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Fiction Inspirational Coming of Age

“Mary Waverly! Supper’s ready!”

My 5’1” blue eyed, platinum blonde-haired mother was standing at the bottom of the stairs with her apron on, every hair miraculously held in its place behind her pastel pink ribbon of a headband. Somehow, after making homemade macaroni and cheese, sweet potato casserole, and sweet corn bread, her linen pants were spotless, and her pink button down was free of wrinkles or food stains. I shook my head at the memory of her attempts to teach me how to cook like her. Flashbacks of her reprimands played in my mind as I inched my way down our carpeted stairs, my socks causing me to slip a little on our golden-brown hardwood floor. 

“Darlin. Your roots are just God-awful. We have got to get you to the salon before the school year starts,” my mother fussed over my hair, tucking it behind my ears and stepping back to give my entire appearance a scrutinizing look. For some reason, she couldn't help but say whatever was on her mind to me but was able to lie to nearly everyone else in her life. If I had a dime for the amount of times I overheard her talking behind her friends’ backs, I’d be a rich woman. 

“Sweetie, how are you ever goin’ to get a nice boy like Parker Williams to take you out with hair like this?” 

“Mama, I—“ I started to protest.

“Hey, Mama.” My older brother Wesley swooped in, giving my mother a kiss on the cheek and interrupting me. He was in medical school at LSU and home for the summer. He had a beautiful, used-to-be cheerleader girlfriend, whom he was anticipating marrying in the near future. I knew that she was desperate for a ring, because she never failed to mention it every time she got me alone. I’m guessing she thought I’d persuade my brother, but the truth is that he and I have never been very close. It was partly due to my jealousy; he was the golden child of the family. He was going to be a successful surgeon, he had a nice Southern Baptist girlfriend who satisfied all of my mother’s prerequisites, and he never talked back or disagreed with my parents. He was also given the advantages, being the boy child. My parents never doubted him when he told them he was going to declare himself pre-med in college; in fact, they were ecstatic. Their child, a doctor! 

Well, when their daughter wanted to study computer science, they shut her down. I remember crying to my father about it, him insisting that I wasn’t meant for the field. I cried on my mother’s shoulder, only to realize that she was on his side. After that, my senior year of high school, I began to feel very distant from my family. When college began, I hardly showed up at the house, unlike my brother who came home every weekend to eat my mother’s food, praise it, and then go hunting with my father the next day. 

“Wesley, tell your sister her roots are in serious shape!” My mother was relentless. 

Wes chuckled and patted me on the head like I was still just his kid sister and he was about to become this big-shot doctor with a model girlfriend and a perfect house with white shutters and—

“Mary Waverly, you listen to Mama now, she’s a wise woman,” Wesley said, interrupting my thoughts and winking at my mother.

I couldn’t take it anymore. Summer was too long, and I wanted to be back on campus. Even though Oxford was only a few hours away from Clarksdale, it felt like a distance of 500 miles sometimes, especially on humid summer days when I’d sit on the porch with a glass of sweet tea, staring into the distance and dreaming about a future where I was sitting at a desk in some big company, taking coding assignments left and right. I’d envision myself solving complex problems and outperforming all of the boys in class, being praised by the professors and eventually offered a position with Google. Java wouldn't just be a fancy word for coffee for me; it would be an entire new language and world.

But that’s all they were—dreams— and my hope for that future was so long gone that it almost seemed pitiful sometimes. I was almost 21, majoring in hospitality management, and I had yet to find a serious boyfriend, which, as I had figured out by now, was the reason my parents had even sent me to Ole Miss. An M.R.S. degree, that’s what it was. And I began to feel more frustrated and confused with who I was more and more each day. I had my family to thank for that. 

We all sat down at the dinner table together, and my brother began to talk about his internship that summer. He was working with an orthopedic surgeon in New Orleans and likely fooling around on Bourbon until the late hours of the night.

“Mama, Daddy. I saved a man’s life today,” Wes boasted, his grin spreading from ear to ear.

“Wesley, baby, we are so so proud of you. You impress us more and more every day,” My mother cooed, rubbing him on the arm and heaping more sweet potato casserole on his plate. 

