When to Walk Away

It was a February night long ago when I gave up.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was no more than a straw, a brother’s birthday party at a restaurant. He had brought his girlfriend along. The hostess led us to a round table with a massive centerpiece. I happened to sit on one side of it, and the girlfriend on the other side. At some point during the evening, we put up our hands and waved to one another over the explosion of fake flowers that blocked the other from view.

I had just graduated from college in December, and lived in my parents’ house to help my mother who was recovering from a health problem. I drove her where she needed to go, lifted what she couldn’t, picked up my youngest brother from his elementary school, did all the myriad little tasks that require two hands and that my father wasn’t doing. I worked a part-time job at the local library and was putting together the ten thousand forms to become a substitute teacher.

The party ended and we went home. My bedroom door opened and my mother stormed in, incandescent with rage that I hadn’t spoken to the girlfriend over dinner. When I explained that she and I couldn’t even see one another without putting our heads on the plates of the people to the sides of us, she exploded. I was hateful. I was rude. And one day, I was going to push everyone away and die alone. Then she stormed out, and I realized that I was done. I moved out that night and left most of my belongings behind.

Like I said, it was a straw.

My mother had a fearsome temper, and chose circumstances in life that were sure to goad it into frequent explosions. She was accustomed to wealth and comfort as a child, and married a poor man without any ambitions for the thrill of horrifying her parents. Disliking that her lifestyle had downgraded, she nagged him viciously to earn more, work more, be more than what he was. He fought back, and the battle was on. She resented her children for how much time and money they cost, and then decided to have more of them. Her affection was incapable of extending to every child at the same time. We existed on the shaking precipice of her love with one or another of us always clinging by his or her fingernails to the edge. The smallest thing could knock me off. Something wrong that I had done in a dream of hers. A shoe that came untied on the soccer field. A mistake in a musical performance. A friend she didn’t like. A look.

A centerpiece on a table.

We were already on perilous ground by that point. Desiring to turn out a family of musicians*, she was aggrieved to see the oldest reach adulthood and pick another path. Upon learning my sexual orientation, she wished that there existed a prenatal test to determine homosexuality so that I could have been aborted. She was horrible to animals. She made up terrible things (as she always had) about my friends** in the hopes that the friendships would break and I’d stay home to be with her more. She didn’t want to share me, and at the same time, couldn’t stand who I was.

I was tired. I was so damn tired. I just wanted her to be happy, and I couldn’t make it happen. I was sick of the vicious, endless fighting between her and my father, which strung the children out between them and forced us to pick sides. I had dropped out of school for a semester to take care of her at her most sickly, covered up one of their affairs to protect their marriage, hidden credit card offers at her bidding so my father didn’t get us into more debt. I was sick of her threatening to commit suicide if my youngest brother didn’t do his homework.

I just couldn’t do it any more. I moved out. I tried for the next year to maintain a relationship with my mother***, and then gave up entirely and moved far, far away. I gave her no address or phone number, only an email. I couldn’t carry her insults into a new home. I wanted to start as fresh as a person can, not be steeling myself at every phone call and visit.

Estrangements are messy things. They horrify people. A father of a coworker kindly offered to call my mother and mediate a peace treaty between us. He couldn’t envision anything more crushing than his children vanishing into the world. People assume that I hate my mother, and that could not be farther from the truth.

Do I love her? I can’t answer that. But I don’t hate her. I hate that she makes one bad decision after another, and then wonders why things turn out poorly. I hate that she blames everyone but herself for her circumstances. I hate that she is so insecure that she told me as a teenager that she believed my father might have molested me as a child****, in order to make sure I loved her and her only. I hate that she can’t admit her mistakes, or even recognize them. I hate that my childhood home was a gladiator ring and I was at the mercy of her thumb. But those aren’t the same as hating her.

I pity her. So many years later, I still just want her to be happy. To find a good therapist and stick with it, to get the divorce she talked about for decades and move on to a healthier place. To send me an email that says she did some right things in bringing me up, and some wrong things, too. She’s sorry for the wrong things.

And I remember the right things. She’s a brilliant woman who drives herself hard, and I drive myself hard the same way. The two of us, we get things done. We strive for excellence in our respective fields*****. If there were a way to surgically tighten all of the loose screws in her psychological framework, she would be the most awesome person imaginable. I want to know that woman, the one charging down the freeway of life at a hundred miles an hour. But I have my actual mother, who bumps along on the crappy frontage road and misses every on-ramp to choose ramshackle detours that get her lost in the boonies and make her furious.

I wish that I could have been a child that made her proud. I will always wish that. As a teenager, I hunted for ages for the perfect Christmas present that would make her happy and keep her that way. I still come across knick-knacks in stores that I want to buy for her and put in the mail. This will do it. That will do it.

Nothing will do it. I can’t fix her. For my own sanity, I can’t be around her brokenness either. Occasionally I get updates from one of my siblings, and she’s only gotten worse. My father has, too. So I stay away. I don’t know what else to do. Every year and sometimes more, I review if this is the right decision. I analyze and reanalyze and end up in the same place. I don’t want to dread the ringing of my phone or the knocks on my door. I won’t be a troop in her battles against her husband and my siblings. I can’t listen to her insults and crazy stories, and she is incapable of giving me any support.

