What It Feels Like To Come, See & Conquer

By Sommer Spencer // As Told to Ashley Reiser

The best memories I have with Tracy, my mom, are when she was sober for one year when I was in sixth grade. We went to the movies and shopped all the time. We got our nails done and went to the Chicago Botanical Gardens for fun. My mom actually did things with me. We planted flowers on our balcony, since we lived in an apartment, and we did things a mother and daughter should do. Unfortunately, this relationship didn’t last very long.

She was a raging alcoholic.

The last straw was drawn when one night, I was out with a couple of friends, and she said I got home too late. My mom was drunk, I could tell. She thought I was going to call my dad to pick me up, because that’s what I always did and she hated that. My mom tore the phone out of my hands, scratching my arms trying to grab it. I can vividly remember the smell of alcohol on her breath. I told her she was drunk. I remember wearing a ponytail and her yanking my ponytail back, causing me to drop to the ground. I stood up in a panic and ran from the apartment, and while I was halfway through the apartment door, she slammed it on me, trying to shut the door. The force was so extreme, it broke two ribs on my left side. The very next day, she checked herself into rehab. My mom was in rehab for 90 days, from September to December of my sixth grade year. That entire year, through the next December, she was sober. When my mom came back, that’s when I got kicked out.

My mom passed away last summer and since turning 18, I have had to get my own phone plan, and my dad kicked me off of his health insurance. I felt abandoned. All on my own, I was officially 18, I was an adult. For the past three years, I’ve bought my own amenities like shampoo, clothes, food and sometimes even my own toiletries. I have a steady income from my job. Nothing changed too drastically since turning 18, it’s just the phone bill and health insurance, really.

I think about my mom everyday, I miss her a lot. I have a tattoo to honor her. There are pink tulips because they were her favorite, I have her initials, TS (Tracy Spencer), and then I have a handwritten message she wrote to me on a card on my tenth birthday, “Love of My Life. Love Mom.” It was hard because I have fought on and off with her my whole life, but I always went back to her. I just wanted to feel like I had a mom. I fought with her a lot because she was hanging out with drug addicts and convicts. I didn’t want to be over at her house. I didn’t want to be involved in her troubles, I just wanted to be with my mom. But she wasn’t my mom anymore, I knew that. I’ve called her Tracy for the last three years because I knew she wasn’t my mom.

She was always in and out of the hospital. She would go in, get detoxed, come out, have a fall because she was drunk, then go back in. The workers knew her by name. I was sick and tired of getting calls from the hospital, but one day I picked the phone up anyways. It was from the doctor telling me that she decided to begin Hospice. The doctor begged for me to visit her because I was the only person my mom had requested to see. My dad and I spent all day at the hospital with her from morning to night. I wanted to discuss why she chose Hospice, which is where you go when you’re dying and your life is deteriorating. There’s no getting out. She was going to die there. My parents never really fought after they were divorced, they just avoided each other. It was nice to see him come back and actually talk to her. It was like he was coming back to his wife and trying to help her in her last moments of closure. I actually talked to a grief counselor at the center; she said I should make peace with my mom, to tell her that I forgive her, even after all of the hurtful, life-changing things she had put me through. Forgiving her would mean she could die peacefully. I feel like I never got to tell her that I forgave her because she ended up being too loopy from the morphine. She was not coherent when I finally brought myself to admit I had forgiven her. I sat in the room with my mom and told her that she made me angry, upset, and had hurt me beyond what words can explain. My mom caused me such emotional damage, and I constantly try to fill something that is not there. But I do forgive her for what she’s done and I understand that alcoholism is a disease. I was devastated when I walked into the room, seeing her laying on a hospital bed, no longer breathing; it was traumatizing. I could no longer hold myself together. They asked if I wanted a song to be played for when they carried her out. The song was “Hero of The Day” by Metallica, the San Francisco Symphony version; it had to be the San Francisco Symphony version because that is the only version she liked.

I still have the flowers she was holding in a scrapbook I made. I have the rosary she was holding and the bracelet she was wearing, those are hanging on my wall. I have a lot of her stuff in my closet too, but I’m not ready to go through it yet. I am definitely glad I came to terms with my mom, instead of holding a grudge. Her birthday was January 30th, so that was a little weird. A year ago, I got into a fight with her about how she is never there for me, and now she’s literally not even here. I was sad, but it was more of a weird reality check. It was more of a realization moment than me being upset. Every ordinary day usually blends together for me, but that day, her birthday, was different. It felt like my own reality now, instead of me just going through the motions every day. It was very surreal.

In these next few years after graduation, I’ll be attending the University of Alabama, granted with a full ride scholarship, majoring in marine science and minoring in photography. I know my mom would be proud of me, but I’m more doing this for myself than anyone else. I want to be the exception to the assumption that kids that have a rough childhood grow up to be their parents or grow up to be less successful. I can’t wait to make my statement in this world, to prove to myself my true potential. But most importantly, to prove to others that overcoming adversity is possible and with the right mindset, I can be the best version of myself ever.