Because, because... two words that mean nothing when you hear them, but are heavy when you say them. They are used to slam doors shut and keep them that way, but the doors still shudder...
"Mommy, I want to open the door. I want. Want to go play. I’m going to cry. No, whine. I need the door. To open. Let me be free. Open it. Now, if you can. Soon, if you can’t. I need you, but I need free, too. Love me." The child whines, and cries.
"The door is locked, light of my life, my entire life, and you can’t go out to play. Play here, inside. Where you can’t get hurt. Where I can see you and love you. Where we are. Our space. Our air. Our safe." The mother says what all mothers do: No. Because I said so.
"I want there. That space. Ours, too." The child has no understanding of No. Not now. Maybe never.
"No, you can’t go in the back yard. It might get dark and I would lose you. You wouldn’t be then, and I would die. You’re a baby and don’t know about mortality. You only know me, and I am only a mortal." The mother hopes the child will never understand what she is saying.
"It’s only the back yard, Mommy. I want... I must go..." The child tries a different argument. Her I becomes louder, approaching a wail, and ears hurt.
(No, because I say so. Because.)
No, you can’t go out. You’re only 3. Why would you ever? You are my only baby, because the others are all dead and they haunt me. You don’t know. I need you to live. I will never let you go and never let you die. Never let you go into the back yard by yourself, not now, not ever.
I promise to be good. Stay and not haunt you like the gold coins you wanted but never could hold because they died inside you. See? I am little, but I knew. I can be outside you, outside here, and not forget you.
No. You cannot go. You are three and leaving is impossible. Because I said so, and I need so. If you leave, I must go with you. There are only two of us, and both are you.
(There must be a real reason for this, and a memory that shares it. The coins do, in fact, tell a story.)
(Here is another story, a different one. It is somebody else's story, but the mother heard it when she was very little herself, so it feels like it belongs to her.)
Once a boy was riding on the side of an old car, the kind that still had a step to get in. It was probably black. The little boy rode that way, on the outside, and was happy. That was, in fact, his name - Happy. Seven is the age when no child is sad, after all. The boy rode on the car - it was not going very fast, it was not a big road - until he fell off, and was gone. No longer happy or Happy, he was dead. His parents never smiled again. They knew their mistake. They gave him freedom, and he left.
I cannot let that happen to you, in the back yard. I cannot let you go out. Forever here, with me, and alive. You have to stay here. Because I said so. End of story.
Momma, I want to go out. I must go for a ride on that motorcycle. I know it, I know it is safe. Just once around the block, once around the town. Or once to the next town over, just two miles down Route 31. No farther. It's safe. I'll be safe. Do not worry. He's always careful. I can open the door...
No, and because I said so. My argument: No motorcycle comes with a guarantee of safety.
(Here is another story. I begin to hum it, hoping my daughter will not hear me.)
The song begins to cry in my ears. The song that was never a lullaby. With a name I never liked, a boy I certainly never liked. Black leather jacket, black leather boots, tough. Black hair. Sideburns. Stinking of cigarettes, a lost cause for school, in love with his cigarettes. Cruising, then fatally bruised, when his motorcycle sped beneath a truck. Jimmy Mack was the song, Jimmy Mack, why don’t you hurry back? The song that was not about a shattered boy, just a shattered love. But my memory was about a real Jimmy Mack, and he was shattered. His body in a tree, beheaded.
You cannot go through that door to ride on a motorcycle. You do not have my permission to die. Stay inside, now and forever. Unless you want to go into the back yard and play. After all, you are thirteen. Big enough for the back yard, but not for a motorcycle. Never for a motorcycle.
Mom, I'm going for a ride with George. He's got his father's car for the evening. He's seventeen now and can drive at night. We will be careful and I can open the door myself. I'm not three anymore.
No, you can’t go in the car with George. I've seen him driving it around town and I don't him or his means of transportation. The motor's too loud, the tires are too large, and are for racing. A big ego on wheels. Not for my daughter. Please stay home. No, not please: Stay home!
Because I said so and because I'm starting to hear another song in my head.
(This song is a sad story, but at least it's not real.)
Laura and Tommy were lovers
He wanted to give her everything
Flowers, presents and most of all, a wedding ring
(They were far too young to be thinking about marriage.
He saw a sign for a stock car race
A thousand dollar prize it read
(This is definitely not the way to get rich quick.)
He couldn't get Laura on the phone
So to her mother, Tommy said
Tell Laura I love her, tell Laura I need her
Tell Laura I may be late
I've something to do, that cannot wait
(Most boyfriends don't tell their girlfriends' mothers this. Mothers shouldn't know things like this.)
