In the Grips
In the Grips
An Essay by Susan Kelley
I knew even as we were sitting in my hospital room on Wednesday evening, laughing and talking, that he wouldn’t show up on Thursday.
I knew in the way that mothers just know things. Some mothers deny for years and years that their kids are mentally ill or are addicts, but I don’t deny it. I know that Daniel is, as they call it, in the grips .
To be in the grips is to be controlled by your disease more than you can control it. It is allowing addiction to wreak havoc on one’s life, and to let it ruin relationships with other people, like it is doing now.
Lots of people picture an alcoholic or an addict as someone who can’t stop drinking or getting high, someone who is stumbling around looking for his next fix, or out on the streets seeking another hit, splayed out in an alley somewhere all grubby and dirty. People don’t imagine that an addict or alcoholic could go days or maybe weeks without drinking or getting high, but that the effects of that addiction are still messing shit up. But that’s who addicts really are.
So there I sat, having just had a blob and shaft of titanium and a bowl of fiberglass - they call it a prosthetic hip - meticulously shoved into my femur and hip socket three days prior, while I listened to my son tell me that he would return to the hospital the next day to accompany me home, but I knew he wouldn’t.
He sat in a vinyl-covered chair draped with his coat, sipping a macchiato he had bought across the street at Starbucks. He made small talk with me that was of no consequence, and while he was lying, he did not probably even recognize that he was lying, but I did.
Three weeks before this evening, we thought that he would move in with me for a couple of weeks and stay, so that he could do tasks like laundry, meal prep, walk the dog - the sorts of things that someone with a mending hip replacement cannot do for herself. I thought he could be trusted with these tasks and anyway, it was time for him to move out of his apartment. He’s been there a year and the place is shitty and he needs some time to regroup. He doesn’t own any real furniture to speak of. A mattress and a television set. A bed frame from IKEA that he could break down and store in the basement. This would give him a few weeks to save up some cash for a new place and it would help me out with the post-surgery stuff. He could figure some things out, and I needed help.
It would be good for both of us, I thought. He kept saying, “I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks to just chill, where we can talk, just hang. It will be great to just talk with you sometimes. Watch a movie. We haven’t done that stuff in so long.”
I agreed. I started to get comfortable with the idea of having him around. I let myself think there could be some healing, not just for my hip, but for my son. That’s a dangerous thing to let yourself think if you are the mother of this kind of person. It’s risky, because it’s way more likely that you are wrong.
I was wrong.
He overdrew his bank account. Not by a little. By a lot. He did it because he went to bars. A lot of bars. He withdrew cash. Which means he spent it on probably not groceries. And he took the money not just out of his spending account, but out of his reserve, too. And out of his savings. He wiped that shit right out. That was pretty stressful. Not for him, maybe, but for me. The money he was putting away to move into a new apartment, the money for a fresh start, it was all gone. Completely gone. I had been looking forward to him living in my house, trusting him with helping take care of things, and he had just blown through a few hundred dollars at bars and handed some off to his pot dealer in a matter of days. Probably not the most healing environment to watch some movies and chat. Not now.
So when I texted him the screenshot of the bank statement overdraft, I also said, “Maybe you shouldn’t stay with me right now.”
He feigned caring and insult and all sorts of hurt, but finally said, “Okay. I get it. I don’t agree, but I get it.”
He went radio silent.
My surgery was on a Monday morning.
I didn’t exile him from life completely; I just didn’t want him as a roommate, so he came to visit and we pretended like all was well. I haven’t had much training yet in how mothers are supposed to handle relationships with their alcoholic or addicted and possibly mentally ill twenty-two year old sons, so I am kind of winging it here. I am open and I love him, but I try not to let him ruin my day. We wind up doing a bunch of pretending, but under the surface I do really love him - a lot.
He came to the hospital again, and that is when he confirmed this plan to help me on my release day, Thursday, because he had the whole day off. He’d redeem himself by spending the day with me, and helping me to transition from hospital to home.
Except that he wouldn’t.
Only I seemed to know this.
He reeked of booze.
Right there, on Wednesday night, in front of his brother.
“Sure thing, just text me in the morning and I’m on it,” he said.
“I don’t really have any food in the house,” I said.
“No problem. I can go to Aldi, or we can get takeout.”
“Okay, we can hang out here until they release me.”
“I’m yours all day.”
“I won’t know until morning.”
“I’ll bring coffee.”
“You can get lunch in the cafe if you want. I’ll buy you lunch.”
It was the “no worries” that made me completely, unalterably certain that he would not follow through. The thin veneer of him could not handle the twin-desire to be a good son, but to also spend the day in pursuit of things that made him happy. Whatever hedonistic desire was tugging at him, whether it was sleeping in, shaking off a hangover, spending the day getting high or polishing off a bottle or two I could not be sure, and I would not try to predict, but I did know without a sliver of doubt that he would not be with me, and that was all I needed to know.
He gathered his coat and his little brother and left the hospital that night, kissing me on the forehead, saying goodbye with his sweet, “See you soon, mama llama.”
And the next day, even though I knew, I knew I had to ask, “What’s your ETA?”
And although there were a couple of excuses, it was just like it was sketched out to be.
He was in the grips, and the grips have kept him. And the grips will keep him until they let him go or kill him or until I get so sad and miss him so much that I decide it’s time to see him again because leaving your own mother at the hospital is maybe not such a bad thing, because…hey, you have to forgive your son for what he does when he’s in the grips.