My mother was thirty two when she left involuntarily. The autumn leaves swept across the roof of the car, and I watched them carry her away. I was in my fifth year and didn’t understand. I had watched her float like a pantomime late at night, though I never went close. She seemed to sway with urgency as if a fever rattled in her throat. “Death is simpler” she told me years later, tears streaming down her face like a broken a faucet. I never saw her as a whole person. She seemed like an outgrown child, unable or unwilling to function in the life that had been laid out for her. Still, she tried. There were years when she was good and I almost forgot about the three autumns she had not lived here. It didn’t stick; nothing does. We tried to keep her busy, especially daddy, but she grew ill again.
It’s as if death grew inside of her belly as simply as a child would. I remembered the sterile smell that lingered on her clothes when she returned each time. I tried washing it out, but it clung to my fingers and took root inside me. Sometimes when I looked in the mirror, I saw our matching eyes, our matching contour. I wore her face when I was done and all used up like an old, sunken washboard. All I wanted was for her to stay for good. I cried and called her name. Called her mother, called her mama. But she was never quite sure of who she was. Maybe she needed another life that would’ve allowed her to outgrow her desire for that permanent, cold slumber. Maybe she needed something more, something that we couldn’t give her.[restrict userlevel="subscriber"]
As I grew older, her absence became less visible and less of a burden. I saw her from time to time; she was always in and out of hospitals, treatment centers, our house, and my grandparents’ home. She was a nomad, restless and impatient, except she didn’t choose to be that way. She was trapped inside her bone-cage, dying to be let out and set loose from the things that dragged her down. Still, as a teenager it was so easy to get muddled in self-absorption and vanity, so the times when I was unexpectedly reminded of her, I felt jilted. When something so purely honest and personal suddenly hits you, it’s almost frightening to be in its presence, to be so utterly submerged in it.
Since I was a kid, I have had this dream about her as if it were, in fact, real. I saw her in a pale blue dress; her long, wavy brown hair falling effortlessly down her shoulders, and she was smiling brightly. She seemed at ease, as if she was finally happy. She waved at me and began to walk towards me. Then there was a sudden burst and I was awake. The air loafed around me without shape, while my eyes opened and shut like keyholes. The image of her smiling face remained with me for hours, and I thought of the slight differences that had sprawled across it: the small wrinkles near her eyes, her cheekbones were more prominent, and her eyes were rounder and glowing. Why couldn’t she have been this happy when she was with us? I hated her again. I didn’t want to think about this anymore so I shut my eyes hopelessly and tried to sleep away this burning fever.
For my eleventh birthday, my mother took me to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History. It was the best day I ever had with her; she was happy and smiling and for a second I really believed that we could be a normal family. What I didn’t realize was that my father’s blatant absence actually held some weight. It held a lot of weight. My parents’ marriage was falling apart, but I never understood what was happening until they sat me down and said the words, “Honey, we love you, but we are getting a divorce.” I was thirteen and I cried until my faced swelled up like a floating balloon. It didn’t matter though; my tears couldn’t glue my parents back together.
Even after all that has happened, my memory of my eleventh birthday with my mother is one that I hold on to dearly. We both loved history so picking the museum was the perfect choice. The exhibit was incredible. As the curator pointed at and spoke of the Tiffany Diamond, my eyes never left its sight. It was so big and yellow and I felt sad that something so beautiful had to be trapped inside a glass cage. When I slipped my hand across the thick, solid glass, the woman next to me cleared her throat loudly, raising her eyebrows at my uninhibited awe. I didn’t care though. I pressed my fingers deeper until they left behind faint traces of skin and fingerprints. My eyes widened and circled like two spinning craters. I wanted to reach in and grab it. Even though it was right in front of me, I could never touch it.
My mother shifted her right leg and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. The light hit her dark gray eyes, which were resting complacently on a face that appeared to have emerged from a dream. These eyes, so glossy and shaded with a fan of thick lashes, were deceiving at first glance. From the glimmer they exuded, one might think they belonged to a person full of joy and laughter, but as you moved in closer, you could see the slight indentations of lines near the corners. Her slender lips rose and fell like valleys and the lightness of her voice came forth to reveal a slight echo of worry, of concern, of all the nights she had spent awake thinking of things left undone and those that must be done tomorrow. This was the face that I saw in the dream that haunted me after she was gone.
