It’s not possible to remember your sippy cup days. Not really, anyway. All you can remember are the images of this time, the old polaroids scratched from years being shuffled around in lockboxes, then safety deposit boxes, then storage space, clouded with whatever light source was present back then, smoke in the air from before it was known that secondhand smoke could kill, your parents always in the corners and out of frame, watching you open presents and slide down slides with this amused look that you didn’t understand then, couldn’t understand, and you could only process their emotional states as they related to you in that exact moment.
You can look at this sippy cup now, this relic from a bygone era, decorated with cartoon characters and smiling faces and primary colors, anything that would get you to drink what was inside, most likely strawberry milk from before they realized that the chemicals inside could rot your teeth and turn them brown before they’d prematurely fall out. Days when you’d simply take in stimuli and not know how to properly categorize them, only observe light and color and sound and sensation, smiling and laughing when you were supposed to.
You sift through these things, these relics, appraising whether you should save them by paying the monthly balance, the balance that your mother can no longer pay because she is homeless and alone in this rehab facility she’s been placed in, rehab not for drugs but for physical ailments, you’ve had to explain to people who’ve asked in the past, had to explain to stupidly smiling colleagues and others who don’t really care but feel the need to intrude, always asking their questions under the guise of caring but really wanting to secure gossip material.
But the storage space. You’ve vacillated in the past, switched from wanting to let the account close out, let the contents be auctioned off to the highest bidder, like those reality shows you used to watch, exploitative, with the shows’ stars bidding high on spaces that contained hidden treasures. You knew that the treasures belonged to you and you alone, that there was no dollar amount to be put to these things, that these photos were nothing more than Sentimental Value. But still, it seemed like it was worth the $150 a month.
You didn’t live in Chicago anymore, but you came down, rented a car and stayed at a motel, the one that had a bloody mattress in the alleyway and only charged $40 for the night. You looked into the mirror of this room that’d been punched and spider-webbed, this mirror that made you look like you had a hundred faces all looking toward a different end. You visited her again and again, day in and day out, letting the specters of old arguments pass before you like so much smoke on the wind. You hashed out old arguments like they’d just happened yesterday, and she threw phones at you just like you were used to. It was fucked up that you were almost nostalgic about abuse. At the very least, it was something you were used to.
You knew she didn’t have much time, knew that whatever she had was real this time. For years, she’d terrorized you with diagnoses that weren’t real, pretended to be suffering from ailments that hadn’t yet visited her. But now here she was, suffering from glioblastoma, watching her memories run from her like so many dogs racing toward sticks that were never thrown, in pure abject terror, knowing that this was truly the end. That her brain would be eviscerated, that she’d be subjected to a factory reset of the soul. At the very least, she’d be rendered numb and dumb to the things she’d done to you over the years. She’d forget about all of the hurt she inflicted. But it wouldn’t be an easy erasure.
You looked into her eyes as the memories were stricken from them, realized that all the hurt you harbored was lost on her, that you could ask her and tell her and scream at her but she’d be none the wiser, able to empathize with you, at least for a moment, but not able to remember.
You knew this couldn’t be her, because she was too nice. She was kind, and honest, and childlike, answering every question you had for her. Your angry words would mean nothing, because they’d be directed at someone who no longer existed. But you’d try anyway, at least at first. To get the aggression out.
You let the monthly payment at the storage place run out, let the account go delinquent and space go up for auction though there was almost nothing left to sell. You’d taken all the items that meant something to you or your mother, secured them in your apartment so that the only things left were worthless to the two of you. You sat in on the auction like you were just someone in the crowd, pretended that you had nothing to do with it. And when it was done, you told your mother even though she couldn’t understand you anymore. She was too far gone.
You spent the last days by her side, listening to her breathing, feeding her ice chips and talking with her. You spent those days passing through the eye of the needle, understanding as much as you could while living your life. While overcoming what had come before.