Authors: Jen Naumann
What I’ve Done
by Jen Naumann
Copyright 2012 by Jen Naumann
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the written permission of the author.
The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Cover photo and design Copyright Jen Naumann Photography
Dying turned out to be nothing like I had expected it to be. It was cold and there was not a white light beckoning me to follow it. There was no montage of all the happy memories from my life. There was no one there to hold my hand like I had seen so many times in the movies, although I had spent most of my life without anyone to help me so it should have come as no surprise I would be alone in the end. The meaning of life itself didn’t come rushing to me, either. I just felt reality slipping from beneath me bit by bit, like air escaping from a tire.
As my breathing became more and more shallow, the coldness of death grew in the air around me. I tried to focus on the bottle of pills beside the bed but my vision went in and out, making everything hazy and white. My eyes eventually grew heavy, feeling like they were made of lead.
I was about to close them in surrender, allowing myself to fade into the darkness, when a calming warmth spread through every part of me. All at once random memories began flashing through my mind. They were some of the worst moments I had endured in my lifetime; Rose being thrown across the room by our mother’s boyfriend and lying on the floor looking broken, Rose crying when she was starving because we were totally out of food, Rose coming into my bed to hide whenever she heard the front door to the apartment open.
My poor, sweet little sister had lived such a terribly rough life. Usually I stood by, helpless, but did my best to intervene whenever possible. After all, I was only a child myself.
A few breaths away from my final death, I suddenly had one of those “aha moments” in which everything all at once made sense and my purpose became clear.
Rose needed me.
No matter how safe I thought she would be, I had only been lying to myself to justify the fact that I was giving up on life. In reality I was giving up for the both of us. I was young and naïve to think my death would solve any problems. My little sister would not have made it this far in life without me.
With the realization that I had made a mistake, my mind seemed to be working in slow motion. It took all the energy I could muster to get my hand to reach for the telephone on the nightstand. I didn’t know whether or not I had pushed the second “1” when the room faded away.
I have been home from the hospital for less than forty-eight hours and my mother is already depending on me.
“Lily, I need you! Hurry!” she cries irrationally from her bedroom.
I look down at my little sister. The loud noises coming from our mother’s room have caused her to clutch my leg in fear, as always. We never know what will happen when our mother is upset. There were times she would throw things and scream, other times she would rant about crazy things or wail while curled up in a ball of misery.
Rose peers up at me from beneath her beautifully messy brown hair. It is so hard to look into those large, Disney-like brown eyes when you know you are about to disappoint her. I don’t know how our mother does it time and time again.
I pat the top of her curly mop. “It will be okay. Momma just needs me for a minute. I promise I will be right back.”
Rose shakes her head and clutches onto my leg even tighter. We are both used to our mother’s emotional outbursts and Rose always comes to me for comfort as I have been more of a mother figure since her first day home from the hospital. But I need to take care of our mother before her mood escalates and things get out of control.
I sigh before carefully prying her little hands off my leg and leaving her to cry in the middle of the small living room where cartoons play on the little television behind us. Rose is better off here by herself than if she came into the bedroom with me.
“What do you need?” I ask my mother impatiently from the doorway of her bedroom.
I scan the small room for any signs of what could possibly be agitating her at the moment. Her small bedroom has the usual tornado-just-went-through-it look of clothes strewn about on the floor and the bare mattress, but at least nothing seems broken this time.
My mother paces the room back and forth in a blur and her slender shoulders jet out from underneath her tank top. I have noticed in the past week they are becoming increasingly bony from lack of food. Her wild brown hair is pulled back into a ponytail, revealing her equally sharp cheeks and once vibrant, chestnut eyes that over the past year have taken on a far away, vacant look.
“We have to move!” she exclaims, not bothering to look at me. “We have to leave!”
She scratches rigorously at a sore on her arm like a crazy person. Anyone who met my mother on this day would see her for the scrawny, drug hungry addict she is now and not be able to envision her as the once vibrant mother I had known her to be-the mother who held me when I was upset and brushed my hair before bed each night.
I mourned the loss of that mother years ago.
I shake my head with insistence. “I paid the rent. We are caught up to this month.”
The bills have been my responsibility for as long as I can remember, along with the rest of the household chores. My mother is barely capable of keeping the utilities turned on, let alone keeping herself alive.
“It’s not the rent,” she answers, squatting beside the largest pile of clothes and picking through them.
All at once it hits me that the clothes are folded into small and messy piles. Silent alarms ring in my head; she really is getting ready to move and she wants to do it in a hurry. This is the way she usually starts the process, but this time there is more urgency to it.
My hands are planted firmly on my hips to let her know I am not going to budge, but it is hard to hold back the tears that are now rising to the surface. “I’m not moving again.”
She can’t do this to me; especially now when I am just months away from graduating high school. Starting a new school at the end of the year would kill me. I can’t bear the thought of losing the few friends I have left, even though I may have lost them already.
“Don’t worry about your things right now. We can arrange for someone to bring them to us later.”
