Nikol Hasler is a writer, producer, and single mother living in Los Angeles. She was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma almost two years ago, and has undergone surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, with another surgery and more radiation still to come. An alumnus of the foster care system, her current work is focused on using her life experiences to assist foster children in a healthier transition to adulthood.
I was dating a man whose mother had gone crazy after the death of her husband. This man was a teenager at the time, and his mother held one of his friends hostage for several days, trying to force the friend to have sex with her. The man was from Spain, and this changed the way I pictured what happened. The light was a different color, the carpeting worn in Spanish ways, the knick knacks glazed and foreign, not the sorts of things you see in prefab homes in Texas. Even in Spain, when a mom holds a teen hostage and tries to have sex with them, there are bound to be knick knacks.
When he told me this story, he was calm about it, and not in the way a person usually reflects about trauma, matter-of-fact and slightly sad. He said she was just lonely. He said she was doing the best she could. He said that all of our parents were doing the best that they could, and we should all remember that.
"Not my mother," I said.
"Even your mother."
My memories of my own mother have a slightly foreign light to them as well, each marked by some phase in her life; a style she adopted. I never remember thinking she was beautiful, but I remember thinking that there must have been something about her that made all of these men barrel toward her with such intensity. As a small child, I held the mother spot passionately for her, but always with a level of fear for the moments that she'd lose her mind.
Picture things steeped in early 80's yellow, like Soderberg was directing, remnants from the 70's, giant sunglasses, one piece pant suits, and she's laughing, then she's yelling and hitting, then she's crying- all those thing happening the way most people breath. Punk rock moves in, the smell of leather, and we're dancing in the living room, and I'm helping her zip her pants, so tight she lays down and I tug the zipper, and her eyeliner is running in the bathtub later on as my step father yells things about her trying to kill herself, and we're out the door. Short shorts and tube tops and she's met a man who manages the carnival with their all night loud fights until that, like everything, is over. Then she's in all white with neon paint splatters, she's moved to Bakersfield, and though I don't know much about California, in the photos she sends, it looks like a pretty ugly place.
Then it's nothing for years as I go crazy time and again, lose my own mind in ways small and predictable. Those are the hospital years, paper pill cups and breakdowns in group therapy because they won’t let me have my clothes. Those are the years of crying, baby-talking, and making out with grown men, telling therapists that I wish I could have a room in which to smash a billion things and not have to clean it up. Those are the years of moving from spot to spot, cutting, overdosing, being crazy to replace the crazy that was missing. Missing her, trying to make sense of me.
And then she's back, and this time it's flowing floral print, her act is together, she's settled down now. She's sorry. She's better. She's medicated and stable. She's met a man, and this time he's legit. They met in AA. They're in love. And every time she says she's sorry it's with this face that demands forgiveness when I'm not sure I thought I had anything to forgive her for. And anyway, I'm in my own kind of style, with my own lost mind to keep track of.
Back then, in my memory of the times things were going well for her, there was a weird delight that she often took in my own breakdowns. I lived with her briefly when I was 15, and I'd come home after school to hear her talking on the phone to producers at talk shows. She'd be listing my issues- eating disorder, suicidal depression, molested, abused, uses drugs, why yes, I'll hold, why, yes, I'll try to get the people who molested her to come on the show, why, yes, I agree, she needs help. Thank you Jenny, Thank you Ricky, Thank you Jerry.
It was around then that people started to compare me to her, and around then that I started to resent the comparison. How could they possibly say that I was anything like this woman? She was self-serving in her madness, whereas mine was naturally occurring. I’d been hurt, dammit. I’d been raped and beaten and ruined. My teen angst complimented me well, some of the anguishes real, some amplified beyond their actual power.
But then, shortly after high school, I was a mother myself, and I couldn't give my depressions, my disassociations, my nervous breakdowns a rest. There were days spent laying on the floor as my child crawled over me, stinking of diaper. Everybody Hurts on repeat, and it was true and I knew that yes, Everybody did Hurt. There were times where I'd laugh and not stop, the sounds coming out of me like punches in life's guts, ruddy faced and empty eyed. There were years of cold bathtub water, overdoses, and blood, medications on medications, knowing I would jump out a window, knowing I couldn't stand it if I had to keep drawing breaths, knowing I was always going to be like that.
He said that all of our parents were doing the best that they could, and we should all remember that.
"Not my mother," I said.
"Even your mother."
"Not me," I said. And he didn't know quite what I meant.
A time had to come where I'd come to see that I wasn't doing the best I could. I was resting on my fucked-up-edness, accepting that I was just crazy, like it was a house I'd moved into, acting like my mind was so far gone that it excused the way I'd scream, run through my back yard like my head was on fire, smash dishes and stomp, collapse, repeat. A time needed to happen in which I thought less of how I needed to be able to lay in bed for days, and more about needing to live. I don't mean needing to be alive. That was never a thing that appealed to me. What I mean, is that since I was alive, I needed to know that I needed to- was able to- enjoy living. I had to give myself permission for that. I had to know that even if I loved my life, I was still the same person.
I didn't really stop having all the melt downs and break downs and emotional show downs until I was 30. Right before my 30th birthday I decided that I was going to stop taking medication, and that I would never cut myself again. My arms are road maps of sad, white and purpling deep gashes that make it impossible to go sleeveless. I promised myself, no more shock therapy, no more losing my shit. Keep it together, Hasler. It's time to live.
I am far from where I need to be, and that bothers me sometimes. Throughout THE CANCERING (I just now decided that from now on, I will always address it as such), the depression has really taken a lot out of me. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, all I can think about is how much I want to tell everyone to fuck off and let me die my own way. Sometimes the bills get overwhelming and it seems like suicide is the easiest and best option. Sometimes it strikes me as absurd that I spent 30 years trying to kill myself, my body is allowing me an out, and I can't take it.
What I do know is that right now, finally, I can honestly say that I'm doing the best that I can with the things that I've got. Those late night texts I send to my friends are not the same thing as a scalpel up my inner arm. Voicing my depression is acceptable, healthy, and normal. I will come back from this, just as I had before, and I will still find myself there, mind intact. Life progressing. I guess this is just one more way I am not letting my mutating cells mutate my life.