Line drawing of California which morphs into NYC skyscrapers at the top
Artwork by Jack Kendall (BA ’24)

In the age of the twenty-first century, white picket fences and cookie-cutter homes were widely outdated for white America. The new wave of concrete accommodations was sweeping through the hippy-dippy beach town of Encinitas, California. As millennials lazed in luxury, some folks had stories, a past to reconcile with, and that is where my life begins. 

Sadly, this story doesn’t begin in California nor does it end there. It starts with a young lawyer, driven by opportunity and wealth. She read every book that was available as she climbed the ladder of knowledge, yet she was swimming in a pool of addiction. Her mother decided it was time to hit rehab in an attempt to turn a new leaf. In an act of congratulation, the young lady took a flight from D.C. to Austin, Texas. There she would learn: 1) her own mother was far from sober; and 2) a cute junky is a painful kryptonite. 

Six months later, with a lump in her belly, she was on her way to California. When they arrived they were met with the sea breeze and high tax rates. While she was out working, he was inside drinking, an unorthodox contortion of the American dream everyone so desperately strives for. She found a firm and worked for the apartment owners as a legal consultant in return for free housing. As smart as she was, the junkie was smarter. As he played his act, pretending he was working from home, he was subtly draining all of her assets for his fix. By the time I was born, her money ran dry. 

My only memory of my father was his last day in town. He came in stumbling, going straight for a beer. My mom blocked him holding me in her arms and said, “you either get a job or get out.” I had never seen so much anger, but that day, I saw the true embodiment of rage. With guitar in hand, he slammed it on my mom’s head. She fell to the ground. In tears, I looked at him as he casually went outside and smoked a cigarette. Mom got up, then she grabbed me and ran. I’d never seen her so scared, so helpless, so tired. This seems like a good time to introduce these two characters even though it may already be glaringly obvious. The working woman is my mother, and the drunk is my father. In the end, he split, but not without draining every single penny my mom had worked for. 

We were free, and it felt great. We were also poor, but nothing mattered because my mom and I were together. She was a writer for the local newspaper, making fifty dollars a story, and another twenty if she was lucky to get the photo that ran with her article. The memories of city hall meetings, local gatherings, and structural unveilings still sit in my mind today as I joined my mother in her daily excursions. It may seem like modest times, but that was all we needed. It erased the thought of frugal wages and paying off her law school debt, while my confusion of why all my friends had two parents and behemoth homes slowly faded. 

By the time I was in high school, tensions started rising between my mom and me. I was no longer a ball of innocence, and she was sadly no longer my best friend. I had grown, and she wasn’t ready to accept that. It was turning into the power struggle I had seen my friends and their parents go through, yet ours was different. It was only the two of us; she had some baggage tied to mental health and addiction, and I was slowly developing my own. Cigarettes and weed became my therapy for the degenerative feelings that sifted through my skull. It was fast times, filled with tomfoolery, disorderly conduct and a whole lotta laughter. My mother knew all too well the life I was living. Hell, if it weren’t for pot we might’ve been just fine, but that wasn’t the case. We would always make it clear that we loved each other, yet it was hard to coexist. Fights, verbal, yet sometimes physical, would turn my whole mood upside down, enhancing the new found feelings that I didn’t reconcile with till years later. I became angry, on edge, and susceptible to any argument that was waiting for a second person. I was an actor, and a damn good one at that. No one saw the pain, simply just a smile. As I fell into my own hole, my mother was plummeting. Mom had to fight to get where she was, and she didn’t take shit from anyone. For a good portion of my life, I had never seen the woman cry, until her mother overdosed at age fifty-nine. I loved Nana, and so did Mom, but I didn’t know the tears rolling down my mother’s cheek were tears not only sadness and grief, but guilt as well. Nana was the symbol of false hope, addiction, and poverty. Yet mom still held onto her till the day Nana died. She never quite let go. 

My mother’s life would have to be a whole separate narrative, but regardless she was always met with struggle. Drug-addicted parents, dead brother, dead sister, vile family, the whole nine yards. She had lost so much that I never thought anything else could affect her. This was far from the case. I watched closely as her patience with me and the rest of the world slowly depleted. The books turned to bottles, and movie night turned into fight night. I could never come to grips with our relationship. Here we were, constantly at odds, openly resenting each other with passion, yet she was still my mother. I still loved her. 