“Son, you’ve worn the family name quite well down there in Shreveport. Showin’ em all the McClains don't mess around. That’s my boy.” My father wore a proud look on his face. 

“Well, school starts in a few days, Mary Waverly. I hope you bring a nice boy like your brother home to meet the family this year,” My mother hinted for the millionth time.

“Mary Waverly,” My father had a stern look on his face. “We didn’t send you down there for nothing, you know. We’re spendin a lot of money on this. College is where your mom and I met, you know. Your mother was studying hospitality management, just like you are, and I was studying pre-law. We met at a fraternity party. Don’t you go to plenty of those?”

His face told me that he was only really partly joking.

“Daddy, I’ve got plenty of time. I’m only 20! I’m just picky. Don’t you want the best for your little girl?” I tried my best to play the role of the good southern daughter, but sometimes the words I forced myself to say felt like grainy sugar coating the enamel of my teeth, and it became almost unbearable.

My father chuckled. “That’s my girl. I don’t trust half of those boys down there, anyhow. I remember quite well what I was like when I was that age. Nothin but trouble.” 

Yeah, but he seemed nostalgic. 

My mother flirted across the table. “Oh, William, you are somethin’ else. He was the perfect gentleman. Opened my car door for me and called me ‘Miss Stevens’.”

“Well, Missy, what can I say? My momma raised me right,” My father said right back.

They made me sick. 

Suddenly, the conversation shifted as I was drifting off into a world where I had secretly changed my major and started on a new path.

“Mary Waverly! Honey, I am talkin’ to you.” My mother snapped at me.

“Ma’am?” I replied, my daydream rudely interrupted. 

“You are gonna come with me tomorrow to my luncheon with the girls at Cracker Barrel down in Jackson. I think it’s a good thing for you right now. It’s the annual mother-daughter luncheon. You know Anna Margaret, right? She’s in Kappa Delta at Ole Miss.”

“I’m babysitting tomorrow,” I lied. Anna Margaret was literally the devil incarnate.

“Well, cancel it! This is important to me, darlin’. You know that,” She looked at me with such disdain that I—reluctantly—agreed.

“Alright, Mama.”

“That’s my girl. We are gonna have a wonderful time,” She beamed from ear to ear and my father nodded at me in approval. 

I needed some air. 

***

Mississippi is not romantic; it’s dirt roads that go on for miles, the kind you get on with your old beaten up car in high school when that boy broke up with you and you just drive and drive and drive. And then suddenly the sun has set and the innocent gravel roads under vast blue skies don’t seem so innocent anymore, and the pitch black darkness of a North Mississippi highway at night begins to haunt you. And you can’t turn back because it keeps pushing you forward, leading you to your fate. 

“Mary Waverly! I swear, if I have got to call your name one more time, I am gonna just…” My mother’s face was red as the devil, and her hands were shaking. I clearly hadn’t picked a suitable time to zone out. 

Anna Margaret snickered under her breath, her matching bracelets jangling as she covered her snarky smile.

“Sorry, Mama. What is it?” I mumbled, looking down at my full plate of crawfish, stuffing a generous piece of corn bread into my mouth. 

My mother sighed with such might that I was almost worried she knocked the wind out of herself. She was a delicate woman, which, as she and my father believed, was how a good Southern woman was supposed to be. 

“Mary Waverly,” She said impatiently. “Anna Margaret is coming to Ole Miss this fall, as you know, and she wants to rush Tri-Delt. Isn’t that exciting? I said you’d be her mentor.”

Oh, my God. 

“Mama,” I started, nervously. “That’s just not how it works. You see, we aren’t supposed to really pick anyone ahead of time. That’d be like…cheating.”

“Aww, but you’d do that for me, right Mary Waverly? I mean, we’re practically family.” Anna Margaret formed her lips into a pout and slapped an innocent look on her face. What an act. I knew damn well that girl hated me. She had accused me several times of being a lesbian, which she found ‘absolutely disgusting’. I, for one, could not care less what that snake thought of me. The fact that I had never had a serious boyfriend was alarming to quite a few of my relatives and close family friends. I admit that I was a bit more hopeful about boys and men and relationships in general before college, but after seeing the disgraceful things boys in fraternities did to girls, I turned my cheek to the male gender as a whole. The fraternity boy was the only type of boy I had ever known, and he was a liar, a cheat, and a rapist. I felt I was better off alone. 

