Brooke Spencer Vigil

When I was a senior in high school my mother was dying of stage four lung cancer; and I took care of her.  At the time, my little brother was a freshman, my older sister was gone, my older brother was at school seventeen hours away, and my father had to keep bread on the table and the medical bills paid.  I was taking care of things.


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I was taking care of everyone, except myself.  One day, after school, I sat in my car in the school parking lot and cried because we had lost out on going to County for Mock Trial; we had been working all year on our case, we got so close to winning and got knocked out by our rival school.  It was hard for everyone, that loss, but I was pissed and angry because my mom had never gone to see me.  I never had an important position on the team, but she never saw me, she'd never get to see me.

I sat in my car when we got back, and I cried, I cried and screamed while my friends told me to unlock my doors as they stood in the rain peering through my windows.  I learned something then.  I learned that you can lock yourself down and be mad at your sick mother and break your fingers on the steering wheel.  Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I can see it was alright for me to feel this way, but in the moment I was even more mad at myself, because I was living two lives, two lives that made me a hypocrite.  

When I was at home I did everything I could do for everyone.  When I wasn't, I was off ruining what would follow me into three years of college, which I didn't believe I was going to at the time.  I thought to myself, "you'll take a year, you'll be around to help, I want to help, I'm the only one who can—it is my obligation and duty to see to it that my mother does not die alone.  While I'm at school or doing God knows what." She used to call me 'her angel'.  I'd sit with her and hold her hand when she was sad. (She was often sad because of the Norco, Norco made her sad.) She liked when we'd sit and watch TV together, I'd make her a tiny sandwich for lunch and she'd take two bites.

I'd say, "Mom just take one more bite, you need to eat, one more bite and I'll give you a sip of my soda."  She'd smile as if her challenge had been accepted.  And instead of giving her a sip of soda, I'd give her two sips, something I was strictly advised against.  I'd do it anyway just to see her smile at me.

I’ve been told that when you grow up dealing with small traumas, if left untreated they start to grow into something larger, more uncontrollable than before.  That’s what happened, what had always happened.  It was her and I against the cancer.  I was exhausted and disgusted at myself for feeling any sort of feeling that wasn't, "Mom didn't throw-up today" or "Mom was talking with me a lot today" or "Troy and I went home at lunch and sat with mom during her day-time soap opera."  I allowed for no feelings of my own to take precedent.  I was hating myself, when I should have realized that we were lucky to have that time with her.

When you go through trauma like that, there are a lot of ways a person can respond, but I kept my feelings in closed jars not knowing they would overflow; that they would stain every inch of me until I couldn't sleep at night, without waking up thinking she was calling for me.  Until my father found me asleep on the recliner next to my mother's bed in the living room.  Until I would sit in my car and slam my hands on my steering wheel so lost in my grief, until I couldn't breathe.  Until I would have flashbacks and dissociation on walks unable to recognize familiar faces of friends who just wanted to help.  Until I woke up one day and remembered it had been four years ago and people where telling me 'I should get over it'.

The truth is that my grief and trauma exposed me, it lifted the veil off my entire life, showing me things I had hid from myself for years.  Its fogged remains were not kind to me, and they all flooded me all at once.  Childhood trauma, my brushes with sexual assault, my insecurities, the cutting and opened wounds leaking their ways to the surface.  It broke me.  It broke me.  I didn't even stop to notice.

It takes a long time, that's the truth.  It takes a long time for me to recompose myself after hearing loud noises.  It takes me a long time to look people in the eyes, but it's gotten better over the years, with lots of awkward practice.  It's taken a long time to learn to create proper boundaries, something that plagues relationships and makes people run towards the hills, because the thing I learned is that I'm as scared as they are.  I don’t know how things will turn out, I don't know if people will choose to stay or go—something I have nightmares about most nights because I psych myself out—I am learning to navigate through my trauma. You will too.  


I am learning to navigate through my trauma. You will too.


But I don't want to be scared anymore, and I think that is the greatest step: the moment you choose to grow despite what everything, everyone, has to say.  I thrived in my alone-ness and am learning to keep going despite how fast others are moving and the fact it seems I am going five miles-per-hour in the fast lane.  When people make fun of my ticks or my stutter or snap at me (snapping has become one of my newest ticks) it hurts, but I move past it because I have to, what other choice is there?

I survived.  I survived my whole life up until this very second; I am a badass, strong, and courageous woman.  You are too, and it's important you feel like you can feel, to allow yourself that one great human experience.  

I'm not sure there is anything else you can do except take a deep breath and go for a walk, come back home and see yourself grow.  See yourself become stronger, watching yourself recognize people and get your life together. Not so people will finally stay, but so you can finally breathe again.  So that you can stay and live with yourself.

It's important for you to know that you can navigate your trauma, that you can navigate it so well and come out the other side.  It'll take work and it'll be painful, but you'll remember randomly when you're standing in line at the grocery store, or driving home from work, or in the middle of a conversation. You'll remember why you chose to survive.  

That's the truth.  


Brooke is a published poet and aspiring novelist in her twenties. She is currently working towards her undergraduate degree in English from Seattle Pacific University. She enjoys Stephen King novels and loves spending time with friends and family. A Southern California native, Brooke’s favorite past time is walking around the antique mall in her hometown of Redlands.


Comments (1)

  1. Angelina Eimannsberger

Thank you for sharing your story so generously

  Comment was last edited about 8 months ago by Angelina Eimannsberger Angelina Eimannsberger

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