I never met my mom.
She didn’t abandon us, she didn’t die giving birth, I wasn’t put up for adoption, nothing like that.
We lived in the same house for 12 years, our paths just never crossed, which, I guess, is because she didn’t really have a path.
She stayed in one room my entire life. The third door on the left of the hallway in our three bedroom ranch-style home, a room I wasn’t allowed in. The door to mom’s room was different from the rest of the doors in our house. It looked heavier, sturdier. And there were a series of locks on it, the keys to which my dad always kept on his person.
My dad did an admirable job of balancing her situation and my knowing that she loved me. He would come out of mom’s room and tell me that she’d asked about me, and he would deliver messages from me to her. At least that’s what he told me, I suppose I don’t have any real way of knowing if she actually asked about me or if he’d told her what I’d said, but I guess it doesn’t matter.
As a child I was equal parts terrified and curious of what my mom did behind that door.
There was a constant odor that permeated the house that originated from that room, one so bad it meant we couldn’t have company. I had a variety of excuses for why my friends couldn’t come over, none of which were “my house smells like something crawled up something that crawled up something’s ass and died, and died, because my mom is a recluse.” In fact, I was under strict instruction by my dad to tell anyone who asked that my mom was dead.
She might as well have been, the house probably would’ve smelled better.
In the morning when I would get up to get ready for school, I would sometimes see my dad mopping the hallway around the door. He always had some excuse, like he’d spilled something or the ceiling was leaking, but I knew better. Something was coming out of my mom’s room.
Some nights, I would sneak out of bed and peek my head out into the hallway. There was always, day and night, a light emitting from under the door. When I would watch from my room, I would see pauses in that light, interruptions, as though someone was moving around within. I always assumed it was my dad, as he spent most nights behind that thick wooden door.
But it was the sounds that would send my mind wandering with images of all manner of violence and horror.
Every now and again a scream would erupt from down the hall. It was guttural, intentional, the scream of a woman in fear for her life. There would be bangs, crashes, the sounds of things breaking. And my dad would emerge from my mom’s room, breathing heavily and wiping himself down with a towel, covered in either sweat or water or both or neither, something that made his silhouette glisten in the darkness. Then he would get the mop.
When playing outside, if I could find the opportunity, sometimes I would try to look through the window, which had been covered with a thick comforter. One day, however, the comforter had been moved ever so slightly, allowing a sliver of visibility into the room. I peered through that thing space, my vision obstructed even further by the condensation that had accumulated from within.
I could just barely make out the shape of a head resting on a pillow inside the room, seemingly sleeping. I stood there, my 7-year-old brain trying to fill in the black left by my limited view. I stared at the head on the pillow, shifting to my left in a futile effort to see more of the body to my which that head belonged. I could make out the vague shapes of a body under a blanket, but my main focus was the only visible part of her – her head.
As I turned back to my first position, a twig snapped under my foot, and inside the room, the head on that pillow turned toward me, and I could feel that person, I could feel my mom, looking into my eyes. We each held our gaze for what felt like an eternity, and it was, above all else, a serene moment, the very first one shared between a mother and her son. I remember a warm breeze gently blowing past me, the sounds of leaves rustling and crickets dancing. There was a peace in that moment that I haven’t experienced before and haven’t since.
That peace was broken when I heard my dad’s voice calling out for me from the back porch. It startled me, and when I looked back to the window, the comforter was slowly, deliberately, being put back in its proper place, blocking all visibility into my mom’s room. What I found odd, however, was that with my last glance into the room, I saw my mom still laying down, still looking at me. With my dad at the back porch and my mom in bed, who moved the comforter back?
That question plagued me for five years, up until the second – and last – time I laid eyes on my mother.
When I was eight years old, my dad informed me that he was going to be doing work in the basement, and as such it was now strictly off-limits. It wasn’t a finished basement, mostly just boxes and bins and other disorganized junk, so I didn’t spend any time there anyways, but it was now deemed a space as forbidden as my mom’s room.
For the next two weeks the normal sounds of my home were drowned out by a cacophony of drills and saws and hammers, as well as the increased frequency of the aforementioned shrieking that rang out from behind the third door on the left.
As time went on, my curiosity only increased. At ten years old, I asked my dad that question that I can only assume he’d hoped he’d never hear: “why doesn’t mom ever come out of her room?”
I watched the color drain from my dad’s face as he sat across from me at the dinner table. As a tense pause lingered between us, a sound that had been becoming more and more frequent over the past year rang out: a sloshing sounds, not dissimilar from someone squeezing a wet sponge, accompanied an occasional soft bang on the door and a quiet but lingering groan and filled the air between us as my dad searched for an answer.
“She’s sick.” was all he managed to get out. We finished dinner with an awkward silence hanging between us. That, and the music of misery that was the soundtrack of my mom’s room.
And that’s how it was between my dad and I. Aside from that one time when I was ten, we left the elephant in the room unaddressed.
