Posted on | September 16, 2015 | 4 Comments
The hotel felt sterile yet safe after the closeted warmth of her mother’s house. Tyler had pitched a bit of a fit over leaving but he seemed soothed by the fact that Des would be just down the hall at the hotel. Kate had thrown their things haphazardly in the corner and then sank onto the bed while Ty ran around opening every drawer and cabinet to see “if anyone left anything cool.” It had been a long time since she’d stayed in a hotel in her own hometown, but she could still remember the last time as if it were yesterday. It hadn’t been this exact hotel and Tyler hadn’t been there, but still this room… this scenario felt oddly familiar.
Greg had been with her then, his hair a mess of tangled curls and wearing that ridiculous floor length trench coat that was half sexy and half stupid. He loved that trench coat, even though Kate told him he looked like a cross between a child molester and one of those park flashers you read about in Central Park. He’d winked at the desk clerk when he asked for an upgrade to a king size bed, and Kate had flushed crimson with delight and mortification. She’d never known anyone like Greg, at least not anyone who had ever paid her any attention. He was so confident, full of charm and oozing with sex appeal.
The minute she’d seen him settle into her section at work, she’d been unable to tear her eyes away. He’d been with two friends, laughing and talking about what she assumed would be ridiculously sophisticated things like chicory coffee and the finer points of the latest art house movie. She had leaned against the bar, self consciously running her hand through her hair and wondering what she could possibly say to interest him. It was the first time she’d every actually wanted anyone, the first time she’d thought about just slipping her number across the table to him with a seductive wink and maybe let him take her home on or before the first date. It had been Allie, the bold and brassy bartender who told her to just do it… to just step outside of her comfort zone and make the first move.
She’d slid a shot across the bar and watched as Kate slammed it back, then coached her on an approach. Kate had tried to look as seductive as possible in the over-sized uni-sex uniform shirt, and sidled over to the table with a smile. She’d shamelessly flirted with him, ignoring his friends, and at the end of the meal, she’d slid into the booth beside him, slipped him her number, and told him to call her. She’d been someone else for the day, someone confident and sexy, and he’d bought it. She had a call from him the next day and two days later, he’d been in her bed.
With Greg, everything was an act. She was able to take on an unfamiliar attitude and unfamiliar actions. She was seductive, free-spirited, totally unconcerned with being proper or anything else she’d spent her life being. Greg took her for her first tattoo, her first piercing, and gave her her first orgasm. Kate had always been regular, like clockwork, and when she didn’t start on the Monday circled in her planner, Allie had taken her to the Dollar Store to pick up not one but seven home pregnancy tests. They’d crouched together, heads down, watching one after the other signal pregnancy until in exasperation, Kate hurled the handful against the wall. She wasn’t sure who she most afraid to tell, Greg or her parents.
It turned out that both were easier than expected. Greg had looked momentarily ashen but still went with her to break the news to her parents. They handled it with the same pale-faced acceptance that Greg had and never once even asked about marriage. When Tyler was a few months old Greg had taken Kate and the baby to dinner where he unceremoniously slid a white box across the table with a “What do you say?” It wasn’t the proposal of her dreams but she nodded and slid the ring around her finger, because it was there, even if there were no other reasons. They were married at the courthouse exactly one month later. They waited to tell her parents after they were married, slinging the news like a wayward skee-ball into the gaping mouths of Samantha and Jackson. They’d taken the pregnancy better than the marriage. So had Max. Kate had watched her mother stand and busy herself at the kitchen counter, wishing she’d say something, anything to acknowledge the news. But in true Samantha fashion, she revealed nothing, only nodding in ascension when Kate asked her if she was listening. Her father had, of course, shaken Greg’s hand firmly, kissed Kate on the forehead, and disappeared to his bedroom, claiming a headache. And then it was over.
