“Okay, how are you feeling, hun?” I ask.
She slurs something I can’t understand.
“Are you going to be sick again?”
She looks at me and nods. I sit behind her and gather the loose pieces of hair from around her face. She hurls into the toilet, resting her cheek on the seat causing the orange vomit to run down the side of the bowl.
My close friend and the host of the party help get her tucked into bed. She looks up with a weak smile.
“Thank you, Katie.”
I immediately go to the sink and clean up her mess.
It seems like I am always cleaning up someone else’s mess and taking on others’ responsibilities. I have taken on this neutering, maternal role in my relationships, but I wasn’t always like this.
In my late teen years I was beginning to show a bit of a wild streak. I dyed my hair dark, hoping to rebel from my Goldilocks image. I had even got a surface piercing on my hip.
My high school boyfriend would throw some sort of bash about once a month and buy me a pint of Absolut vodka, because he thought it was more sophisticated than Smirnoff.
I was open about my life and my opinions and rarely worried what others thought of me. Obviously, this was not the same girl cleaning up someone else’s vomit out of a kitchen sink.
“Mother Katie” was the title I earned this summer while working at a kids’ camp. Out of five female counsellors, I was the one who took on the maternal role. I was the one usually called on to deal with homesickness, bullying, nightmares and the non-physical problems.
I kept a special eye on the shy and quiet kids. I became very good at recognizing the early signs of asthmatic distress and always watched for untied shoelaces. I went out of my way to purchase my own, more professional first aid kit, which I rarely went without.
Not only did I act this way with the kids, but I also took on this role with staff. I played the middleman, smoothing over conflicts. If anyone was having personal problems, I’d do my best to make their work load lighter.
But the nickname only confirmed the role I’d been playing for a while.
One night this past spring, I spent nearly 40 minutes of drunken negotiation with a friend, trying to haggle away his skateboard for fear that he would use it to get home. I held on to it for hours and eventually hid it from him at the house where we were partying.
More recently, I got into a confrontation with my best friend at a bar after her ex-boyfriend showed up and she was about to go home with him.
Though I was drunk, I defended her honour while verbally abusing her ex so loudly that I could be clearly heard over the dance music. In her belligerent, drunken state, I managed to get her in the cab with me. She was angry and I was both furious and embarrassed.
It’s possible I adopted this motherly persona as a way to help myself cope with the role I played in my ex-boyfriend’s life as he grieved the death of his best friend. I was 16; I didn’t just want to help him, I wanted to save him.
The day of his friend’s wake, I went with my boyfriend and a handful of his friends. He’d always been a jokester, but that day he was distant and cold. I felt the tension, as though he and his friends were all dominoes waiting for the first to fall. I found myself trying to make polite conversation, little jokes to ease the tension, even holding a few hands.
I’m glad I gave up the dark hair, which never really suited me, and the piercing, which left me with a scar. But I do miss the care-free attitude I had. Now, I find myself unconsciously looking for people to depend on me.
If my job this summer taught me anything, it’s that taking care of others is exhausting. But after a tough break-up this past spring, I also now realize that taking care of others helped me avoid taking care of myself.
“Mother Katie” isn’t the persona I want.
Next time I’ll let someone else clean the vomit out of the sink.
Katelyn DeMerchant is a third-year English student. If you have a personal story you’d like to share for Backstory, email email@example.com