Junior year of high school was not my finest hour. Alcohol poisoning almost killed me  (twice), I had copious amounts of weed on me at all times (earning my spot in the echelons of local drug dealers), and developed an odd salvia habit (not recommended). I was hopeful to start turning things around until I heard that my uncle had hanged himself. My family seldom talked about mental health because that just wasn’t a topic of conversation, yet after Uncle Tommy’s death I learned about a long line of depression in my family. It oddly gave me a sense of comfort, knowing that I was not the only one with an unexplainable illness. I quickly buried his death in the catacombs of bad vibes and schlepped along. 

By the time I was in high school, mom had found a good paying job as a state worker. This was an upgrade from local beat writing, yet I still had to work to fund necessities such as beer and used surfboards. I learned through my labor that the Tucker family genes are absolutely hit or miss. Addiction and arthritis are a given, however work ethic and persistence are also present. The need for current and future funds prompted me to work two jobs throughout the summer of 2020, and at this point in time, I was feeling good about myself. This was the first time in a while. Watching my life unfold through my own eyes, I could see a rollercoaster pattern. High highs were met with the lowest of lows. The great Tyrone Davis taught me, “What goes up, must come down,” and sure enough, I soon found myself in a familiar predicament. 

I had recently invested a chunk of my earnings into a sweet ’09 Vespa. It was what I wanted in terms of transportation, and what I needed as an escape from my house. Tensions were at an all time high with mom and me. Governor Newsom had cut her salary by 18 percent in light of Covid-19, and money was extremely tight. I was the punching bag, an outlet of rage and anger for mom to use at leisure. On the way to work, I swung by a friend’s house to pick up some clothes. He lived on the hill of Birmingham, a riveting slanted slab of concrete that was notorious for fast driving. I was going about thirty, when all of a sudden, I looked up to see bright red brake lights right in front of me. I panicked, and in a split second decision I turned and braked at the same time. I proceeded to go airborne, spinning and flipping till I met the pavement with force. I slid about fifty feet till the Vespa came back and hit my knee, tearing my MCL. The adrenaline allowed me to zombie walk to work, the half-corpse, half-man trudged through Cardiff, California. I made it through a four-hour shift then collapsed on the grass outside the restaurant. My body had been drained, while my mind slowly began regressing from its high-alert state. I came back home and was met with a cold stare. “Wow, you are just like your father,” were her first words. From there on, I couldn’t hear anything she said. I went upstairs and packed a bag. As I left the house, the door locked behind me. It wasn’t the first time I had left, yet this time felt different. I didn’t know where to go, but I was certain here wasn’t it. Not now, and not ever again. 

A week later, I came back to the house to get the rest of my belongings. It was quite awkward watching her try to apologize, seemingly unfitting for the type of person she was. Then the waterworks came flowing. For the first time in my life, I saw my mother’s pride disintegrate. She came to the realization that what she thought was in my best interests was actually crippling the relationship she and I had built. That day was probably the hardest day of my life. I said goodbye and shut the door. As I lived independently, my mind was a mess, yet I found solace in music and began to play more than ever. I began to write more to express my thoughts and emotions, somewhat of a foreign concept at the time. I wrote songs about mom, and found myself missing her. As time went on, I went out to eat with her on several occasions. Each time she looked worse than the last. I knew this was killing her, so we set on an agreement that I would spend my last two weeks in the state at home. All while this was happening I had got into NYU, for myself, a dream school of sorts. It was the saving grace I needed, I could finally smell freedom. It was our last day together and we were packing the mounds of accessories I was taking to college. I’ll never forget what she said to me as we packed the last bag. She whispered, “Shawlin, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, a whole lot of them, but you were the greatest mistake I ever made.” In ironic fashion, that was what I needed from her. I always knew she loved me, it was just hard for her to express it. At that moment, I knew I didn’t have to worry about never having a relationship with my mother in the future. It was one of the most rewarding feelings I had ever felt. 

As I soared over the clouds en route to the concrete jungle, I could see my home. No specific home that is, yet the environment that I had once detested was now giving me sweet emotion. Maybe I wasn’t so bad after all, and maybe what lies within someone’s story is just context for the future. I know I will always carry baggage, but it’s my choice on which bags to take. Something that may have been crippling, can now be captivating. We as humans choose what we hold on to and vise versa. My mother and I may not have a perfect relationship, yet the nuance layered within our lives is much more special than I could’ve ever imagined.  

Back to Top