The news had been delivered and there was nothing left to say. Samantha invited them to stay for dinner, but they’d anticipated the invite and made plans with Max in advance. Max had been the first person Samantha had told she was pregnant, even before Greg. Max had pulled her aside to discuss the marriage, begging her to get it annulled or go ahead and get divorced. He told her she was too good for Greg, but she didn’t feel even remotely good enough for anyone else. She was damaged goods. She’d tried so hard to be who he wanted that she’d forgotten anything and everything about who she was. She’d just lost all of herself in Greg.
Of course things didn’t work out. Maybe deep down, she’d expected they wouldn’t. She knew that marrying Greg wouldn’t solve any of the problems she’d created in her life, but she hadn’t anticipated the intense loneliness she felt when he began to so fully ignore her. It started so slowly that she barely noticed. First, she was so tired with the pregnancy and then with the newborn Tyler who never slept, that she went to bed moments after the sun went down. Greg complained it was too early and he stopped lying still beside her in their double bed as she tossed and turned into sleep. After that, it was his extra work, picking up hours that kept away well into the evening with the exasperated explanation that “Diapers cost money, Katie.” God she’d hated when he started calling her that, as if she were that yellow lab that lived down the street from her parents, all obedience and desperate for attention.
Slowly, he slipped away from her, forgetting birthdays and anniversaries and every major holiday. And when she stayed beside him, he began to call her names, insinuating that Tyler wasn’t his, pushing her past the point of breaking with the sheer hatred in his voice. And yet she stayed, making the bed she’d chosen to lie in with as cheerful a smile as she could muster. She spent more time than she’d like to admit propped against the coolness of the refrigerator door, begging for some sort of release from the nightmare.
Of course, having Tyler helped, with his sweet smile and his father’s curls. Everything in her life began to revolve around only him, so much so that finding Greg in bed with their neighbor barely brought tears to her eyes. She just stood there, holding Tyler close to her chest, and watched as they scrambled up and around for clothes. She wasn’t surprised when Greg packed his things and moved across town after that, but somehow, she was shocked when he sent the divorce papers.
There wasn’t anyone to really turn to. She’d shut out most if not all of her friends out of fear and she wasn’t going to call Samantha. Finally, she called Max and it was Max who told her parents. They’d shown up three days later and the whirlwind known as her mother whisked Kate’s home and life back into Samantha’s form of order. After the endless abuse from Greg, she was too broken to fight back. She let Samantha walk her through school applications and let her pack and clean and tidy up the pieces of what Greg had left behind.
It was the only time in her life that she could remember feeling glad that her mother was around.
Posted on | September 15, 2015 | No Comments
The bedroom door had barely closed behind her when the tears began. Everything she’d worked to protect against, everything she’d fought so hard to prevent from happening was playing out in front of her. Her little family she’d carefully wrapped and sealed was unraveling at the seams and nothing she could do could stop the bleeding. Around her, the room seemed impossibly perfect: the bed tucked and pressed with hospital corners sharp and pointed, the drawers closed tightly, the furniture arranged just so, and not a speck of dust in the air. If she opened the closet door, she knew what she’d see… rows of neatly pressed clothes and perfectly aligned shoes. Each drawer was perfectly stacked with every item exactly where it needed to be. Jackson liked order; he liked to know where everything was at every moment, and she’d spent so much time learning where his mind believed things should be.
She closed her eyes against the room and wiped at her cheeks, smudging tears and make up across her face. Samantha let the door hold her up for a moment, then she slid down the smoothness, hooking her hand on the door knob and turning the lock. It was her turn to shut out the world, at least for a little while.
She remembered the first time Jackson had shut her out, that night was burned into her memory. She’d been desperate to see him in the hospital, desperate to touch his face and feel the warmth of his body beside her. The doctors had kept her at a distance, saying he didn’t want visitors and that even family was too much for him those first few days. When days turned into a week and then two weeks, she had slipped in anyway, climbing into the bed beside him and resting her head against his chest. He’d stirred briefly and for a moment she thought he was about to hug her close. Instead, his eyes moved over her face as if she were a stranger and the movement in his hand was to grasp the call button and summon someone to take her away. She’d begged and pleaded with him, tried to show him the photographs of little one year old Max and his precious Kathryn, but he’d turned his back to her the best he could amid the tubes and wires, and the last look she had of him before he came home was the dark red patchwork of scars on the back of his head.