“Sorry, Anna. I wish there was something I could do!” I called her by her first name only on purpose, something she hated.

“Anna Margaret, Mary Waverly. Why put such a beautiful name to waste?” Her mother said, glancing at me. 

My mother, sensing the tension at the table, did what she did best: changed the subject to keep things perfectly peachy. “Anna Margaret, darlin. Tell us what you’ll be studying up at Ole Miss!”

“Hospitality management,” Anna Margaret answered, her eyes brightening. “No more of that awful calculus or science I had to take in high school. It’s all over, thank the Lord.”

“Oh, darlin, I hated math,” My mother laughed. “Leave that stuff to the men of the house. Our boys are so talented. You know, Wesley had to take all of that stuff, and—would you believe it—all As and Bs. Amazing. That boy, he’s a smart one. I’m proud of him more every day.”

At this point, I was so boiled up with anger that I could barely hold it in any longer. I made perfect grades in high school in math and science; I outdid Wesley by a mile. It wasn’t fair that he was the one getting all the recognition, being called the “smart” child. 

“Mary Waverly,” Anna Margaret’s mother turned toward me, a fake smile plastered across her face. “Why don’t you tell Anna Margaret all about hospitality management? I know you’re studying that, too. It’s a good major for good girls like you too.”

“I hate it,” I said bluntly, heated in the moment and tired of suppressing my emotions. I abruptly stood up, got out of my chair, and pushed it in aggressively, walking away and leaving before I could do any more damage. And, then, that was it. I’d decided. I would switch my major as soon as humanly possible. I’d cram 4 years worth of computer science classes into 2 years. Who was stopping me, really? I’d lie to my parents through my teeth and claim I was continuing on the same path.

***

“Mary Waverly, darlin’, it’s time to get those roots of yours fixed!” My mother called from downstairs in her perfect drawl. “And bring that darlin’ pink duffel down the stairs so I can put it in the vehicle.”

“Coming!” I shouted. 

Move in day for me was today, right after I got my hair re-dyed, of course. I wasn’t sure how I felt about starting the new school year; Ole Miss never felt like home to me, but I did enjoy the independence I had being away from home as well as the lack of irritating comments from my mother. My mind wandered back to the night before as I had locked all of my doors and flipped open my purple laptop in the pitch-black darkness to change my major at one in the morning. I remembered the adrenaline rush I had felt, and the quiet calm that came after, like stepping off an enormous roller coaster and feeling your feet back on the steady, certain ground. The future was uncharted territory, that was for sure, but I felt more like myself than I ever had. And that was a start.

October 31, 2020 04:23

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7 comments

David Lastinger
02:25 Nov 12, 2020

This was a great story as I grew up in the South and heard all of the accents again in my head. The struggle to find your identity in college is real and made more tough by a set of parents like that. Thanks for sharing.

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Iris Silverman
20:51 Nov 20, 2020

Thank you so much! I'm glad you can relate. Growing up in the South definitely has its challenges :-0

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:48 Nov 04, 2020

“I was so boiled up” Just like the crawfish she’s eating! Could you maybe sneak in that little simile, just for me? 😋 I love the setting of this, anyway. I’ve never been to the U.S. but if I ever do I’ll definitely pay the south a visit, maybe Louisiana or something, and stuff myself with gumbo and hot sauce And I love the final paragraph. The gravity of it, and just how relatable it is. The rollercoster analogy literally gave me flashbacks. Awesome stuff! 😙

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Iris Silverman
18:37 Nov 04, 2020

Thank you so much for your comment! I can absolutely sneak in that simile about crawfish-- I love that! I can't believe I didn't think of it! Haha! I guess that's one of the reasons why the Reedsy community is so helpful. Thanks for the great idea:) Louisiana is a super cool place! New Orleans, Louisiana is so fun and has such great food and a lot of night life! You will definitely not leave hungry! Thanks so much for the feedback. I really appreciate it. I'll check your stories out:)

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Rayhan Hidayat
20:55 Nov 04, 2020

No worries! And thanks for the tips 😙

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11:26 Nov 10, 2020

Great story

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11:26 Nov 10, 2020

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