When I was 11, however, I became more brazen in my curiosity. I began paying more attention to my dad. As time passed, he spent more and more time in the basement, which meant less time with my mom. The screaming became so frequent that he soundproofed her room, and although it certainly muffled the sounds of anguish, it didn’t mute them completely.
Besides, there were more noises now than just the ones coming from down the hall. Now they were coming from below me.
I would put my ear to the hardwood floor and listen, and I would hear different several distinct groans and moans and screams. Once or (rarely) twice a month, my dad would remand me to my room under threat of extreme grounding, and over the course of about two hours, those collective pained sounds of agony would cease one by one, until they were all silent. At that point, my dad’s van would pull out of the driveway, and I was allowed to leave my room.
This was the way things were until about six months before I turned 13.
It was a Thursday night, around 10pm. I was in bed, trying to fall asleep against the sounds of what seemed to be an especially uneasy night in the basement and my mom’s room. The screams were as loud as they’d ever been, the most prominent of them the very first one I’d ever heard.
But then, another scream joined the chorus, and though I had never heard him scream before, I knew it belonged to my dad. He bellowed out in what seemed to be incredible pain, then started howling my name.
”NICK!!! HELP ME!!!! HELP ME PLEASE!!! NICK HELP ME HELP ME!!!!!”
I leapt up from bed and looked down the hall. It sounded like a tornado was occurring in my mom’s room. Wood splintering, glass breaking, the wall being smashed into, maybe even through. The light underneath the door was flickering wildly; there was a ton of movement within. I ran to the door, from behind which came my father’s pained shrieks, although by that point they were slowly becoming muffled and turning into more of a gurgling noise.
I knew that he left the door unlocked when he was in my mom’s room, because he knew he could count on my never, ever going inside, not with the amount of reprimanding he promised would follow. But now I had to. I stood at the door for what seemed like a lifetime in the moment, but it was truly only a second or two.
I was finally going to see my mom, face to face. No matter what horrors were happening inside that room, something good would come from it. I was afraid, more afraid than I’ve ever been, but I held onto that idea as I turned the heavy brass knob and opened the third door on the left.
I immediately vomited.
For as bad as the smell was in the rest of the house, the room from which it was birthed was worse a thousand times over. It was a putrid aroma of shit, piss, blood, and any other number of horrible scents.
But what was worse was what I was seeing. I’m not sure there are words in the english (or any other) language that can adequately describe what I saw, but I will use whatever words at my disposal to paint as clear a picture as I can.
The room was an absolute mess of broken wood and glass. The drywall had been torn from a large majority of the walls, the slats behind it broken and jagged. Blood and a clear liquid had been splashed all around the room, and the floor was slick with it, pooling in certain areas. The hardwood floor had been gouged and was ripped completely apart in certain spots.
The centerpiece of the room, however, was my…mother.
The headboard of the bed was still visible, but that was about it. Her naked body had grown out with a series of what at first appeared to be tumor-like growths, until she took up nearly three quarters of the room. I could just barely make out her face in the sea of jagged skin, which in addition to the various growths was peppered with countless bleeding sores and in some spots, holes that led within her body, along with all the muscles and tissue visible inside.
My father was nearly halfway down one of the wells that led into my mother, his screams nothing more than what sounded like shouts underwater. His legs flailed wildly, until they didn’t. Once he stopped fighting, he was slowly consumed by the mass of flesh.
I stood there in abject terror as my mom’s eyes turned to me and teared up. She moaned in pain, the most misery I could ever imagine a person being in. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t equipped to respond to what I was seeing. And I was even less equipped for what followed.
The tumorous growth nearest to me began to break open, a clear, thick water spilling out of it. Then something reached out and pulled itself through the opening. The thing was a mass of stringy limbs, as many as six arms and more legs. Teeth jutted out from all over it, separate from and also inside multiple mouths that contained long, wet tongues, and it had numerous blinking eyes.
It screamed loud and long, and it seemed to be in pain.
That’s when I noticed the floor just past it. It had been removed, and the…thing that was presumably once my mother had grown downward, toward the basement.
My dad’s keys were on the floor next to the door, so I picked them up and ran to the basement door. It took me a minute, but I unlocked the five locks and descended the basement stairs. Down the stairs and to the right was the rest of her…and them.
She had grown down, all the way to the floor, and there were more of the…limbed…things writhing about. More of them, at least fifty in varying sizes, were piled up on the opposite side of the basement from where the crooked mass that was my mother fed through the floor. Another of her sores burst, another monster falling out of it.
I didn’t know what to do. I was in shock. I stood there for at least a half hour watching these things be born into misery, their mess of arms and legs and teeth and eyes begging to understand what and why they were.
I finally snapped out of it and turned to go back upstairs, and that’s when I noticed a message etched into the back of the basement door.