After that night, she’d gone to every possible support group and performed every possible chore and service to prepare the house for Jackson’s return. When he’d finally come home, he had just holed up in his room, lying in bed for hours and crying. She’d send Kathryn away to camp, just to get her out of the house so she wouldn’t hear his sobs. Max was so small, that he didn’t know his father before so this was nothing to him. He still gurgled and cooed and crawled his way around the house, never caring if the man he called Dada picked him up. Samantha was his everything and she protected him the best she could. For a while, Jackson’s mother tried to help, but she was so consumed with her own grief, that every time she’d come over, it had just gotten so much worse. Eventually, Jackson told her to get his mother out and never let her come back. Samantha had tried so hard to convince him that Marilyn wasn’t the problem, but he’d glared at her and accused her of not loving him, of not being unable to complete one tiny thing to help him feel better. And so she did it. She told his mother to stop coming over knowing how it would devastate her to be separated from her only child and grandchildren. She looked Marilyn dead in the eye and told her she wasn’t welcome in their home any longer, just because she thought it would help; just because she so desperately wanted her husband back. Marilyn had been like a mother to her and it broke something delicate inside her when she closed that door. But she did it for her husband. She did it because her husband asked her to and she swore to stand beside him through the health before and the sickness now.
She opened her eyes and took in the room around her. Jackson was gone and yet here she was, still keeping everything clean and perfect as though he’d walk back in at any minute, tears streaming down his face with that look in his eyes that said she let him down, again. She stood and stepped purposefully toward the tall chest of drawers that still bore the scratch marks from years of hosting watches, keys and change. She pulled open the first drawer, glaring down at the rows of perfectly rolled socks. She ran one finger across the tops before gripping one tightly in her fist and raising it up to inhale the barest remnant of Jackson’s sandalwood body wash. That stupid rolled pair of socks sat there for a moment, clenched between her palm and nose, until Samantha choked back a sob and threw it against the headboard of the bed she’d long since stopped sleeping in. One by one, she threw the socks, a silent protest against the life she’d lived for the feet and man who once owned them. Even now, she protested in silence, too afraid to worry Max or damage the carefully manicured facade of her life. She’d learned long ago that if she dropped even the tiniest of balls in her juggling act, her entire world would collapse.
When it was empty, she drew in a shaky breath and ran her palm across the smoothness at the bottom of the dresser drawer. Then she held her chin high as though nothing had changed at all, and softly went about the chore of tucking every pair of socks back in their rightful place.
Posted on | September 15, 2015 | No Comments
He watched his sister leave with a mix of apprehension and relief. Being around Kate was always one big top away from a circus; he never knew what to say or where to step to keep both her and their mother happy. He wished he could remember a time when they got along, but he just couldn’t. Dad used to tell him they were close; that Kate and Mom had been thick as thieves when Kate was small, but he just couldn’t see it. For as long as he could remember, they’d been in constant opposition, two polar opposites orbiting in different directions.
There was an old picture framed in the living room, dusty and hidden behind several more recent shots of Tyler in various Halloween costumes. The frame was ornate silver, and there was a small crack in the top right of the glass but you could tell, Max could always tell, that it had been precious once. In it, a much younger Kate was sitting on an unfamiliar porch. She had a popsicle in one hand and the other was draped around another girl. Their mother was squatting down behind the two girls with a wide smile splayed across her face. It looked as though the girls had spent the moments before the popsicles pulling Samantha’s hair into various stages of braids, and they were quite pleased with their handiwork. It was just a snapshot, but to Max, it said so much about the relationship his sister must have had with their mother before he came along. He always wondered if it was his arrival that caused some permanent rift in the family; wondered if maybe Kate secretly blamed him for destroying something that was obviously so good. He found himself returning again and again to that picture, wondering who the girl was in the picture, wondering who his sister had been back then when she was a fresh faced five year old, and he wasn’t even a thought in his mother’s eye. With Kate gone, he and his mother would drop the pretense of mourning his father and the mess he left behind. They’d fall into the familiarity of passing each other in the hallway with short nods and smiles, still tiptoeing around the man who had ruled their lives so completely for so very long. He wasn’t sure he could handle another moment like that, another lifetime of silence in the house he grew up in. Suddenly, he was extremely grateful that Des was here, and he needed to fell his arms round him at that moment, no matter who saw. He moved through the house with purpose, stepping past his old bedroom, his father’s room, and that horrible old laundry room with the haunting memories of his youth.
