the life sentence

The baby was born to parents who didn’t love each other:  His father was often made angry by alcohol and his mother was driven to desperation by that anger.   During the pregnancy his father’s true madness was revealed to his mother and she began making her plans to end her life after the baby’s birth.    Carbon monoxide delivered on a little-used road – she already had the location picked out.  Little did she know about giving birth and loving a child, and the feeling that washes over a parent, consumes their hearts and souls and holds them hostage.  Little did she realize that she would never be the same person ever again.


I don’t know exactly when I first realized that there would never be an end to my job as a parent.   When he was a child, it just seemed logical that I would cease to be parent eventually –  he’d grow up, become an adult,  I could pick up where I left off and continue on with my “real” life – but I do know that it began to dawn on me during his last year in high school, after his father and I had been divorced for about 5 years.  A cruel joke had been played on me.  Why had no one warned me that this parenting gig was FOR LIFE?  That no matter how old this person was, I was doomed to a life of worrying about him – his safety, his ability to make a living, to have successful interpersonal relations, his HAPPINESS for God’s sake.  Why wasn’t I told about this before?  Does every parent reach the same horrible conclusions or was I the only one who felt deceived somehow? 

Households with teenagers vibrate with tension and hostility anyway, and each day seemed to present another battle of the wills – him pushing the walls of parental boundaries further and further, me constantly struggling to find the right balance of pushing back without pushing him away.  I just wanted it to end – this parenting game full of constant worry and consternation and frustration.  So little joy and so few immediate rewards.  Left to battle it alone (who knew how utterly useless his father would actually turn out to be?  Why was I so determined to stay married to him for so long?), I constantly questioned myself.   Perpetually on edge and alert (for I knew all too well the kinds of trouble a teenager could get into, could find with no trouble whatsoever, could willingly put themselves into the middle of) I struggled to deliberately project an air of serenity and assurance in front of him that I almost certainly didn’t feel.  

And while all this was happening, while I was struggling to raise this boy who had turned into a long-haired, mostly silent stranger, depression visited me once again.   Sadness sank into my brain and enveloped me in its sticky web of deceit, convincing me of my own worthlessness.  Self-loathing begets hopelessness/begets more self-loathing.  The voices in my head taunt me –  “No one cares.  No one loves me.  I’m worthless”  – until a long-buried solution is remembered, brought out into the light of day, inspected and finally approved.  Death seems logical when the world – with you in it – looks as fucked up as you feel.  You easily convince yourself that the final solution will be better for everyone – your lover, your child, your parents  Everyone.  The time spent thinking about it, planning it and preparing for it becomes your only source of joy.  It’s a relief to finally know exactly what to do to make things right again.  Lists are made of bank accounts, life insurance policies, passwords, important information that will be needed to access the money.  Beneficiaries are checked and updated.  Pills are acquired and stockpiled until there are enough to do the job.  And all the while, I parent this boy who is legally still my charge, but at age 17, I tell myself, is old enough to fend for himself.    All the while, the voices keep spewing their vile litany of reasons to die, just die.   It still seemed so right. 

Then something began to nibble at the edges of my preoccupied mind.  Something I hadn’t thought about before:  I was also somebody’s child.  And that meant my own parents still worried about me, my life, my sanity, MY HAPPINESS, for God’s sake.  And if I died, they’d feel exactly the same way I would if my own son took his life under the incorrect, chemically imbalanced assumption that everyone’s life would be better without me in it. 

I suppose I was looking for a reason not to go through with that final solution, so my serotonin-deprived brain snuck this one coherent thought across my neural synapses:  I was a child too, and I’m sure my parents had no more planned a lifetime of parenting than I did.  Removing myself from their lives in one dramatic action would doom them to a slow, painful death of sadness, regret and bitterness.   It simply would not be fair, now would it?

These days the voices are silenced with medication.  Although I still live an incredibly internal life, I now find it a comfort.  I’ve made peace with my life sentence of parenthood and faced my own son’s descent into depression.  I sat on tenderhooks when I realized he could be contemplating his own Final Solution and forced myself to talk to him about what that feels like.  And while I still reluctantly face this lifetime of parenting, I’ve found that it gets easier every day.  The sullen teenager has reached his early twenties and it seems that my parenting skills were at least somewhat successful.  I think he’s going to make it. 

I think I will too.


3 Responses to “the life sentence”

  1. 1 Sorrow November 8, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    I suppose I could tell you that there are days when we all wonder if we will make it.
    Some how,
    that seems very small and lacking in Value.
    I could ponder the well written words, and see a lot of the moments that echo, and say nothing.
    How does a stranger say ” I hear you” and have it mean anything at all.
    well, it means something
    to me.
    Thank you…
    for the mirror

    I know how you feel, and just knowing there are other people out there who have ever felt the same is comforting. To have them actually say it out loud (as you did) is a gift. Thank you.

  2. 2 Spyder November 9, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Honey, hang in there. It was so good to see you the other night. You need to come out more often. Hugs

    Spidey! It’s been a long, strange trip. Good to see you the other night also, dear. Looks like our guy won, eh?

  3. 3 poseidonsmuse November 14, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Karen – your words are some of the most powerful words I have ever read Karen. Reading them is a little like taking a shot of Buckley’s cold medicine when you are starting to get that tickle in your throat. By no means is that an insult either. In fact, the humanity and truth of your writing astonishes me continually – and is medicine for my soul. This post reminded me that I am a bit of a stranger to myself, let alone an enigma to other people (including my parents). Thank you.

    My Muse: You are always swirling around in my thoughts, like a gauzy dress in the wind. We’ve never met but it’s still true! Peace be with you, my dearest heart blogger.

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