I landed with a thud.
Sliding down the old wooden banister to the first floor was exhilarating. Having only seen that in movies, I was impressed I was able to pull it off.
“Eden, I need to make a run into town and meet with the funeral director. I’ll be back in about an hour. Mrs. Carmichael next door said she’ll stop over as soon as she takes a pie out of the oven. She wants to meet you, says your grandmother carried on about you all the time. Be polite and visit with her a bit. She was sweet to have helped your grandmother in the last few weeks when she was sick. I still wish she had called me sooner.”
“I’m fourteen years old now, mom. I don’t need anyone to babysit me. And, I’m not sure why you wish Mrs. Carmichael had called sooner. Would you really have come?”
“Eden, of course I would have come. Your grandmother meant the world to me, but there were reasons I couldn’t come back here. She understood those reasons and she understood me. Never mind. Just stay out of trouble, okay?”
“Fine mom, I’ll see you later.”
My mom was going through one of her zen stages where she saw the world through rose colored glasses, and every day was a fresh start. I knew that routine well, although I admit it felt different this time. As nervous as she had seemed driving up the dusty road to the house, a certain electrically charged excitement seemed to fill the old car. It threw me a bit off balance. There was definitely something different about her.
She stopped at the market before heading to the house, and filled a couple of bags with fruits and vegetables. She even picked up ingredients to make dinner tonight. I couldn’t remember the last time she made dinner or any meal for that matter. Bread and cheese had become my staple. Early on, I learned to use a microwave to melt the cheese a bit…my version of a grilled cheese sandwich. It was what I fed her too when I could convince her. This stage was definitely better than the stages where she drank so much the days all ran together – when she cuddled up with another bottle of vodka on the couch, waiting for its effects to wrap around her like a worn, old throw blanket.
This zen stage she was currently in never lasted. The time undoubtedly arrives when those rose-colored glasses were due for a new prescription. Life would become a little too much for her. She would seek a brighter outlook on the world at the bottom of the bottle. Maybe it was the other way around. Perhaps, she hoped the thick glass at the bottom would blur the harsh realities of life, the mistakes she had made, the daughter she never wanted.
I once overheard her talking to a girlfriend who had just discovered she was pregnant. I stood in the door frame, watching her as I had done so many times. Whether awake and lucid or passed out drunk, I would find myself taking her in from afar, never daring to get too close but reaching for her nonetheless. Her long strawberry blond hair hung down her back in waves, her bare feet peeking out from under her long summer dress propped up on the old wooden coffee table, and her thin elegant fingers gracefully held the cigarette that dangled between them. I was mesmerized as she brought it to her red lips, but the moment I truly lived for was the one that immediately followed. As she tilted her head back and closed her eyes, releasing a puff of smoke into the air, her whole body would press down a little further into the sunken couch cushion. Her expression would relax, I could see the hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth, and as she opened her eyes once more, for one brief instant, she had a dreamy, faraway look in her eyes. It was in that instant, I could almost see the person she used to be…in another time, another place.
“I wouldn’t have it if I were you. Save yourself the headache. All they do is turn your world upside down. They ruin everything. Like nine months of making you sick and fat isn’t enough, then they expect you to make them your priority, give up your life for theirs. Trust me when I tell you, a baby will make you lose parts of yourself you never knew you could lose. You’ll wake up one morning and hate the person you see in the mirror, and just a few feet behind your own reflection is the little monster responsible.”
I was eight years old at the time. Those words shook me to my tiny core, sent me running to my room and the old, faded books I kept under my bed. The very ones I imagined myself living in. I flipped through pages as tears washed over my grimy face.
I loved to read and became so lost in my books it was as if I left my bedroom and stepped into the very places those stories took place. I dreamt of faraway places. I envisioned myself traveling around the globe and even outer space. My dreams were those of a child with no regard for schedules or finances, only visions of new worlds to be discovered, adventures around every corner. The mountains I would climb, the seas I would cross, and the dirt roads I would leave my footprint on were experiences I carried with me long after I finished the story. I knew one day when I was too old for such adventures, like an old weathered album I would pull them out to relive them.
That day my mother’s words had brought about a hard, cold, reality those fairy tales could no longer cover in the thin veil of innocence they wrapped me in so many times before. I could no longer pretend I was the main character in a story with a happy ending. I could no longer lose myself in the words that one time soothed me into a false sense of hope.