He needed Des.
He found him on the sofa, positioned depressingly close to Samantha as she smoothed her hair beneath her hand, over and over, like a forgetful and fretful child. Des was watching her closely, as though she might disappear in front of his eyes, but Max couldn’t think about her now. He moved toward the sofa, toward the man he loved more than anything in the world, but then froze as his mother’s eyes focused on him, narrowing slightly as if she were warning him; as if she knew what he wanted… who he wanted… and it wasn’t allowed. He sighed silently and took his place beside her, grabbing her arm at the wrist and pulling her hand from her hair.
“Mom.” It was more of a voice you’d use to reprimand a child, but she still obeyed, letting him lay her hand against her side. She turned and looked at him with almost vacant eyes.
“She’s gone? He nodded and she sighed.
“She would have gone either way, Mom, you know that.”
She nodded again and then stared off into the blankness of the walls around her. Max glanced across at Des and drank in the slow smile he bestowed upon him. If they could just sneak away, just for a moment, he could find the strength to deal with all of this, but who knew when they’d find any time alone. His mother shifted slightly, then stood.
“Well, Desmond, you’ll want to get back to your hotel, I’m sure, and find some place for dinner. Please let us
know if you need any recommendations.” Her voice was dismissive as though she couldn’t or wouldn’t be challenged. Desmond’s face fell slightly but he stood anyway and pasted on a bright smile.
“Absolutely, Samantha,” he began, but Max cut him off.
“I was thinking I’d have dinner with Des, Mom, since he came all this way.” He stood but his voice trailed off as his mother and Des both shot him warning looks.
“That’s alright, Max,” Desmond’s voice was tense but pointed. “I see you all the time; I’m sure your mother would like to spend this time with you.” He moved forward and offered his hand to Max, who grabbed at it as though it were a life boat and he were sinking in the dreary that was his mother’s house. He held on as long as he could before Des pulled away with a quick nod. “Goodnight, you two.”
With less than five steps, his long legs carried him up the split level steps and to the front door, and then he was gone with a soft click of a door. Beside him, his mother nodded quickly and stepped past Max.
“I’m not all that hungry, Max,” she murmured. “You’ll have to fend for yourself for dinner.”
Max watched her walk away, his temper flushing his cheeks. He could have gone with Desmond. She’d dismissed him on purpose. For the first time, he saw the Samantha his sister raged against but unlike her, he found that he didn’t have the strength to leave her. He sank back down onto the sofa and clutched at the remote control, filling the room with the mindless hum of conversation.
Posted on | September 14, 2015 | No Comments
She paced the floors of her mother’s house while Tyler watched television.
“Should we call someone?” Her voice sounded shrill as it rang through her head, tinged with the fear of losing two parents in one weekend. Max shook his head and handed her an opened beer. She took a long, slow sip then did a double take. “Where the hell did this come from?”
“Guilty,” Desmond waved sheepishly from his seat next to Tyler on the sofa. “I figured we could all use it this
week.” Kate raised the bottle in a mock salute.
“Good man,” she turned the bottle up and drained it, holding her hand out for another. As Max stepped to
retrieve another bottle, they heard the familiar mechanical roar of the garage door rising and they turned, expectantly waiting for Samantha to return. In typical Samantha fashion, she waltzed into the room with a surprised look, as if she weren’t expecting them all there; as if she hadn’t seen the cars in front of the house. Kate stepped toward her, angrily, but Max threw out an arm and just missed clothes-lining her to hold her back.