“The Tiffany Diamond earned the 19th-century jeweler, Charles Lewis Tiffany, the nickname “Kind of Diamonds,” continued the curator. He looked down towards me and stuck his hand out, motioning at me to keep moving and to stay in sync with the group. I ran towards my mother and grabbed her hand. We crossed over into the room full of art installations that were inspired by bioluminescent marine organisms. My head bounced back and forth as I took in the bizarrely beautiful creations of light, plastic-tubes, computer parts, and flashing patterns.
“Bioluminescence is the process of producing light by living plants and animals. Interestingly, many researchers actually study and examine dead organisms to learn more about this process,” continued the curator. Every time something excited him, his hands would flail around and he would eagerly look around the group to see if anyone else shared in his curiosity.
My eyes wandered up and took in the bold, colorful installations. They seemed to be floating in the expanding darkness of the museum gallery. I smiled and stuck my hand above my head, trying to slide my fingers across a bright purple and blue light creation. I couldn’t reach them, but, still, their presence comforted me — they were like twisted, colored stars that exploded into the ever increasing darkness above. I stared at them, willing myself to not even blink for a second, hoping that maybe I could absorb some of their brightness.
As we walked out of the room, I felt an increasing sadness in my belly. I looked up at my mother, but she was staring off into the distance.
Sleep stretched me in all directions and my eyes, bruised with tedium, finally gave into the exhaustion. Suddenly, I was back in the family room of our old house, the one where I lived with my parents before my mother became sick. I saw her standing in the middle of the family room, her hands outstretched on both sides. The house seemed empty, but there was a voice coming through the speakers. It was a woman’s voice; it was soft and husky and slightly nasally. My head is aching as I drink and breathe. Memory falls like cream in my bones, moving on my own. There must be something I can dream tonight.
My mother pushed her head back slowly and mouthed the lyrics. She seemed like a pantomime. Her body swayed gently and her wavy, brown hair fell down her shoulders. I couldn’t tell if she was smiling, but there were these weird white circles at the corners of her mouth. She continued to move across the room, slipping of her shoes when the song picked up its beat. Suddenly a mixture of noises burst outside: there was an ambulance and police cars, people were shouting, and a dog was barking relentlessly. None of this seemed to affect her. She turned up the music and moved rapidly, gliding across the wooden floor until it squeaked. She seemed happy inside the stillness of the house. She felt safe; no one could hurt her here.
I wanted to move closer and talk to her, but it was as if she couldn’t see me. I spoke to her, but she looked right through me. I moved past the dining table and reached out my hand, but before I could touch her shoulder something pulled me back.
The ear-splitting sound of the alarm clock jilted me to life and I rubbed my eyes. The sun spilled in through the blinds, reminding me that everything I had seen was just a dream. My mother was still far away and I had no idea when I would see her again.
One night, my mother flicked her hands into the air, making quick half turns as she marked her face with a rumpled expression. She took a large scoop of vanilla ice cream and filled up the glass with root-beer. Patti Smith’s voice sang through the speakers and I watched her light a cigarette and blow smoke up the chimney. Tears rolled down her cheeks, her back caved in from the ache in her stomach. Still, she rolled up her sleeves to her elbows, kicking off her shoes to the side. She was dancing by herself; her mouth gaped open and it was circled white at the corners. She took another bite of her vanilla ice cream and talked to herself out loud, waiting to see if she’d finally get an answer. There was a heavy silence between the words that spilled out of her mouth. Outside the neighbor’s dog was barking and there were sirens. Something had happened. People were rushing out of their houses, but still she remained in the kitchen, swaying to Patti Smith while the world pounded on.
