Updated: Jul 25
My mom calls me Lissa Lou. Her and I lived in an apartment complex across the street from my middle school. I played sports, had a big circle of friends and good grades. During the week, like most kids, I'd wake up, shower, eat breakfast, get ready and walk to school. When class was out, I'd go to volleyball practice. After practice, I'd head home. This is when reality would sink in.
I was hiding the fact that my mom had started using again and stopped showing up at home in the evenings. At first it was once a week, then days turned into weeks and weeks to months.
The minute I started my walk home from school, I'd pray that she'd be there when I walked in the door. Once I realized she wasn’t, I’d try to stay busy. Chatting on the phone, watching TV, doing homework, eating dinner, getting ready for bed.
These evenings would go on for what seemed like a lifetime.
I started staying with my friends during the week. It was completely normal due to sports, etc. and my friends' parents took me and all of us girls in without question. My best friend and I were practically inseparable in middle school and her parents always kept me under their wings.
I can’t remember a time when my mom didn’t struggle with addiction. 6 months prior to all of this, her and my stepdad divorced. They were married for 2 years; it was the best two years of my life. It was the only time we had our own house, a beautiful lawn, garden, my own room, awesome neighborhood. The backyard was the best; there were tall maple trees where my stepdad hung a rope-swing. After he'd mow, I'd swing while the smell of freshly cut grass filled the air. Countless hours were happily spent out under those maples. We planted cucumbers in the garden, Marigolds in the flowerbeds and had foot races in the driveway. My mom used to run track and thought she was faster than everyone else. Always to my disappointment, she was right.
Then life took a sharp turn. My mom and stepdad started drinking heavily and from that point on they were verbally and physically abusive to each other. My mom was thrown into the porcelain bathtub, then weeks later, down a large flight of stairs, Both resulting in broken bones. The horrible spiral was quick. They divorced and we lost the house shortly after.
When we moved into our apartment, she fell into a terrible crowd and was hardly ever home. She was nowhere to be found when our rent was past due and one day the the landlord came knocking. I told him: “she ran to the store”, then he came back 3 times that evening. I avoided him from that point on. I remember thinking, “what if they empty out our apartment while I’m in school?”. That was the breaking point, I had to tell my dad.
On Sundays, I would stay with my him and stepmom. I loved my time with them. Sunday came, he picked me up and I immediately confessed, “dad, I think mom is using. She hasn't been home in weeks”. It had actually been 2 months. My dad was in shock. We immediately drove to the store and filled his truck with moving boxes. He spoke with the landlord and my room was packed up in less than an hour.
That was the last time I ever lived with my mother.
During High School, I kept myself busy with friends, a part-time job, sports and ASB. I was determined to stay away from home as much as possible. Despite my dad and stepmom providing me with love, support and a comfortable home, I missed my mom. In my heart, home was with my mom.
It was difficult keeping track of her from that point on, She never had a reliable telephone, so visiting her in person was the only way to see her. This led me to numerous volatile situations that I was completely unaware of.
When I was 16, I started missing her desperately. She told me that she was living at a cute place, gave me the address and I drove to visit her. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, and I left within an hour of arriving. I had no idea what I was up against. The place was boarded up the next day.
The following year, I found out she was living with her boyfriend at a Motel 6. I was 17 and had just received the news that I was elected ASB president. I wanted to tell her the news, so I went to the motel. To my surprise, I saw her outside. She walked me to her room. When we got up to the room, she hugged me as if she were saying goodbye, regardless of her leading me there. Bizarre. She was extremely paranoid. I immediately left. As I was leaving, she tells me, with tears in her eyes, “this song reminds me of you, Lis”.
“Yellow”, by Coldplay was playing in her room and you could hear it faintly in the hall. That song haunts me to this day.
Fast forward to my senior year, I came across a life-changing opportunity: a full-ride scholarship. I became the recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates Achiever’s Scholarship. I was accepted to WSU and moved to Pullman in the Fall of 2001. This enormous blessing was the event that put my life, in my control. I was empowered and ready to start carving out my own, unique path.
After college began, visits with my mom became rare. She rode the bus from Spokane to Pullman twice. Both times, she arrived, showered, ate, then passed out for about 24 hours. She’d wake up, obviously crashing and hit the first bus back to Spokane. It was gut-wrenching, but I took whatever time I could get with her.
During spring term of my junior year at WSU, I was getting ready to study abroad in Italy. At that point, I hadn’t heard from my mom in over a year and was doing pretty well emotionally. Then I received an unexpected call from my grandmother; my mom had given birth to a baby girl who was delivered in critical condition.
My precious little sister, Lillie Marie, survived despite her tiny heart stopping twice. She not only survived, she turned out perfect. My mom’s brother and his wife convinced my mom that the best thing for the baby was for them to adopt her. My mom agreed, signed the papers and went MIA.
The last time I saw her was in 2018. She called me after being beaten and afraid for her life, asking for help. I agreed. The following day, I drove to Spokane and took her to the courthouse. We were supposedly meeting with a social worker to arrange an inpatient treatment for my mom. There ended up being no appointment on the books. We spoke to the clerk about any other options; there were none. She started to panic. All I could think about was getting home to my husband and sweet babes.
I dropped her off and drove home in silence. I couldn't get out of Spokane fast enough. It was over.
After 20 years of using, she looks nothing like the mom I grew up with. Her big, bright smile is a thing of the past. Her wrists are stiff and bent. Her nails cracking, eyes deeply sunken in. Watching someone slowly kill themselves is mindboggling - especially when you absolutely cherish that someone.
One thing that hasn’t changed is her embrace - she’s still the best hugger. When ever we hug, which is extremely rare, I close my eyes and imagine her healthy. In these times, I have to remind myself that she has a disease that I cannot cure.