climbing steadily, the city is quiet, I have been told.

Here’s the thing. If you buy into a false narrative that the body is controllable, that illness can always be prevented, you better realise that you have reached a damaging, erroneous conclusion: the belief that a person’s ill health is their fault. And regarding a pandemic, we better learn that this virus is bigger than what we think we can explain in our imagination and arrogance.

Anyway, this is for all the sorry sunshines in your lives:

This is Winston Peters, a very conservative, right wing NZ politician. Currently deputy PM but on his way out. Still, he got it.

03 October 2020

that mysterious splendor



As we walked through this sunlit forest, I once again felt such betrayal, such loss. How can we ever again call a forest like this one by its name? Beech forest, Buchenwald. (They chose that name for a reason. The monsters in their leather coats and shiny boots.)

That was two weeks ago. Now, autumn has arrived, I am looking for my cycling gloves and we turned on the heating. Autumn could be lovely if only it wasn't a gateway to winter.

I am unwell and eventually called the covid hotline, on a Friday evening, no less. In the past, this would have been a bit of a blocked nose, no fever, sore throat, headache, shivers sort of scenario. But apparently, I tick too many boxes. Now waiting for my test slot, while R hovers at a distance with cups of tea.


We’re all hurtling through our lives, and the planet is hurtling through space without a seat belt. We have to discover successively more freedom inside the terrible things that have happened and the terrible things that certainly will happen, and the whole of it is also a mysterious splendor, full of kindness, welcome, and cups of tea.

John Tarrant 


As for the other news, I leave you with this, because, whether he's ill or not, whether he knowingly passed the virus on or not (and in my humble opinion, he did), whether it matters or not that the news broke after the stock market had closed for the day, stay focused:

First, let me say that I am fine with Trump being called a fascist because he is using fascist tactics, and it's a word that resonates with the public. We need a wide, inclusive, and resolute American opposition movement, and this word conveys the necessary urgency. 

But I've largely called him an authoritarian or autocrat instead of a fascist because "fascist" implies loyalty to the state. A fascist wants to embody and expand the state and usually has imperial ambitions. Whereas Trump wants to destroy the U.S.: he wants to strip it down and sell it off for parts to both domestic and foreign backers. His cohort's ambitions are similar to what oligarchs and other hyper-capitalists did to the U.S.S.R. after its collapse — which is not surprising because the Kremlin and an associated network of plutocrats and oligarchs are the prime backers of this operation.

Sarah Kendzior