All scars tell a story.
They are the bruises on a heart; dark secrets buried deep inside a weary mind.
Or the marks on a door frame.
Smudged pencil lines. Faded blue and black ink. Frozen moments worn with time.
These are the scars that I bear.
It is the mere memory of her that tears my heart asunder. Strawberry locks frame an oval face, accented by amber tinted eyes and a pointed nose. Lavender and honey perforate the air, smelling of long summer days and sweet tea laced with the succulent golden nectar.
Ever so lightly, I brush the tips of my fingers across the immortalized memories of myself growing up through the years.
In 1995, I was the shortest in my class; it was also the first year I remembered seeing her demon accidentally reveal itself: a shiny, thin bottle that sloshed with some sort of sour liquid.
I glance upward, fast forwarding a few years to 2000. Fifth grade, if my memory served me correctly. My first choir concert in front of a large audience, and she promised to attend but her seat, her empty, empty seat stared back at me from the stage, hollow and dark.
By 2004, a freshman in high school, my growing days were over. Like other normal kids, I shot up the height ladder and finally ended my spree around 5'8”, nearly the same height as her. But she rarely took notice. The only thing large enough to warrant her attention back then was the next trip to the liquor store to replenish her bottles.
I pause for a moment, nerves prickling my spine as several memories hit me full force, knocking me back until my legs bump into the bottom stair. I collapse, shaking, as years of buried memories force me to remember what came next.
2005. She marked my height on the door frame with a stale breath, slurring her words about the color of my hair – I had dyed it a caustic green because I craved her attention. I wanted her to look at me. To see me. But she only said, “grass. Grass hair.”
2006. My father left. He left because she couldn't get her drinking under control, and her counselor from the AA meetings kept calling, but she blocked his number. She didn't want the help; she didn't want to sit in a meeting with other reckless human beings who were fighting the same fight every day. They wanted to come back, because they had intentions of stopping, of getting their coveted sobriety coins. She'd rather stay home and drink.
2007. It was my junior year, and prom season. She did the nicest thing she'd ever done for me: left $200 on the counter so I could buy myself a nice dress. And I did, but not without problems. I went out with my friends and bought a secondhand dress. It was the color of sunflowers, shimmering gold with lace. On the night of prom, she vomited all over it. I spent my prom night holding her hair back as she whispered broken promises about getting better, getting sober.
I close my eyes and hold my breath, gathering myself. When I open them, I look at the final mark on the door frame. It is the very last time she ever recorded my height with my name, and the date.
It was the day of my high school graduation, in 2008. The house was filled with family members who came to show their support. Everyone was smiling, including her. She told me how proud she was of me as she drew the line. Making the mark. Recording the last scar.
I graduated the top of my class, just shy of valedictorian status. As I crossed the stage to receive my diploma, I scanned the crowd. I found my family easily in the stands; they all wore lime green matching t-shirts so that I could spot them without much trouble. I smiled at each of them, but then my smile faltered. It died. It died in front of the entire audience. Because she was not there.
Her seat was empty.
I stand up from the stairs, and approach the frame. I stare at her handwriting, always at a slant and barely legible.
Why, mom, why? I think to myself. A silent tear falls down my face. Even in the end, you chose your demon.
My graduation party was set for after the ceremony. But I didn't go. I wasted the night of my graduation on my knees, screaming at the darkened sky, thick with stars twinkling millions of light years away. My father tried to calm me down, but I was too far gone. I felt burdened with overwhelming grief, of deafening loss. Of a life that I wanted, but never had.
She crashed her car while driving to my graduation, killing another innocent person in the process. Her blood alcohol level was over two times the legal limit. A half empty bottle somehow survived the impact, but she did not.
Her demon had won.
“Are you almost ready to go?” A hesitant voice asks behind me. I blink, and turn my head. Standing there in the doorway is a pretty little thing, ten going on twenty. She is wearing the standard white shirt and black slacks required for a choir concert.
“Come here,” I say, beckoning her. From my purse, I pull out a pen. “Will you do me a favor?”
She approaches slowly, glancing around the house that was once a home. It's been empty for nearly fourteen years, but it still belongs to me. My father did not want the house, so I became its caretaker straight out of high school.
“What do you want me to do?” She asks.
I hand her the pen. “One last mark,” I say, “it's tradition.”
She eyes the writing utensil, then looks up at the frame. “You were so short, mama,” she says, amused.
I smile sadly, and nod for her to take it. She does, and stands on her tiptoes to draw the line at the top of my head. She is tall, too, and will probably pass me in a couple years.
“Write my name, and date it,” I instruct, stepping back. I am a tad bit taller than the last time, but so much has changed since then.
We stand together, a mother and a daughter. I am not perfect, but I try. I try, where my own did not. I am present, while my own was absent. I am better than she was, because I am stronger than my own demons.
“Does it really even matter?” She asks, gesturing to the door frame. “This will all be gone soon.”
Tomorrow, the city will be tearing down the house. It has sat abandoned for so many years. I do not live here; my father is now gone, and nothing is tying me to this house except for the memories.
And isn't that what scars are, anyway? Memories? You can take away an item, a place or a person, but you carry these kind of things with you always.
“It matters to me,” I reply, slinging my arm around her shoulder. “All scars tell a story, and these are the ones I bear.”
She nods, and we exit the house. The wind picks up as we leave, and I swear for just a fleeting moment, I smell lavender and honey.