WHEN YOU WERE HERE
I remember your smell.
I can’t say what it was, it was, I don’t know, it was cigarettes and hair spray and perfume and, and sex, was it sex, beneath all of it, beneath all of it and hidden in those layers?
Was it sex?
I think of the men you would go out with, the carousel of faces I could never keep up with. Dan. Don. Doug. Dave. I think sometimes that you would choose them for their names as much as anything else, the game too exciting, the chase too fun, and all of it such grand theater just for me.
I want to think of the good times, the sweet times, and the times when you would wave to me from the swings. How you cried the first month you went to Kindergarten. How you would take money from my purse when you thought I wasn’t paying enough attention to you, begging for me to hurt you, to teach you another lesson and giving me the act, the tears, the crying, all while you hummed to yourself as I spanked you.
It’s all a game.
That’s what you told me in the note.
Everything’s a game…and I refuse to keep playing.
And I think of all the times we spent together in your bed, when I would read to you, or I would come home from work crying and you would console me or how when Na-Na died we slept together in your bed and fell asleep telling stories to one another about her – both of us having pieces of her the other didn’t. Maybe it was then that I realized it – that all we are, that all life is is a giant puzzle and no one ever has all the pieces. We spend our lives trying to re-claim our own pieces and trying to find enough pieces of the people around us to know whether they mean us harm or not.
Christ, is it all a game?
All of it?
All those years?
All those moments?
I spent so many years in the bottom of a bottle while you raised yourself and watched me from atop your tower. I think you were fifteen when I stopped being your mother and was simply the woman who gave birth to you. When you stopped letting me up into the tower with you. Once upon a time it had been the two of us, the both of us up there and there were No Boys Allowed and it was good. It was good, wasn’t it?
Yeah, I think it was.
I think it was.
But all of it, the memories, the moments, all of that time and it ends in a note written on the back of a fast food receipt. All I could do was put your birthday cake on the kitchen counter and go into your room and sit there on the floor and wait for the darkness to close in.
Our lives become graveyards, that’s what I found out when your dad died. The older we get the bigger the graveyard gets until you reach a point when all that remains is one grave and it’s yours and sometimes you fight it and sometimes, well, sometimes you don’t fight it as hard. Sometimes it’s just an extension of the darkness you have already been living in.
There is so much, so much I needed to say, so much you deserved to hear. You deserved a full time mother and not a part time drunk. You deserved a mom and not a friend. You deserved the best of me and not the leftovers of a string of terrible men. I let myself become wreckage and left you alone.
I think the police gave up looking after the first week. You were seventeen, pretty, and we hadn’t gotten along for years. It was bound to happen one of them told me. I stopped looking for you after the third month. You would come home when you were ready. I stopped calling the hospitals after six months. Time starts to become a melting ice cream cone and as hard as you try you just can’t stop the melting, and pretty soon all that is left is a mess.
Oh god sweetie, where did you go?
Was it so bad?
Was I so bad?
But there’s only darkness now and an empty house where your smell still lingers and where your pictures still hang. I wish you’d become an artist. Or a clerk. Or a stripper. Or anything. Anything but gone.
I saw on the news that they found a girl in the bay on the edge of the city, a girl not much out of her teens with blonde hair and no clothes on. I am waiting by the phone now.
I know it’s time for you to finally come home.