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Dear Mom

It wasn't Aunt Dot who stole your painkillers; it was me.

By Catherine KenwellPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 5 min read
Runner-Up in Mother's Day Confessions Challenge
Dear Mom
Photo by the blowup on Unsplash

Dear Mom,

It wasn’t Aunt Dot who stole the painkillers from the medicine cabinet.

It was me.

I know, I carried the guilt around with me for 36 years, and trust me, so many times I was going to tell you the truth, and then…I didn’t.

Remember when you noticed they were gone? I heard you ask Dad where they got to, and then you surmised that Dot stole them when she was visiting. She used the toilet, after all. You used to accuse her of stealing the strangest things from our house—ornaments from our Christmas tree, a silver serving spoon, brand-new hand-embroidered tea towels—and perhaps she did. But she didn’t take those painkillers.

Because every single one of them went down my throat.

It was the summer I was 17, and for almost eight years I’d bore the cruel brunt of your psychoses, paranoia, and abuse. I was tired. I was a teenage girl, prone to adolescent melancholy and heartbreak. Sometime that summer I’d broken up with my first real boyfriend. You watched my every move. Accused me of things I couldn’t even comprehend. I couldn’t bear the voices in my head. And I wanted to die.

For years, you’d refer to ‘the painkiller incident’ and blame Dot and her guilty-fingered kleptomania. You never liked her anyway. But come on—why would she steal your painkillers? I’m sure she didn’t have the connections to sell them on the black market, and certainly she could get her own prescription if she needed them. But you remained determined. And so I let you believe it. It was just easier that way.

Here’s the weird part. I downed them—a little less than half a bottle—on the sunny Saturday afternoon of a holiday summer weekend. I retreated to my bedroom, where I was ensconced whenever I was home. Most weekends, that’s where I spent my at-home time, away from the potential volatility of family life. I guess I passed out, because I don’t remember you calling me for dinner. Or did I respond in the negative, from the depths of my consciousness? Did I say, no thanks, I’m too sleepy to eat?

I have no idea. But I don’t think anyone checked in on me, because when I finally came to on Monday afternoon, even I was surprised I was still alive. To this day, I still shake my head in disbelief that no one noticed I wasn’t around. I was in the same clothes I was wearing on Saturday; also surprisingly, I hadn’t thrown up my stomach contents. Somehow, I’d digested what should have been an overdose of prescription medicine. As I shook myself awake, I noticed my hands were numb…still asleep, I thought. And I couldn’t hear anything. It wasn’t just quiet. It was deadly silent.

The late-afternoon sunshine coming in my bedroom window stung my eyes; I blinked and sat up, shielding my eyes. I could see alright, I realized. What the heck? I was still here.

The rest of the house was empty, so I walked outside. You and Dad were standing near the garden, chatting with neighbors who had dropped by. I could see you were laughing and carrying on conversation, but it was muffled, like I had cotton wool stuffed in my ears. You looked at me, and turned back to your guests, without even a second thought. No ‘welcome back from the dead’ trumpet herald, no hugs or cries of ‘thank goodness’. Par for the course, I suppose; nothing had changed.

There’s a mind snapshot of that moment: The weather was quite warm, and the sizzling summer sun was beginning to set. Everything smelled like vegetables and fresh dirt. A breeze ruffled the hair on my arms. Things seemed as they always were. Except for not being able to hear. There was no soundtrack to what should have been my requiem.

Heading back to my room and my bed, I felt invisible, inconsequential. I did and I didn’t exist. How long would this not-quite-afterlife limbo last?

Eventually, my hearing returned, and I suppose life got back to whatever was taken for granted at the time. You continued to feed me, house me, to accuse and abuse me, and I began drinking and smoking more dope. That was what kids in our neighborhood did. I mean, you knew that. Right? You were so busy blaming me for outrageous things that you probably didn’t even notice.

That last week, when you were in hospital and we all knew you were dying, I was going to tell you. For nothing else but to let Dot off the hook. And you and I had become close as the years went by; I knew, despite all that had gone on, that you loved me. After all the chaos your illness had caused, I still felt the need to protect you. So I didn’t tell you. And Dot’s gone now, too.

By John Jennings on Unsplash

I’m sorry for stealing, but I really can’t apologize for the overdose. I was 17. I was a kid who had endured so much. I was tired. I had to learn to love and care for that kid, who was so alone and in so much pain. She didn’t see any other way out.

In Dad’s last year, he’d say I was getting more beautiful each time he saw me. Sometimes now, I’ll catch my reflection in the mirror, and I see you. I know he saw you in me. Years ago, that would have terrified me. Now, I understand. He constantly sang your praises and perfections, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him any of this.

Sometimes I feel like I did that Monday afternoon all those years ago; I’m surprised I’m still here. But I’m infinitely grateful that I am. That’s a gift that only my experience can give me. Triumphing over seemingly physical and emotional bumps and bruises. I’m good now, Mom.

But gah, if you run into Aunt Dot in your afterlife, please don’t give her the stink eye. It wasn't her.


Your daughter


About the Creator

Catherine Kenwell

I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.

I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (4)

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  • Donna Renee7 months ago

    This was so honest. I loved it.

  • Irene Mielke12 months ago

    This was a thoughtful piece. I could really really feel you connecting to your experiences in life through it.

  • Mark Graham12 months ago

    Letter or just writing in general is a great way to clear many things up. Way to go and keep up the good work.

  • T. A. Smithabout a year ago

    I feel like the character on South Park who sands wide-eyed as Cartman - the angry fat kid, for those not so thoroughly marinated in pop culture - launches into a diatribe punctuated with F-bombs and eloquently strung with unlikely cussing -bleepitty-bleep bleeeeeeep)... after which there's a single beat before the other kid (Kyle?) simply says "...Holy shit, dude" I mean that with the utmost respect and admiration. Candian kindness and Horror Stories is also quite a spread of interests. I mean, is ther anythingyou don't do... besides I suppose roller-blading?!? not tot be tooo presumptuous but you seem t o be of a similar vin tage to myself, and I had to hang mine up a while ago. I rejoice in your 17y/o self failure to fatally O.D. and with the wisdom you have accumulated in the years since. thanks for shareing. I just have a technical question: when you write do yuo do that off-platform and load the finished product here? {I'm new t Volume and Media, several folks I know IRL have suggested that I write on here andI'm just going to have take their word for it that they aren't just trying to get me to STFU. ..."Holy Shit Dude!"}

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