If you run my mother’s name through a search engine, the third or fourth spot down is an article about something good she may have done. After that it’s all about a guidance counselor from Indiana who was fired for being gay.
Neither of you or I would click on those articles.
We’d go right for the mugshot.
We’d see her face, collapsed in on itself from tooth extraction, dentures in place the only thing keeping it from being completely concave, framed by a dark grey feathered short do. Longer in the back. She still wears a nose ring. A product of her era, trying to be relevant in this. This isn’t how she anticipated going about that, but here she is.
Her eyes are wet in the corners, misery pouring from the screen and all over your keyboard.
The headline tells you she works in mental health, and that she was arrested for domestic violence and assault with a deadly weapon.
Those words all strung together that way about YOUR mother might be shocking. Written about mine it’s more like, “Yeah, sounds about right.”
She came at someone with a knife, and it’s hardly the first time.
It isn’t always a knife, it isn’t always someone she’s in a relationship with.
Sometimes it’s a knife, but it’s a guy in traffic who cut her off while she had my sister and I in the car. She got out at the stop light catty corner from the elementary school my sister and I went to, and the bank where the enormous wooden arches, made by my father, grace the entrance. She banged on the sides of the other driver’s vehicle with a pocket knife in hand calling him a mother fucker and shouting about how much danger he’s putting her kids in.
Sometimes it’s a pair of hair cutting shears and it’s a woman in a bar with a braid all the way down to her ass. That woman was seeing the same man as my mother. My mother waited for the woman in the bathroom stall, came up behind her at the sink, lopped off a foot of hair and walked out into the bar with it in her hand like a trophy. Her kill.
Sometimes it’s pocket knife and it’s a guy who was strung out on meth and had been staying at our apartment. He tried to break in while she was gone, but I was home watching Power Rangers with the boy from downstairs. When she got home and I told her she went over and banged on his door and yelled at him through closed windows until the cops came. When they asked if she had any weapons she explained that, yes, she had a knife but she wasn’t going to use it. She just wanted the weight of it in her hand when she punched him.
Sometimes it was an answering machine, and instead of physical violence it was an onslaught of nasty comments and names directed at my eight year old brother.
Sometimes it was a hammer.
Sometimes it was her own two hands. One at my throat, the other balled into a fist and striking the side of my head.
This time it was a knife.
This time she threw it.
This time it landed two inches into this sack of shit’s foot and she had to go to jail for six weeks.
This time it made the news.
This time it got blasted on social media.
The guy she was fighting with had been around for a while. When I was fourteen he showed up in our apartment and left beer cans lining every wall of every room, overnight. She’d met him on an Amtrak train where he gifted her the flowers from the train bathroom. He turned up in Arizona and lied about meeting Nirvana to sound cool. He showed up again when we were homeless in California. Right about the time I left. I guess he didn’t.
Maybe he did, and he kept coming back like poorly treated scabies.
He’d taken to the internet to say things like “we WEREN’T DATING, she was just my roommate.” and “it’s a shame, 23 years of friendship down the tube” Exaggerating the length of time they’d been acquainted by almost a decade.
On the Internet, he says he testified against her. He calls her a “murderous hyena” and says how dangerous she is.
Twenty years ago, I knew that.
Twenty years ago when she came at me, all claws and fists I knew that.
I know that now, I knew that then, and I knew it when I was eight.
I keep scrolling, because I want to know more. I want the dirt just like everyone else. They just aren’t as vested in this spectacle as I am. For them it’s gossip and dirt and “let’s trash this woman.”
For me it’s one big “I told you so.”
Below his comments a strange woman popped up and shared screenshots of my mother calling her friend a cunt and telling her to come and find her. Over and over. “Come say that to my face. Come find me” All three of them are behaving like idiots.
The “screenshots” themselves are actual photographs of someone’s computer screen.
A few people defend my mother and call it self defense and he, rabid himself, says there’s no way that’s possible because he was just getting clothes out of the dryer and she threw a knife at him.
Here’s the thing about my mother, that he likely well knows by now: the fight isn’t over when you think it’s over. She yells at you until you both run out of horrible things to say, or objects to throw. Then she retreats, stews in her bilious anger, which recharges her. Then she returns to contribute cutting at you.
It just isn’t always so literal.
The “believe women” part of me wants to think that things got really ugly and maybe she did what she had to do.
The rest of me knows her.
The rest of me knows her illness, her rage. The rest of me has sat curled in a ball with her hand around my throat while she’s punching me in the head because I said something she didn’t like. That part of me wonders how things would have gone if there had been social media in her partying heyday.
We lived in one of those “everyone knows everyone’s business” small towns, so even without an internet platform, word spread fast enough and she was eventually run out of town because everyone knew her games, her bullshit, and made it known she was no longer welcome. Now the word is public. It isn’t just whispers around a bar scene. It’s the digital equivalent of being put in the stocks.
I keep scrolling.
There’s a closed GoFundMe, where someone is asking for $10,000 to help her with housing and legal fees, and they raised a sad $325.
There’s a photo of this idiot’s foot with a large orange handled blade sticking out of his foot.
There’s a photo of her with a cat in her lap and him trying to claim whose cat it really was.
There are the words “she appeared in court wearing handcuffs and jail issued clothing” which is so simple but I can see it so clearly. It’s unpleasant and simultaneously I feel “well, it’s about time” make a loop through my mind and out of my mouth.
I feel guilty, but it passes.
She appears in court, holding back tears, and pleaded not guilty. The same way she’d beat me, beat my sister, and cry. “You made me do this/look what you made me do.”
Of course she plead not guilty, she always has.
Constance Ann Fitzgerald is the author of Trashland A Go-Go (Eraserhead Press, NBAS), Glue (Lazy Fascist), a zine maker, and curator of Ladybox Books. She lives in Portland, OR where her happiness is wholly contingent upon whether or not there is a dog in the room.
Her essays/non-fiction appear online and in print. You can track most of them down by going to atrainwreckwithwords.com