He drove his car to the racing grounds
He was the youngest driver there
And the crowed roared as they started the race
'Round the track they drove at a deadly pace
No one knows what happened that day
How his car overturned in flames
(It was a stupid race and they were going fast. That's how it happened. It happened in this song from 1960 and it can happen today. Fast is fast, and stupid is... dangerous.)
But as they pulled him from the twisted wreck
With his dying breath, they heard him say
Tell Laura I love her, tell Laura I need her
Tell Laura not to cry
My love for her will never die
(I have to admit, it's still a sad song, and Laura probably got over losing Tommy, but I can't help wondering what would have happened if she had been in the car with him. Can't help thinking what could happen if my daughter were in the car with George and his car with the racing tires - I know it's his, not his father's - got revved up and...)
Because I said so: No. You can't go for a ride with George, not to the end of the driveway, the end of the street, or the end of the world. Not even to the back yard. No.
Let me tell you the story of my high school boyfriend, daughter. This one doesn't have a song in it and isn't about a boy who was gone long before I was born. This is a true story, too. Well, it's true, except for the boyfriend part. By the time this happened, he was no longer my boyfriend, even though I was far from over him. I kept hoping he would come back to me, but he never did. Maybe he deserved it, but I didn't think so back then and I still don't.
Mom, are you going to tell me the story or not?
All right, honey, here's the story:
My "boyfriend" was a year old than I was and had started college. He commuted every day in his own car. I don't know what make...
Mom, the make of the car is irrelevant.
Maybe so, but I still wish I could remember. Anywway, he was commuting every day, like I said. It was about twenty or twenty-five miles at least, and took a little more than half an hour to get there.
Mom, is this part relevant?
I think so, and in a minute you'll understand. My "boyfriend" went five days a week -
Mom, you already said that -
and he also took another student with him. She was three years older than he was, so I wasn't jealous -
Mom, get to the point, please -
My point is that they were just commuting every day along a straight road they both knew well from driving it all the time.
Until one day, when it was sunny and warm and life was perfect -
Mom, move along -
when a truck of some kind came barreling down the road (it wasn't a huge highway) and slammed into my "boyfriend's" car.
What happened, Mom? Why did it happen? Couldn't he get out of the way?
It happened really fast, they told me. My "boyfriend" ended up with a smashed jaw they had to wire shut. I can still see him in the hospital, sipping juice through a straw, his lovely face without his usual glasses, swollen and distorted. He was never the same again, at least in appearance. I don't know about his mental state, because after he allowed me to visit him in the hospital, he never would see me again.
Mom, did he blame you for the accident? That would be absurd!
No, daughter, he didn't, but he just shut down. He certainly wasn't much to look at any more, but I still loved him.
Mom, is that the whole story? Because it's kind of weird you're brining it up.
No, honey. I haven't gotten to the part where the young woman riding with him got thrown against the windshield, but also the rearview mirrow got driven into her brain. I believe I recall she died four days later.
Why did she die?
No, why did the accident even happen on a sunny morning, on that road?
Daughter, the truck driver was drunk. It was eight o'clock in the morning and he was drunk. I never heard what happened to him and didn't dare ask. I didn't go to Anna's funeral, even though I knew her family. Her father was a lawyer.
That's not relevant, Mom. The lawyer part. The funeral part.
I know, dear, only the accident part is relevant. It's why I don't want you to go out with George in his car.
There's another story. Sit and listen:
I had a cousin who was absolutely beautiful, even though that's also irrelevant. All I remember is that Pat was almost exactly my age and was in a car with five friends. I think it was at night and it was winter. They may have been out for a Christmas party.
Mom, I think I know where this is going...
You do. They were hit by a car or a motorcycle and Pat was killed instantly. Her father, my uncle, pretty much committed slow suicide after that, drinking himself to death. Like I said, Pat was beautiful. Like you are. She didn't live to be twety. Like you will.
What does this have to do with me?
What I'm saying is that I don't think I can ever let you leave the house in a car. I don't even want you to cross the s treet by yourself. I hate motorcycles, and now that I think about it, there are martens and foxes in the back yard sometimes, although that's mostly at night. Cats have been disappearing in the neighborhood, I've heard. It's not safe out there.
Why don't you just stay here with me? We can listen to some old music or watch a couple of movies. I'll make some popcorn and we can top it off with some butter pecan ice cream I just got this afternoon. Just like my mother and I used to do when I was a little girl, before I was allowed to go out on my own.
How old were you when you were finally allowed to go out, by the way?
I'd rather not tell you.
Why not, Mother?
Because I said so. It's something you don't need to know.