Author Archives

Ashley Abramson is a writer/mom hybrid living and working in St. Paul, MN. Her work has been published in Washington Post, The Cut, Refinery29, and Catapult, among others. Connect with her on Twitter at twitter.com/ashleyabrmsn.

A Motherless Daughter, Mothering

Ashley Abramson | Longreads | May 2018 | 11 minutes (2,633 words)

 

An unplanned pregnancy — the abrupt realization that you’re not alone in your body — feels like being haunted. But even more terrifying than a cluster of multiplying cells turning up uninvited is the idea of going about life not having known that as I got drunk on boxed wine, as I got out of the shower and grimaced at my then-small body in the mirror, as I swallowed three aspirin and walked to work, I had been inhabited. But now that I think of it, unprotected sex by virtue of generous pours of liquor thanks to an after-work panic attack is a pretty surefire way to find yourself both with child and without your go-to methods of self-medicating.

The summer of 2013 and the three years before it, I had no serious responsibilities but to grieve my mom’s death and to make peace with the body I had been afraid of fully living in my entire life, thanks to her addiction and mental illness. Instead, I relied on my own vices to blur her imprint on me: alcohol, a Xanax prescription, and over-the-counter sleeping pills. This insular mode of self-protection, my attempt at grieving from the outside in, quickly became toxic, rendering me wholly incapable of tending to anyone’s needs but my own. I would find out about seven and a half months later, when my son was born, that peacemaking only works from the inside out — but not without a fight.

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At the time I found myself unexpectedly pregnant — barely 25 — I had completed three of the seven items on my “before babies” note on my iPhone. My remaining prerequisites, including pay off debt, get off anxiety meds, eat healthier, and be emotionally stable, reduced growing up (or growing at all) to something quantifiable, something I could, if I mustered enough willpower, master. Motherhood, I had decided, was a privilege reserved for those who had graduated from their own needs, or a responsibility to be exclusively enjoyed by the amply mothered.

So I wilted at the sight of the positive test, whose all-caps PREGNANT seemed more like an accusation of what I wasn’t than an affirmation of what I was. I had never gotten to be a daughter — how could I be someone’s mother? How could my body betray me like this, selling the real estate I had reserved for my grief? Suddenly I wanted to belong fully to my sadness, to expose myself to the tragedy of being untethered from my primary source of nurturing. And I wanted to do it alone.

The idea of sharing my body — and soon, my life — with someone whose needs I would have no choice but to put before my own felt impossible. I feared my own body would shatter under the weight of this sudden responsibility like my mother’s had, severing the thin wisp connecting me to her, to my childhood, to all the things I had not yet grieved.

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Living in the Aftershock of Someone Else’s Earthquake

Illustration by Zoe van Dijk

Ashley Abramson | Longreads | November 2017 | 16 minutes (3,939 words)

 

Springtime, just after my parents’ divorce: My dad had moved into a musty one-bedroom set in the corner of a cluster of white, rundown apartment buildings, the exact inverse of the impractical three-story he’d bought us just two years earlier after his promotion to district manager. My mom, who shuffled between jobs frequently, had been front desking at a doctor’s office in the next town over, down the street from the Tastee Freez. Que sera, sera, we would croon, our lips painted white with soft serve, whatever will be, will be. The two of us, singing, on either side of innocence.

The day my mom got busted at a pharmacy called Drug Town, I was 9, almost 10, the same age she was when the river swallowed her twin brother. I, too, would be devoured, inhaled by a force beyond my control. But that day, I was careless, browsing the drugstore’s collection of Easter candy while my mom picked up a prescription, one of the dozens of pills she took for reasons which, to that point, had remained just outside the confines of my life. She wasn’t yet sick enough for me to notice, or maybe she was, and I just hadn’t had a reason to peer beyond my love for her into her world, a place where she could do wrong. Not until that day.

First, two police officers, then me in the drug store’s break room, surrounded by teenage employees just old enough to understand what my mom had done and distract me with knick-knacks from the toy aisle. Still, I heard it from behind the closed door: My mom’s frantic bail phone call to my dad, his irate footsteps minutes later, her excuses in shards, the word “felony.” Que sera, sera. Her life and mine, slowly and suddenly eclipsed by her pills and whatever it took to get them. Whatever will be, will be.

And what, exactly was that day, but a mirror doing its job, reflecting back what had been true all along? On the surface, my mom, being accused again by my dad or someone more powerful than him. Below that, someone who had clearly done something wrong — broken the law — to get the thing she wanted. Another layer beneath that one: A woman who had been betrayed by her body. And at the core, the pain, always radiating, penetrating through, convincing us all that whatever she did wrong was just a glitch, as if her suffering had taken the wrong shape.

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