People chide that estranged children will be overcome with remorse when their parents die. I’m still waiting to see if that’s true. I think rather that I’m going to be mourning the person she could have been, and the relationship we would have shared. The mom who would have blinked in surprise at turning out a gay writer rather than a straight musician, but who said, “Well, you’re my kid and I love you no matter what. Let’s get some nachos and watch Hoarders.” The mom that I could have sent Christmas presents to in the hopes that she would enjoy them, not that she’d be fixed by them.

When my mother dies, it’ll bring to an end the admittedly miniscule chance that she could change, even just a little. That’s what I’ll be mourning. She walked away from me long before I walked away from her, and it will be too late for us to walk back to one another. The estrangement will forever be permanent then, the giant centerpiece between life and death shielding even the tips of our fingers in a wave.

* Despite the fact that none of us liked music, or had any talent for it.

** Strangely, she did the same thing with my brother about his girlfriend in the hopes that he would dump her. My mother hated his girlfriend. That made it all the more bizarre when she attacked me for the Centerpiece Incident of Mimi’s Café.

*** My father had by this time sunk into a mysterious world of conspiracies and other insanity, so I didn’t have much to do with him.

**** My very strange and occasionally violent father can be found on several pages in the DSM-V, but no, he did NOT do that.

***** I don’t always achieve it (why, HELLO, Graveyard of Bad Book Ideas), but dammit, I try.

Start Your Monday with a GAH!!!

I really want a group of friends with which to do this, yet I would also rather not get arrested for doing it.


Start Your Monday with a GAH!!!

First I thought why would you invent this?
Then I realized I was just jealous for not inventing it first.

Underpants for your hands!

The Zombies

Hope you’re enjoying a lovely Independence Day weekend! And what more apropos reading for the 4th of July holiday than a story chronicling the future decline of the U.S. through a Zombie Apocalypse not really caused by zombies?

Right now, The Zombies: Volume One is exclusively available on Kindle and will be FREE for one week only – starting Monday, July 8th until Friday, July 12th.

They were six average teenagers . . . until Sombra C.

Schools are closed. Thousands of sick people are locked in confinement points to die. Vigilante soldiers are pacing the streets. A mutation of a common cold virus has resulted in the deadly Sombra C illness, which is spreading through the world like wildfire. Highly contagious, it transforms its victims in the weeks before death into violent, zombie-like creatures.

Zaley Mattazollo and her friends are thrilled when the anti-viral medication Zyllevir is proven to freeze the infection in its tracks. Finally their lives can go back to normal . . . except they don’t. Riots and bombings and assassinations, zombies and Shepherd soldiers running loose: the civil unrest stirred up by Sombra C unravels their world more and more by the day. And then an attack upon their holiday party changes their lives forever.

For you fast readers, The Zombies: Volume Two is also available!


I wouldn’t be here.

If abortion had been legal in 1945, when my maternal grandmother found herself with an unwanted pregnancy, she likely would have gotten an abortion. She was poor. She was single. The man wasn’t in the picture. Her family was quite conservative. It was Texas.

But it wasn’t an option, so she had the baby. Due to some shady legal footwork, my mother was adopted by a couple who had been turned down by several placement agencies as being too mentally unstable to be entrusted with a child. After a happy childhood full of hugs and pet bunnies*, my mother married my father, who had also had the fortune to come from a family of snuggles and rainbows**. Then they proceeded to have more children than their paychecks could cover, but fortunately we were raised in a child-centered home of kisses and butterflies***.

My mother was rabidly pro-life. Once a woman spread her legs for sexy times, she ceded all authority over her body. If a seven-pound bundle of punishment happened to arrive nine months later, it was her wailing, poopy cross to bear. The end. When I questioned this as a teenager, that perhaps it was not as simple an issue as she was making it out to be, she blew up. Didn’t I understand? If abortion had been legal in the 1940s, we would not be here.

She said it with absolute horror. Could you imagine a world without us? Without our family? How terrible. It was such a terrifying thought that she didn’t continue the conversation much beyond that, and the subject rarely came up between us again. Abortion was annihilation. We wouldn’t be here.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about it since then, and all I’ve concluded is that it’s okay. It’s okay if we aren’t here. We wouldn’t know the difference and neither would anybody else. I am not so important that the world would stop turning without me. My family is not the axis. How narcissistic it is to think that my creation was so very, very important that a world where Macaulay Cade Hunter did not happen is a horror flick we watch through parted fingers.

This doesn’t come from a place of depression, and I don’t have a time machine in my basement**** where I am trying to blast myself back to 1945 to offer my grandmother the morning-after pill. I’m here, living a perfectly fine life*****. If my grandmother had gotten an abortion, I wouldn’t be here. And that’s okay. I can’t miss myself or my family when we never were, and neither can anyone else.

And maybe my grandmother would have gone through with the pregnancy anyway. I can’t say for certain. But she should have had the option of termination. It was her body. It was her life. It was her choice. No one else’s.

Thank you, Wendy Davis.

* Munchausen’s by proxy and other abuse.
** Alcoholism and beatings.
*** The less said the better.
**** The dragon chained in there keeps setting my prototypes on fire.
***** Except for the insomnia, which is why I’m posting this at one in the morning.

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All that stuff I wrote on this blog thing here? That's right! I'm copyrighting it. Watch me. Copyright 2012-2013 Macaulay C. Hunter.
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