She rambles on to herself, grabbing more clothes to throw into her pile. I do what I can to keep on top of the laundry, but it seems the majority of my mother’s clothes have been pulled out of the clean pile only to lie crumpled once again on the floor. Trying to help my mother is similar to dealing with a small child—between her and Rose there are days I think that I should just stay home and run a daycare.
“Did you hear me? I am almost done with school and I am not moving again. I have friends here. You can’t make me do this!” I realize I sound not too much unlike my little sister about to throw a fit, although she rarely has them.
My heart begins to beat rapidly at the idea of having to move away. We have moved so many times I am beginning to lose track of all the places we have been. For the most part we have stayed in the same state, but the towns we moved to were far enough away each time that I had to switch to a new school district. It is hard enough not having the money to buy new clothes so I don’t stand out like the
new girl, but having to keep proving myself to be the
new girl each time is becoming increasingly harder.
“The social worker knows, Lily. She knows I have been using again and we have to get out of here before she takes you away from me forever. There won’t be a second chance. Not after you tried killing yourself.”
It is just like my mother to throw something so terrible back in my face. The decent reputation I have worked so hard on was probably ruined once word got out about what I had done. My friends probably think at this point I am crazy, especially after all the lies I had told them.
I narrow my eyes at her now, the anger boiling over inside of me. “We have been running from social workers as long as I can remember. Don’t pretend like my attempted suicide is the reason for all of this. Our family has been in danger of being separated ever since Rose was born.”
It is truly a miracle that I had not been placed in some juvenile center after my stomach was pumped and the doctor realized what I had done. Our social worker, who has always carried a soft spot for me, somehow convinced the Judge to give me a chance. She plans to enroll me into an intensive out-patient treatment program as soon as the clinic has an opening. If I continue to show progress with the therapist hopefully she can convince the Judge to allow me to stay in our mother’s care.
My mother sounds truly convinced this time that the social worker is on to her continued drug use, although I never know if she is imagining things or if they are really happening. She is subject to random drug tests as part of the condition of letting us stay, but I know for a fact she has used the urine of a friend before when she knew the test would come back dirty.
But at the same time, it is also common for the drugs to cause her to have delusional thoughts and ideas. Last fall she was on this kick where she insisted angels were watching over us while another time she thought Rose was someone else’s child and asked me to take her away. Just a few weeks ago she told me my father had not been human. I have to brainwash Rose often so she won’t mention any of our mother’s delusions when the social worker comes for interviews.
Shutting my eyes, I attempt to calm myself as my mother continues throwing her things together. Rose and I would probably be better off in foster care, but since I will be eighteen in a few months and considered too old for anyone to want to adopt me, they won’t place us together. Rose would go to a family that saw her as the adorable, loveable six year old that she is, and I would most likely end up in a center for juveniles when no family would want a damaged teenager.
The last two times in foster care I had obsessed for hours in trying to find the exact moment my life had completely turned upside down. We used to be normal—my mother, father and me. The three of us lived in a pretty little white house with a brown and white cocker spaniel puppy named Snickers. We even had a picket fence that surrounded the entire backyard.
My father was a musician, playing the guitar in a type of folk/rock band, and was often gone on the road. My mother stayed home with me and took me to the library or park nearly every day. She even used to put me in cute little dresses with matching shoes and ribbons in my hair. We went on play dates, attended mommy and me classes at the school, and did everything a perfect mother would want to do with her young child.
When my parents were together, I could almost literally feel the love radiating from them. Shortly before my father’s death we were able to see him perform with his band at the State Fair. At first I was afraid there was something wrong with my mother because she stood frozen in place as he played his guitar, but then I realized she was beaming up at him with unmatched love and adoration. I’ll never forget how my father looked up on that grand stage, throwing us his radiant smile as often as he could.
For a time we were the picture of a perfect family.
In all the times our mother has moved us in the past years, I have only been able to hold on to a few things from my childhood, one being a Christmas card from the year I turned eight. It is the only picture I have of my father. He had been a towering, handsome man with a square jaw, short sandy-blond hair and bright green eyes that reminded me of a cat’s. I remember him always smelling like after-shave and having a deep, belly-shaking laugh.
After he died I had ripped my mother out of the picture so only my father and I remained frozen together in a pile of leaves, his muscular arms wrapped around me as I appeared to be giggling with delight.
“Grab your sister,” my mother says from the midst of her senseless piles of clothing, bringing me back into the moment. “We have to leave.”
She finally takes the time to actually look at me. I don’t have either the same dark brown hair that naturally curls or the deep brown eyes that she passed on to my little sister. I am probably considered somewhat plain to most people. My dirty blond hair on its best days is mostly straight and falls well below my shoulders. My eyes are a mixture of bright green and yellow and stand out behind my light eyelashes that I forever have to use mascara on to make visible. I like to think I look more like my father did, only not quite as stunning and not nearly as tall. It has been to my benefit for the most part to be so ordinary—it is easier to blend into my new schools this way.