I will always love you. Never forget that. But I have to do this.
No matter how many times Blanche read the letter, her eyes always came back to this one line. It was the line that haunted her dreams, causing her to wake in a cold sweat. She could almost hear James’ voice, speaking aloud as he wrote the words. It was how he wrote all his letters.
She raised the crinkled white letter to her nose, inhaling the scent, and then brought it to her lips, brushing the paper against them.
The slam of the front door brought her back to reality. She quickly folded the letter, placed it in the wrinkled envelope, and shoved it behind a pair of black pantyhose. She closed the door, just as a voice downstairs called out, “Mom, are you home?”
Taking a deep breath, Blanche yelled back, “Yes, darling. I’ll be down in a minute.”
When she arrived downstairs, she found her daughter stretched out on the couch in front of the TV, remote control in her hand, flipping through the channels. She went over and smoothed her daughter’s hair back from her face and kissed the top of her head. Morgan tried to pull away slightly; she claimed that she was too old for hugs and kisses or any display of affection from her mother.
“How was school today, honey?”
Morgan shrugged. “It was alright.” She had finally settled on a channel and her eyes were glued to the screen.
Blanche nodded and made her way into the kitchen. Soon, Morgan would want to know when dinner was ready and if she could have a snack while she waited. So, Blanche began cutting up some celery and put some peanut butter on the side. Morgan may be too old for hugs and kisses, but she still loved celery and peanut butter.
Just as Blanche was placing the chicken in the oven, she saw out of the corner of her eye Morgan standing in the doorway.
“Yeah, honey. Dinner will be ready in an hour and a half. There’s some celery and peanut butter for you to eat while you wait.”
Morgan nodded, but made no move to grab the celery and peanut butter. She placed her hands in her pockets and looked around the kitchen.
“You okay, Morgan?”
Morgan bit her lip before she answered. “Mom, I want to talk to Dad.”
Blanche, who was in the middle of slicing potatoes, stopped and her heart started racing. Taking a few short breaths, she gave Morgan the same answer she always did. “I’m sorry honey, but your father claims he isn’t ready to see you yet. We’ve gone over this several times, Morgan. I wish it were different.”
Morgan sighed aloud. “I know Mom, but maybe you could just let me talk to him and-”
“Drop it, Morgan! It’s said and done! We’re not going over this again!” It took Blanche a second to realize that she had shouted these words. She had never shouted at Morgan before.
Morgan looked surprised, then hurt, and then angry. “Okay, whatever. You don’t have to yell at me. I get it.” Before she turned and left the kitchen, she said, “I hope one day Dad changes his mind so I can go live with him and get away from you.” With that, she made her way back into the living room. She didn’t grab the celery and peanut butter.
Blanche gripped the edge of the kitchen counter to stop herself from falling. When she felt steadier, she cut the potatoes, opened the oven, and put them in with the chicken.
She made her way to a chair and started fanning herself. It was 30 degrees outside but it wasn’t that warm inside the kitchen, even with the oven going full blast. So why was she breaking out in a cold sweat?
Her purse was sitting on a chair next to her. She fumbled inside it before pulling out her cellphone. Her hand trembled as she dialed the number and then placed the phone to her ear. She got up to look into the living room to see if Morgan was still glued to the TV and then closed the kitchen door.
The phone clicked on the first ring and then her sister, Emily, said “Hey, Blanche. What’s up sis?”
“Hey, Em. I’ve got a problem.”
Emily laughed. “You didn’t try to put a bunch of food into the garbage disposal again, did you? Because, like I told you-”
“Morgan wants to talk to her father.”
There was silence. For a second, Blanche wondered if Emily had hung up. She had the first time when Blanche had called her. But then she heard a loud sigh.
“I thought you told her that her father didn’t want to see her?”
“I did, but she still insists on speaking with him herself. What should I do?”
There was silence again. “You’ve got to tell her the truth. That’s the only way this stops.”
Blanche felt her throat and tongue go dry. She had trouble speaking for a second and reached for a glass of water, which she downed in a few big gulps. “I don’t know. I’ve been dreading this for so long.”
“I know. I have too. But you’ve just got to tell her. Would it help if I came over and helped you tell her?”
Blanche shook her head vigorously before she realized that Emily could not see her. “No, I can do it. Thanks anyway.”
With that, she said goodbye to her sister and then hung up. She refilled her glass with more water, drained it in a few gulps, and then made her way from the kitchen into the living room.
