Photography by Alison Hein taken at the Hooligan Two Year Art Collective in Chicago, IL on February 27th, 2015.
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My mother and I have this verbal contract of sorts that insists if she were to ever fall into a coma, I will visit her vegetating body every couple of days. Sweet and the least a son could do, right? No. You’re wrong.
My visits won’t be to update my mother on the latest celebrity trash news (although I’m sure she would love to hear the hottest traumas plaguing the Real Housewives of Atlanta) or to mangle out the unyielding cramps twisted into her spine; no, I have been tasked to work on perhaps the most important and necessary job on the body pre-hospice. I must pluck the unwanted hairs surfacing from her chin and mustache.
Although we have been made aware since swearing over this coveted promise that there are in-fact nurses who get paid to maintain the beauty maintenance of perpetually sleeping individuals, my mother still insists I tackle the job.
“I don’t want to be trapped inside my body only to awake 5 years later to a Pitbull goatee!” she has spit at me, reluctantly glaring over the subtitles to her nightly Telenovela, finding comfort in the lusty accounts between Pablo and Marissa. “Would you?”
Unwilling to divulge my secret admiration for the Latin hip hop artist’s flakey facial hair, I sighed, whimpering out—“Okay.” If that is what she wants, that is what she shall get.
The conversation usually echoes onward to her ugly death at the tender age of 88 (cause: probably something relative to her supposed irritable bowel syndrome.) My mother’s final wish: cremate my corpse and host the ashes in a heart shaped pendent that’ll hang over your chest—always and forever. She’d say, “The leftovers? Throw them off the Staten Island Ferry as it ports from Manhattan. Leave me with a pretty view, please.”
Lately, I can’t stop thinking about my parents dying. It’s not as if one of them has recently been diagnosed with a life altering illness or I happened to be spurred into a depressive state thinking of Amy Winehouse’s death again; rather, I’m coming to terms with the fact that—fuck, I’m a twenty-something-year-old and am far from invincible. It’s like, I can’t even climb a flight of stairs without gasping for air and a Venti Caramel Frappuccino, how am I supposed to physically and emotionally survive another ten years?
Okay I should probably schedule a meeting with my therapist ASAP.
Maybe I’m a little fickle-minded; these thoughts are constantly influx, interrupting my daily procedures, leaving me aggressively aloof and unaware of my surroundings at points. Anxieties consume my body just thinking of my mother reclined in a casket, dolled up in a pant suite with a carnation pinned to her blouse, chin hairs still visible. She’d look peaceful, but still—well, dead and cold.
Didn’t she get the memo: Hello? I am still here and still need your help! You can’t just die on me. Yours truly, the middle child.
I was 9-years-old when I attended my first funeral. I hadn’t known the person and was getting paid a whole $5 for my services as an observant altar boy. As the procession ushered through the church, six men balanced the lifeless person in the air by the sole support of their shoulders and I audibly wept as I swayed the incense before the placed coffin. I promised it had been the strong scent and smoke that pushed the tears over their measly docks when comforted by the priest. He hadn’t believed me and essentially fired my sensitive, sappy self on the spot.
See, I have a penchant for the morbid. I readily enjoy reading Sylvia Plath and watching videos of rescue dogs reemerging into mainstream society. The mortality of my existence has long been something I’ve dealt with in teensy-weensy increments; breathe in heavily and let go slowly. It has worked, up until now.
I can’t adjust to the idea of my parents dying mainly because that means I’ll face a similar fate. As I grew up, I began to identify my parents as fallible, misfit creatures. When you realize your father isn’t some Godsend who twirls the world with the power of his hands, but is actually a lunchroom loner who wears ill-fitting pants and farts uncontrollably loud while your mother (who appears to be a wholesome person) actually endures monstrous mental health woes and nihilistic tendencies, your adolescent visions of humanity morph, forcibly making you question WTF is actual life.
It’s not as if you’re unable to succumb to this reality without their bereavement; it’s just difficult to address these infantile thoughts that dare you to become half of the person your parent was, even if they might’ve failed within their own mindset. You still want to be them. It becomes a sick mantra heavily thumbed down on the replay button. All you can do is stop, breathe and live in the moment until they actually do die.