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House of Cards
My mom’s addiction makes for a very shaky relationship
Chaquana T.
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“No Mommy! Don’t do it!”

“I’ll kill you!” she screamed.

I was lying on the floor while my mother held a chair in her hand. I felt scared and hurt at the same time. I told her to stop, and she finally put the chair down. She told me to sit on the sofa quietly, and I did as I was told.

As soon as she was out of my sight, I ran outside to get help. I knocked on a neighbor’s door. It was the second time I’d turned to her to get away from my mother’s abuse.

“Who is it?” she said.

“It’s Quani, can I please use your phone?”

She opened the door quickly and let me in. I told her my mother was hitting me again, and she looked at me with pity.

That day I left my mother’s house for good. I knew it was for the best, but a part of me wanted to stay.

Ever since I was little, I’d wanted to know my mother. My grandmother raised me from the time I was 4 until I turned 13. All those years I never knew much about my mother. All I did know was that she wasn’t capable of taking care of me.

My grandmother cared a lot about me and did the best she could. She provided for me and made sure I was happy. She was the nicest woman and I’ve never felt a greater love.

Still, I imagined my mother as my knight in shining armor. I believed that if we were reunited, I would be happier. I would feel safe knowing that my mother really cared for me and would always be there no matter what.

My mother would call to check on us. She would ask how we were doing and she wanted to know what we looked like. On the phone I told her I looked fine but I really believed I looked fat, so when my sister would send her pictures I’d tell her I didn’t have any. I didn’t want my mother to be disappointed in me because of my weight. Her opinion meant the world to me.

My mom also came to visit my sister and me a few times. We’d go to the big fair and the movies. One time my mother only stayed for two days. When she left, my sister and I fell on the ground and cried for hours. Many times we would look at pictures of her, or a card she sent us, and cry. I would throw tantrums because I missed my mother so much.

When I was 13, my grandmother asked my sister and me if we wanted to live with our mother in New York City. We told her yes. Before we left, my grandmother warned me that it wouldn’t be a fairy tale. Still, when my sister and I arrived on June 9, 2002, I was ecstatic.

When I walked through the front door of my mother’s apartment I fell in love. The furniture was leather and there were knickknacks everywhere. There was a glass mirror in the living room and the floor was a shiny brown. The cabinets were filled with food and food was on the stove. I thought to myself, “This is the life and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

New York had so many people and so much going on that my sister and I just couldn’t compose ourselves. We went all over the city. We went to 125th St. in Harlem, 149th and Grand Concourse in the Bronx, and so many other places. New York was alive and I loved it. We also went swimming every other day and we went out to eat every week.

image by Terrence Taylor

I had a good time being a family. What I loved about my mother was her sense of humor. She’s really funny! She was always cracking jokes on people.

But living with my mom opened my eyes to many things. I learned my mother was a drug addict. I learned she was dysfunctional and couldn’t take care of two teenage girls. I also realized I wasn’t ready for the world and I needed somebody to protect me. I wanted her protection, but I couldn’t get it.

My mother started using crack again six months after we moved in with her. My sister and I didn’t know she had been using crack since the ’80s. Everyone in my family knew, including my grandmother, but they never told us. Our mother’s addiction was a surprise.


Gradually, my mother’s drug addiction got worse and worse, and so did our situation at home. She would sell her welfare check to support her habit and leave my sister and me in the house all alone. She would come in at all hours of the night. There was no food in the house and our money would come up missing.

We grew hate in our hearts for her that we carried around everywhere. Every other week she would say she was done, but it would only last for a few days. We got disappointment after disappointment and it hurt.

My grandmother found out what was going on and sent us money. We would hide the money in the soles of our shoes, but our mom always found it. My grandmother even came to New York to find a place so we could live with her again, but she passed away five days after she arrived. It hurt me so much. I couldn’t understand why God took her away from me. I hated myself for ever disrespecting her or getting smart with her.

After that, my sister and I started going to my father’s house and other relatives’ houses to escape from my mom.

One day I came home from a family member’s house and my mother was home. She was very angry that I had stayed out for two days. She told me I was on punishment and I couldn’t go outside. I rolled my eyes and told her, “I’m not staying here.” I was very angry with my mother for putting my sister and me through hell. She wasn’t ready to take care of us, so why had she said she was?