When I was younger, I used to have these dreams where my mother was always yelling, but I couldn’t see her face clearly. She was a hazy cloud, shifting back and forth as I chased after her like a lunatic. For some reason she could never stand up on her own or walk without my help. She was constantly stumbling down, laughing crazily as she pulled off her three inch heels and thrust them into my chest. I couldn’t see myself, but I felt as if I was much older than fifteen. I stood at least two inches taller than her in these dreams. My height did not intimidate her though and she continued to shout in my direction every few minutes.
“Leave me alone. You are such a buzz kill,” she said. She tried to lean against the wall, but she pushed herself too early. She let out a slight gasp as she fell on the concrete sidewalk. “Can you help me?” she gazed up at me without even apologizing.
I moved towards her and pulled her up. She was heavy and smelled of cigarettes and Chanel No.5. I tried to hold onto her, but she slipped out of my grasp and stumbled away.
“Wait! Wait a minute,” I shouted as she ran away. “Mom, stop. Mom!” my voice unleashed into the thick air and echoed down the street. The panic that sprung out of it did not stop her and she quickened her pace when she heard me running after her.
I pushed myself down the street even though my legs felt like heavy tree-trunks. The cold air burst into my lungs like fire and I had to stop to breathe. When I looked up, she was gone. I let myself go, sinking onto the asphalt as the black night consumed into its cold embrace.
After my parents split up, I didn’t want to be around my mother for long periods of time. She was a mess and without my father around to help me, it was really difficult to keep her sober. She had been to rehab twice and the doctors had finally diagnosed her with Bipolar II Disorder. By the time I was twenty-one, I had come to resent her for almost everything that was wrong in my life.
Someone once told me that the chaos of experience would serve me well, but I grew tired of watching my mother stumble through bars as she asked strange men to buy her cheap drinks. I couldn’t catalog and carry her like everyone else. She was restless and uneasy and on the days when she bothered to come home, I wish she wouldn’t. The house was cleaner when she wasn’t around and there was no one to scream at. There was no vomit on the bathroom floor or any hair to pull back. There was no body, banged out by the high, shoved messily to the ground in a dumpy heap. I wanted to detach her from my hip, unhinge her like a shadow. Nothing changed. At least not for a while.
I wanted to interject in her effortless descent so she wouldn’t cut herself off like a broken film in a projector. Definitiveness made her flea and she was terrible, lying shamelessly at her own foothill every night, looking wrinkled and blue. She would never make the first step and I no longer was no longer garbed in the belief that she would change.
That heaviness was born up to burst, and when her eyelids drooped down like heavy blankets, the strange men stopped buying her whiskey sours. They could see through the thickness of her lashes and took in the mined-out, doped up expressions she usually reserved for me. Their faces did not flint and when her agony spilled out onto the bar, they did not bother to soak it in with their hands like I did. Instead, they folded in their wallets and leaned into the arms of another younger woman, one who wasn’t so inaccessible and bleeding out. Still, my mother couldn’t see that her carelessness was no longer endearing. She stumbled and sunk to sleep near the same field where, the previous day, she was wrapped in a torn shawl and the unabashed, hairy hands of a stranger. On her face, I saw images of blackness and childhood tragedies that were taken as they came I wish she could have starved out the pain, or purged it like the alcohol that floated in her belly every night. I wanted her to stand up on her own, leaning on no shoulder. After twenty-one years of madness, I could no longer drink in her mess because she was an ache that nothing could satisfy.
The sun cut open in the sky, spilling quickly and rapidly like a landfall. I sat on the porch by myself, staring blankly at the street as if I was waiting for someone to appear. Cars zoomed past and people walked by, but I did not acknowledge their presence. I let the stillness around me soak in. I thought of my mother and how she used to rub the bottom of my ears whenever I was sick or worried.
“Life’s a trick,” she said to me once. I didn’t quite understand what she meant, but I never spoke up to ask her why she said that. The last time I had seen her was two years ago when she had finally decided to go back to treatment. I didn’t want to take her so I had asked my father to do it instead. As they drove away, my mother stuck her head out the window, pushing it into the warm air as she waved goodbye to me. With her, I watched the last bits of my old life wash away and I felt as if a part of me had died.