She moved almost robotically to the couch, sitting next to her daughter. Morgan didn’t look her way, just kept staring at the TV.
Morgan kept her eyes fixed on the screen.
“Morgan, honey, I want to apologize for yelling at you. You do have a right to ask about your father. So, I want to tell you about your father.”
Her daughter picked up the remote and started flipping through the channels again. “You’ve already told me about my father. That he’s not ready to see me.”
“I know, but that’s not the entire truth, honey. There’s more to it than that.”
Morgan’s fingers hesitated over the buttons. Slowly, she turned toward her mother, placing the remote on the cushion. “What do you mean?”
Blanche’s heart began to beat quicker, sweat gathering on her hands. She wiped them on her jeans. “A year ago, your father and I got into a terrible argument. He claimed he was going on one of his business trips again and I wanted to know why he was always more concerned with work than with his family.” Blanche took a deep breath before continuing. “That’s when he told me.”
“Told you what?” Morgan’s eyes narrowed.
A lump began forming in Blanche’s throat. As she was reliving the day, she could almost see it as if it were happening right in front of her. “He was having an affair with his coworker, Ashley. He claimed that they were in love and that… That he wanted a divorce.”
Morgan’s brow was furrowed. “Mom, why didn’t you tell me? Is that all? I-”
Blanche shook her head. “No, that’s not all. He said he wanted a divorce and that when he got back from work that evening, he was going to pack a bag and stay at a hotel for a while. He would file the divorce papers and then move in with Ashley. He said he was amicable about custody, just as long as he got to have you on some weekends. He wanted you to spend time with him and get to know Ashley.”
Tears began stinging Blanche’s eyes and she blinked quickly to make them go away. She chose a spot on the wall to stare at as she continued. “This hit me like a brick wall. I knew our marriage wasn’t perfect, I knew we had problems, but I was hoping to work through them. But he had already decided. I was devastated. And angry. I wanted him to hurt like he had hurt me.”
Morgan’s warm hand touched her mother’s, giving a gentle squeeze. She started to open her mouth but Blanche stopped her.
“That’s not all. After you went off to school, I just sat in the bedroom and cried. To make myself feel better, I imagined all sorts of horrible things happening to your father. And then the phone rang.” She could almost hear the ring, as if the phone was ringing now. But she knew it was only a memory.
“It was her… It was Ashley. When I heard her voice, I almost hung up. She stopped me before I could and told me that your father had been in a car accident on the way to work. He had been badly injured and she was at the hospital with him now.”
“It was hard to process for a second; here I was wishing something horrible would happen to him and it had. I considered whether I should come get you and take you to the hospital but I decided not to for some reason. So, I drove to the hospital to see him.”
The wall she was staring at disappeared and turned into the hospital: the white walls, white linoleum floors, the sterile smell, and the constant beeping of machines.
“When I got there, he was awake. He was covered in bandages from head to foot and was connected to several machines.”
Blanche looked over to see that tears had begun to well up in Morgan’s eyes. She squeezed her daughter’s hand reassuringly. “What happened next, Mom?”
“I thought for sure he would ask Ashley why I was here. Just hours before, he had told me he was leaving me. But instead he said the one thing I least expected: Who are you?”
Blanche twirled a piece of hair around her finger. “I thought for a second he was joking or being mean. But then I saw that he was serious. He honestly didn’t know who I was?”
Tears were streaming down Morgan’s face now. “Amnesia?”
Blanche nodded. “Yes. He didn’t remember anything about his life, except for Ashley. He thought she was his wife and he didn’t remember being married to me. He didn’t remember you. Ashley asked me what I wanted to do and at first, I didn’t know. What could I do about a man who didn’t remember me or you?”
“So you told me Dad had left and that he wasn’t ready to see me. You told me he would talk to me soon. You lied to me.” Morgan whispered this last sentence.
“I didn’t know what else to do. How else could I have told you that your father didn’t remember you? You would have still wanted to see him and that was too painful to think about. It was my biggest fear: you visiting him every day only to come home in pain because he was never going to remember you. So I told you what I thought was simpler.”
Morgan shook her head. “No, you should have told me the truth. You were being selfish and only thinking of yourself. I hate you.” With that, Morgan stood up, ran to the stairs and up them. A few minutes later, Blanche heard the door slam.
She sat alone in the living room for hours. The phone rang several times, but she didn’t answer it. It was probably Emily, asking her how telling the truth went.
She wished she had never told the truth.