She told me to fold some clothes. I sucked my teeth in anger but I started folding. Then she said, “You’re going to stop playing with me.” She grabbed me by my hair and punched me in the face. I screamed for my cousin to get her off me, and then I left. I was angry and I didn’t want to be near her.

The next time she hit me was the last. After she attacked me with that chair and I ran to our neighbor’s, my sister and I were taken away from her for good. We were placed in foster care.

After that dreadful day I couldn’t look myself in the mirror without thinking of how I hated this woman so much for what she did to me. I was so unhappy. Although I wanted a relationship with her, and I knew I had to forgive her in order to grow some kind of connection, it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t get past my shock and disappointment at how she’d treated me.

In foster care I started living with my uncle. He told me stories about my mom as a child, like about her stealing money from one of my grandma’s friends, or getting upset with my grandmother and smacking her in the face. All the stories were negative. I began to believe my mother wasn’t very nice, but I also wondered what about her past had led her to become that way.

We started to go to counseling a few months after we were taken away from her. We had about two sessions together and the rest were only with my sister and me. The two sessions with my mother weren’t helpful because she was in denial. She would lie a lot and it only hurt us. So the sessions stopped.

But as much as my mom has hurt me, I still want that mother and daughter relationship I never had. Even though we’re not supposed to see our mom, I’ve continued to see her. I feel like I’m addicted. I can’t stay away.

I want and feel I need a healthy relationship with my mother, even though I know I probably can’t get it. I fear that without a solid relationship with her I will always be incomplete. I want my mother to be that strong black woman I can look up to.

image by Terrence Taylor

My mother is an intelligent woman and she knows a lot of people. People are naturally drawn to her. If she would get clean and finish pursuing her education, she would be very powerful. I know she has it in her.


It’s been hard to try to build a relationship with my mom. Sometimes I say to myself, “I refuse to give up on my mother because I understand what she’s going through. She’s trying to get back on her feet and she needs somebody there to support her.”

Right now my mother says she’s not using drugs, but I’m really not sure if that’s true. I try to give her as much support as possible, because she needs it. She’s still my mother.

Other times, I feel angry at her and want to keep away from her to protect myself from being hurt again and again. Recently my mother said, “I don’t need my kids when I’m not using drugs—I need them when I am using drugs.” But we’ve been there when she’s using and she just drives us away. I thought to myself, “When you are using drugs you’re uncontrollable.”

I think my mother really doesn’t know what she wants. She doesn’t have the slightest idea about how to be a mother. She doesn’t ask us questions and she refuses to open up to us. I guess she’s just as scared as I am.

I also feel angry that my mom doesn’t know a lot about my past and how her actions affected me. I don’t know if I’m ready to tell her, either. We speak on the phone almost every day. She calls me and we go places together, but she’s not there emotionally because she doesn’t know how. Our conversations are usually short and shallow:

“Hello!”

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing, I’m going to sleep.”

“Well, call me in the morning.”

“OK, bye.”

“I love you Chaquana.”

“Uh, I love you too.”

I would like to tell my mom how truly hurt I am by her behavior, but I’m scared she won’t understand. I want her to know she contributed to my feelings of low self-esteem and that I made foolish decisions because of that. Keeping things from her saves me from her judgment, but holding them in keeps me wondering about her response.

Sometimes when I’m lying in my bed I think about her passing away, and it makes me cry. I love my mother very much. I’m just not sure what to do with my love. I refuse to let her go, but I don’t think my mother is putting as much effort into this relationship as she should.

I’ve started thinking that my strong attachment to my mother isn’t going to help me in life. I ask myself, “Why do I make so many excuses for her and why do I feel like I owe her my love?” I’ve realized hoping and wishing she will change is probably foolish.

With all of these emotions inside of my head, I found a solution I’m going to try. I’ve decided to set boundaries. I can still talk to my mother, but I have to expect less and give less as we build up trust. I keep my guard up when I speak to her because I know I can be easily sucked in. My emotional side wants to love and care for my mother. My logical side knows I should keep her at a distance to protect myself from possible disappointment. At the end of our conversations now I don’t say, “I love you.” I say goodbye.

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(FCYU-2007-09-10)

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