Writing Every Scar
BY CATRINA RUCHALSKI
I’m eight years old and I’m watching my mom dance around in the cool, evening air in nothing but underwear and a t-shirt. My stepdad John keeps asking her to please come inside and eat something. She’s laughing and babbling about fireworks.
After twenty minutes of pleading, John escorts her inside by her elbow, like a disobedient child. “Can you try to get your mom to sleep?” he says, pulling her into their bedroom. I slowly follow them. I nudge their door open to see my mom sprawled across the entire bed, staring at the ceiling and whispering incoherently.
I hesitantly pull back the covers and crawl in beside her. “Mommy, aren’t you tired?“ I say. “Dad says you need sleep.”
“Sing to me – won’t you, please?” she begs. “I just love when you sing.”
In between gasps for air, from trying not to cry, I choke out the words: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” She’s smiling and humming along. My voice quiets and my breathing evens out, as both of our eyelids grow heavy. I drift off to sleep.
Suddenly, I’m awake. There’s shouting in the other room. The bed is empty, except for my eight-year-old body, curled up in a ball.
That is the story of the day I first felt my mother slipping away. I grew up the daughter of a bipolar mother who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, after losing her first two children and husband in a house fire that she blames herself for. She never properly mourned the loss of her family and that loss permeated throughout the rest of her life and by extension – our lives. Mine and my sister’s.
After I moved out at 16, I didn’t let myself feel bad about my circumstances. I told myself that everybody had their own issues. I’d paste on my plastic smile each morning and pretend that everything was ok. But the nagging feeling that everything wasn’t ok chipped away at me each day.
My coping mechanism was (and still is) compartmentalizing. I filed away each of life’s little blunders in a cabinet titled, “Don’t think about this.” It was decently effective. Until it wasn’t.
The hurt and pain crept into every aspect of my life. I wasn’t doing well in school. I sought after unhealthy relationships. Eventually, I realized that I had people in my life who wanted to step into my hurt and walk with me through it. I began to share my story and found that there were people with stories like mine. And sometimes that’s all you need – someone who understands where you’ve been.
Last Mother’s Day I felt compelled to share a piece of my story. For too many years, I watched as people posted about their moms, saying things like, “I know everyone says it, but I REALLY have the best mom ever.” That’s just not a relatable sentiment for me. I could have avoided social media that day, but instead I wanted to reclaim a piece of Mother’s Day and make space for other people like me to do the same. For some, specifically those with strained maternal relationships or inability to conceive, it can be so painful to see what you perceive as missing flood your social media feed. I encouraged others with hurt, those who see it as a painful reminder, that Mother’s Day can still be a day to celebrate — whether they choose to find silver linings or mourn losses.
I posted a photo on Instagram with a caption, acknowledging that Mother’s Day isn’t always a fun-loving day to recognize the women who gave you life. In sharing my story I took the time to reflect on the good, mourn the bad and rejoice in belonging to a Father in heaven.
My post received encouragement and comments like, “I needed this.” I truly felt vindicated in my urge to share and no longer felt alienated in my dislike skepticism of Mother’s Day.
So, this is my encouragement to those of you with stories (i.e. all of us): tell them.
Stephen King said, “A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.”
Remember. Every bruise, laceration and burn. Write them down if you’re so inclined. Write songs, poems, short stories, long stories, PSA’s: someone probably needs you to write them down. It might not be immediately apparent, but your story serves a purpose. Now, I’m not saying that you owe anyone your story. It’s yours after all. However, sharing my burden has brought healing to a situation that would otherwise be an open wound.
If I could go back in time and give younger Cat a little advice, I would tell her to keep sharing. Yes, it makes you vulnerable. Sure, it can be embarrassing. But those feelings of vulnerability and embarrassment are nothing in comparison to the hope that solidarity can bring.