IF YOU ARE SEEING THIS TAKE THE GUN AT THE BOTTOM OF THE STAIRS AND KILL HER
Sure enough, there was a shotgun positioned at the bottom of the stairs. I went back down and grabbed it, then meekly made my way to my mom’s room. The clear liquid from within her had formed a thin river down the hallway, which I avoided as I made the trek down back to the room. My legs shook so violently that I nearly crumbled with every step.
I had never fired a gun before. I didn’t even know we’d had one. We lived in the country, in a place that could be somewhat accurately described as in the middle of nowhere, but we didn’t live a “country” lifestyle. I had the common sense for how to operate the pump-action Mossberg 590, but it was nearly as big as me, and far more intimidating.
I took a reluctant step back into the room where my bloodied, wounded, and presently-birthing mother was howling in pain. I nearly vomited again when I saw my dad.
From a gaping wound on the side that faced me, his mangled, twisted body began being ejected.
But my mother’s gaze took my attention away from that. I took apprehensive, uneasy steps towards her, shaking so much that in retrospect I find it to be a miracle the shotgun didn’t go off prematurely.
Her face was like any other; the stretching and growth of her body hadn’t affected it at all. She had glistening brown eyes that hypnotized me when I looked into them, and I truly believe that she must have been beautiful before…all that. But right then, in that room, part of her brain was visible in the mess of tangled, unkempt hair. She was an amorphous blob of skin and blood and bones and sinew and mouths and teeth and, perhaps most noticeably, fear.
I looked into her shining eyes, eyes still so full of life, and I saw…fear. Pure fear. Anguish. Misery. Pain. Fatigue.
While her mouths moaned and groaned and screamed, her eyes begged for mercy, begged for…all of it to end.
I sobbed. I was experiencing so many things all at once that I could feel my body and mind nearly shut down entirely. There was a fear I hadn’t known and haven’t known since. There was a confusion at what it was I was witnessing and doing in that moment. There was apprehension towards pulling a trigger and ending a life. There was bereavement for my father, whom at that very moment I became very aware of no longer having in my life.
And there was happiness.
A small sliver of happiness.
I had finally met my mom.
It didn’t matter that she was this mutated, mangled mess that had grown to nearly the size of a room and down into the basement. It didn’t matter that she had hideous, bulbous growths and sores all over her body. It didn’t matter that she had consumed my father and spit him out like a chicken bone. It didn’t matter that at that moment she had unimaginable horrors falling out of her wounds and thrashing around in perceived malignancy.
She was my mom.
She was my mom and she needed help.
I used all my strength to pull back on the handgrip and loaded a round into the shotgun.
I lifted it and looked into my mom’s eyes, which sparkled under the bright light above. I watched a tear roll down her…her. It travelled down where her cheek would’ve been, eventually getting lost in a crease of bruised, jagged skin.
Her eyes said more than any of her mouths ever could.
Her eyes told me she loved me, and that what I was doing was okay. That it was what she wanted.
I tried to say “I love you”, but the words got caught in my dry throat and were barely intelligible.
She just looked at me, pleading with her eyes.
I cleared my throat and said it again. “I love you, mom.”
And I pulled the trigger.
My ears rang after the deafening blast from the shotgun exploded from the barrel and splattered me, the walls, and everything else with a mess of blood and that clear, watery substance.
Tumors still opened and those…things still wriggled out. I stood there for a moment, my world spinning around me. I then felt a tug at the bottom of my pajama pants. I looked down and found a gelatenous pile of wet skin and teeth and tongues and holes with one of (that I could see) three arms reaching out, its four jagged, bleeding fingers curled around the cotton at my ankle.
I didn’t want to do it. I honestly didn’t. It just…it seemed like mercy.
I killed it.
Then I killed another.
I killed them until there were no more shells in the gun. There were more lumps on my mom’s corpse with things squirming underneath; I didn’t have it in me to keep looking into these things’ many eyes and ending them. As another monster broke free from the mass that dwelled behind the third door on the left and down into the basement, I retrieved both of the gas cans my dad kept on the back porch, followed by the propane tank from the grill.
And then I listened to it all burn.
The screams of agony dwindled as the flames roared, the short, miserable lives of my brothers and sisters ending in a violent cocktail of gas and fire and smoke. My new reality dawned on me as I walked the 11 miles into town and to the police station.
My dad was dead. Gone.
And at the time I thought I would remember him as a man who, however selfish it may have been, love his wife so much he did everything he could to keep her with him.
But a nearly half a million dollar payout from the will of a man who made less than $10,000 a year and didn’t have life insurance has led me to question who he really was and added to the already mountainous amount of questions I had had about the circumstances surrounding my mother. I’ve accepted that I will likely never know the truth about why my dad kept my mom alive, if it was out of love or some other, more nefarious reason.
What I do know is that I’ve chosen to believe that my mom loved me. That she really did ask after me in between her ever-increasing bouts of misery and birthing.
And I know that I loved her.
And I know that she needed to be set free.