Sometimes at night, I would drive by her treatment center. Lined houses, crowned with new roofs, flashed by in a blur. Exits rolled by and I catalogued their names into my pockets. Outside, an old man with fat, blind eyes smiled at me, and I wondered when he would be laid into his black nest. I murmured and exhaled, waiting for my lungs to widen. I felt sick, sick, sick in the summer heat. My body was useless. It had given up. I ground my teeth every time I sucked in a new breath. I wanted to sink and grow into a new skin before I melted down carefully for her consumption again. I wanted out. “Let me go, let me go,” I screamed over and over as my car rolled past the treatment center.
Nearby, a car alarm went off and jolted me back to reality. I gazed ahead and saw a man come out of a house and scream at a kid on a bicycle. They spoke for a bit and then parted ways. Then, out of nowhere, a bright red car parked in front of my house. I couldn’t see who was inside, but I didn’t feel like getting up either. The driver remained hidden and out of view until I yelled out.
“Excuse me, do you mind moving your car down the street? I have friends coming over in a little bit and it would be easier for them to park where you are.” I was surprised by the loudness of my voice. Still, there was no response. The person in the car did not move, which made me angry. “Hello? Did you hear me?” I shouted back. I placed my coffee to the side and got up.
As I moved closer to the car, I realized that the driver was a woman. She had dark hair and she seemed to be stepping out, finally.
“Yes, I heard you. Clearly,” she said in a soft voice.
I looked up at her and felt as if I had been punched in my stomach. My throat dried up and I couldn’t open my mouth. I waited for my voice to rush back to me as the sun boiled and spilled out above my head. The summer heat pounded against my dark hair as I struggled to maintain my balance.
The woman in front of me was my mother, or at least I thought she was. She seemed different. She was wearing a pale blue dress; her long, wavy brown hair falling effortlessly down her shoulders, and she was smiling brightly. She seemed at ease, as if she was finally happy. She waved at me and began to walk towards me. Then there was a sudden burst and I was awake. The air loafed around me without shape, while my eyes opened and shut like keyholes. The image of her smiling face remained with me for hours, and I thought of the slight differences that had sprawled across it: the small wrinkles near her eyes, her cheekbones were more prominent, and her eyes were rounder and glowing.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as she hugged me tightly.
“Oh, I missed you so much,” she squeezed me tighter. “I missed you so much. I can’t believe how much you’ve grown.” She smiled at me, her light-pink lips parted into a soft smile and she grabbed me by the elbows. She tucked my hair behind my ear and stared at me silently for a few minutes.
I didn’t know what to say or what to do. I hadn’t seen her or heard from her in two years, and she had now just decided to roll back into my life. I didn’t know if I wanted to scream at her or hug her and never let her go. This woman had made my life a living hell for as long as I could remember, but my greatest memories were of being with her. No one could make me laugh or cry the way she did. I loved her despite everything. She was my mother. No matter the distance or the pain that still rattled between us, I could never untie myself from her.
I leaned in towards her, sliding my hands deeper into hers. She seemed so different. She was smiling and I believed her.
“What have you been up to?” she asked. Her gray eyes caught the glimmer of the sun and for a moment she seemed like the same beautiful woman who had taken me to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History for my eleventh birthday.
I let out a soft sigh and smiled, “Waiting for you.”[/restrict]
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.fictionade.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Areeba-Abid.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Anne Sexton once said, “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” Writing has been Areeba Abid’s lifelong passion and she can’t imagine doing anything else because it is the thing she does best. Areeba recently finished her undergraduate studies from San Jose State University where she majored in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, and this fall she will begin her M.F.A. program for Fiction at Mills College. Many of her short stories deal with young women and their struggles to find relevance in their lives. The characters’ sense of fragmentation and displacement is constantly explored in her narratives. Areeba uses writing to explain things to people and to herself; it is a way to create powerful images and explanations that last long after the story has been told. As cliche and redundant as it may seem, she has always hoped that her words could inspire and move someone. Isn’t that what most writers hope for anyway, to be able to have effected someone in such a way as to have made them think and imagine in new and brighter ways?[/author_info] [/author]