I kissed each of my brother’s foreheads after checking they were sound asleep. As I passed by mom’s room, she called me in. “Do you know where that blue blouse I like is?” She asked. I moved past her as she sat on her bed, carefully stepping over her toes in the narrow space. “Ummm, yeah,” I said, moving some things around until I could reach the clothes hanging beyond the closet door. I grabbed the shirt and turned to show her. She was still on the bed but she wasn’t looking at me. She held a folded piece of paper in her hand. I recognized the writing on it as my own but it took me a minute to remember what it was. My mouth went dry.
“I found this yesterday.” she finally said, turning it over and over as though reading it at hyperspeed. “You’re so angry,” she breathed, as though my vitriol had taken her strength. I took the note. I remembered sobbing in the middle of the night as I wrote to remind her that I was young, that I wasn’t supposed to be a mom in the 7th grade. Much less a mom to two boys who would soon be taller than me. I was leaving, the note announced. If I had to be an adult, I would do it on my terms.
“This was a long time ago.” I lied. Shifting uncomfortably, I decided to switch to the truth. “I would never leave the boys.”
She nodded. “I know. You take better care of them than I do.” Her voice suddenly changed, became firmer. “You don’t love them as much as I do. You don’t know the sacrifices a mom makes.”
I continued to stare down at the note willing my eyes to not roll. “You take care of us.” I finally said. The freshly stocked kitchen would make the opposite argument difficult.
“You’re so angry,” she said again.
“I just want to be a kid.”
I wanted to sit next to her. This was the longest we had been alone together for months, maybe a year or more. I wanted to curl up in her lap and ask her to tell me about when I was a baby. I wanted to find a way to make her smile. I wondered how long it had been since I had seen her light up a room. I wondered how long it had been since I had made her happy. I shuffled my feet and eventually took a small step away from her. I looked at the door as I heard one of the boys move in their beds.
“I tried to run away.” She suddenly said after a long silence. I looked up, surprised at the chance to get a glimpse into her childhood. She saw my face and clarified. “A few months ago.” Her words were like a punch to the gut. I stepped toward her without thinking. She began to speak so fast I almost couldn’t keep up. “You think I don’t do anything, that I’m useless. You don’t help. I’m out there trying to support this family and you’re here writing letters about how hard your life is! You don’t DO ANYTHING!” She was close to shouting. “You don’t go to school anymore. God knows what you spend your days doing. It’s certainly not cleaning. Have you forgotten how to do laundry? I NEED YOUR HELP HERE!” I looked at the door again. She was going to wake them up. She would scare them. She seemed to deflate suddenly. “I couldn’t do it.” She looked at me again, it felt like her eyes were burning into mine “I think about it all the time.”
My cheeks went hot, my hands shook. I knew what she wanted me to say. She needed to hear that we would be ok, that I would go back to school, that I would work harder to keep the house neat. That we would get through this. I opened my mouth to say it but the anger took over and refused to allow me to speak.
She stared at me. Waiting. I could not say anything. My mouth opened and closed. The shaking spread from my hands into the rest of my body. I felt myself splitting in half. The loving daughter in me fought to try to bring my mother comfort. “She loves us, she bought us all this food. It’s not her fault that things are a mess” my inner self screamed. “IT’S NOT ENOUGH!!” Shouted the angry goblin that so often seemed to control me in return. “WHY IS IT ALWAYS UP TO ME TO MAKE HER FEEL BETTER. WHEN DOES SHE TRY TO HELP ME? WHO TELLS THEIR DAUGHTER THEY WANT TO LEAVE?”
I don’t know how long we were like that. It felt like an eternity. Her, crying as she melted further and further into her bed. Me, struggling to find my voice, to move my feet, to do anything at all. Long enough that I stopped worrying about the right thing to say and began worrying that I would be locked inside my body for the rest of my life. I eventually closed my eyes. I counted my heartbeats. I focused on the feeling of the ceiling fan as it gently moved wind through my hair.
Finally, the forces that held me mute and immobile released me.
“We love you,” I said gently. I did not reach out to touch her. I wasn’t sure I could. “We need you.” I steadied myself again and then began moving to the door. ” I promise, I’ll do better.”
That is how I left her. That was the last time I saw her.