This story is too dark for childhood, but I tell it anyway.

“Get out!” She has me up against the wall, in the kitchen, right by the refrigerator, and is shaking my shoulders. “And don’t come back.” Later, she will say she never said it, but I remember. Why do I remember it so clearly----the way you only remember the few moments that truly changed your life forever--- if she never said it?

I had never thought it would come to this. Maybe no true child of her mother ever thinks it will come to this. In that moment, shaking me in the kitchen, she isn’t my mother anymore. In that moment, she is not the mother who sang me to sleep, or lured me toward my first word with a slice of apple; she is pure white anger and fear (a mother’s fear that I am taking a road she has not chosen for me, but it is hard for me to see that then.) I am frightened with a child’s fear (the primal fear of lines being redrawn in a relationship I have counted on since before I was born), but I am surprised to discover that I have pure white anger in me too, and I am trembling with both—a nauseating heart-racing hand-trembling leg-weakening combination of fear and anger--- as I climb the stairs to my bedroom.

I pull out my backpack---an expensive brown leather gift, under the Christmas tree hung with the same bubble lights we've had since I was in grammar school, from the very woman who had me up against that wall down in the kitchen. I start to fill the pack with what I need to wear the next day. I am shaking, but practical and focused. I remember, even, to put in underwear, and my favorite skirt---the black one with the tiny white polka dots, and a black tunic top that never wrinkles. I remember to add black pantyhose and my favorite shoes, funky black tie-up shoes with chunky heels. The shoes have to go on top, because I pack them last, and I find, as my fingers fumble with the latch, that the pack will not quite close over them. It’s as if the backpack itself cannot quite swallow what’s happening.

Back down the stairs, still shaking, trying not to let it show, one shoe precariously on edge in the pack that weighs heavy and full with the finality of this moment. A little audience has gathered there at the bottom of the stairs…my dad, my little nephew, and her.

“What are you going to say? What excuse are you going to use for getting thrown out?” She baits me. That is the last time she will ever acknowledge what she actually said. Maybe she won’t want to acknowledge it because she will wish it never happened; maybe she will wish, in the mother part of her heart, that things between us had never changed. I know I will.

Now though, a cold fury shines in her eyes.

I don’t say anything, but I am thinking, “You bitch.” Well, maybe that wasn’t exactly what I was thinking. I don’t think I learned that it was safe to call her a bitch, even in the privacy of my own mind, until years later…because she is my mother.

My nephew is staring up at me with wide blue eyes, so I tell him good night in a really calm sweet voice just to make him feel better, which is like when she and Dad used to fight and call the fights “heated discussions” to make my sister and I feel better. It doesn’t really work, but he is just a child, so he won’t figure that out until he’s my age.

I say good night to Dad in almost the same voice I use on my nephew. I can remember a lot, but I can’t remember if he tried to stop me. I don’t think he did, because he didn’t really have it in him to get in between me and Mom, directly, right there in the moment, like that. It’s kind of even a miracle that he was there at the bottom of the steps, and not in his recliner, with the TV turned way up, ignoring the whole thing.

Later---days later, when I come back to get my clothes, when we are still only barely speaking to each other, she will tell me, coldly, how Dad was up all night, making phone calls, trying to find me. She won’t tell me that she was up all night, either because she doesn’t want to expose the mother part of her heart… or because---and this is what I fear--- she actually slept. She will also tell me not to ever worry about her, but to never hurt my father like that again. That still hurts, to this day, because it makes it sound like he is still my father, but she is not so much, anymore, my mother.

Now, I grab my purse and my keys. The precariously-placed shoe falls in the driveway, and I grab it back and stuff it in the pack. I know where I am going, and I am used to driving to calm down. I often bolt out of the house and drive around when she and I fight. But, somewhere, in my heart, the hardened but frightened heart of what used to be her little girl---I know tonight is different. I drive, although I have no memory of it.

I remember the shoe falling again---like a final refrain of protest against reality----as I yank my pack out of the car. I remember the doorbell echoing---long and loud---while I waited, trembling anew, now that it's okay for the shaking to show. Then all I remember is being safe, in a place where I could finally fall into someone’s arms and cry. I cry a child’s tears for what I have lost. But I cry, too, from a new place, a stronger place, a place where I am no longer, in exactly the same way, a child and a place, too, where she is no longer, in exactly the same way, my mother. I cry from a place where I am, in a new way, an adult.

No matter what my mother says about how it never happened---I still remember, and I know I always will. After all, how can I forget? I wonder….deep down, in the mother part of her heart, does she remember too?

October 15, 2019 16:26

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