“Mom,” Max stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her. Kate watched Samantha draw up as if to push
him away and then watched as all of the fight seemed to drain out of her body and she just… collapsed. There was no noise, no sobs or anything else, just the full collapse of her mother’s body into her brother’s arms. Max laid his head on top of Samantha’s, eyes closed, and Kate felt suddenly left out, as though they were a family of two and she didn’t exist at all. For a moment, she stood there and watched, feeling like she was almost spying, then she just walked away.
It hadn’t always been like that. Before she left for college, it was she and Max against the world or definitely
against Samantha. She was always the stick in the mud, the one saying “no” when Daddy always said “yes.” But
that first summer after school, it was as though she were a stranger there in the house. Everything was hushed and murmured; secret gestures and languages that only Samantha and Max seemed to know. She’d asked Max
about it but he’d just full body shrugged the way only thirteen year old boys could do and said it was nothing.
But it wasn’t nothing. Max was different, more subdued, more intent on being something big and important for his parents. Everything had changed and no one would admit anything was different.
She sat down on the sofa between Tyler and Des and wrapped her arm around her son, drawing him close. He
wriggled out from her grasp with a half-smile, as though he had to be cool for Des… as though snuggling his mom was SO yesterday. She sighed and turned her attention to the screen until she heard the footsteps move from the kitchen and start down the split level stairs. She looked up to see her mother stepping carefully down the stairs, with Max by her side. Des immediately stood and flipped of the television.
“Hey Tyler, wanna show me your soccer skills?” God bless that man, Kate thought, smiling and nodding as her son looked at her questioningly and bounded outside after Desmond. Once the door closed behind them, she looked expectantly at her mother.
“So…” her voice trailed off and Max cleared his throat. Samantha looked around the room as though she couldn’t
decide on a place to rest her eyes. She moved with purpose over to the heavy blinds against the windows and without warning, threw them open. Dust flew everywhere and Max sneezed unexpectedly. Kate almost gasped; she couldn’t remember the curtains ever being open down here. Her mother had said the sunlight gave her migraines but there she was, standing before the window with her arms stretched out as though she were welcoming in an old friend.
“I always hated these damn curtains,” she spat out the words, then turned with an unfamiliar smile lighting her
face. She looked around briefly and when her eyes landed on the beer in Kathryn’s hand, she smiled. “Max, dear, will you get me one of those beers?”
Kate thought she might actually pass out. She sat down quickly on the sofa while her brother dutifully wandered to the kitchen for what had to be the first beer their mother had ever had in her entire life. She watched,
wide-eyed as Samantha raised the bottle and sniffed delicately at the rim.
“You don’t use a glass or anything?” She wasn’t really asking, she just had that way of almost chastising Kate
with rhetorical questions. Samantha took a tiny sip and screwed up her mouth. “Dear God it’s awful.” She handed it back to Max and shook her head. “How can you drink that stuff?” She shuddered. “Give me bourbon over that nonsense any day.”
It was official, Kate thought, her mother had gone completely off her rocker. She watched as Samantha sank down into a nearby chair and loosen the bun at the nape of her neck. The soft gray curls spilled down around her shoulders and for a moment, sitting there with her eyes closed, she looked fragile. Kate could see the light trace of veins beneath her mother’s skin and Kate felt a sudden urge to press her forehead against the soft powder of her mother’s skin. Max was fidgeting like a bird, on edge and circling the chair that housed their mother as though she might disappear if he took his eyes off her. He paused for a moment in his pacing and Samantha reached a hand up, without even opening her eyes, as though she knew her son was there and knew he would meet her grasp. Kate had to look away; she’d never been comfortable with the love her mother and her brother shared. It was like they lived in their own world, where Kate was more of an outsider than a sister or daughter. Max just seemed to understand Samantha in a way Kate never could. Kate cleared her throat and stood.
“I can’t do this right now,” she mumbled under her breath. Samantha’s eyes flew open but before she could
speak, Kate was half way up the split-level stairs and wasn’t looking back. She just couldn’t do this now.
When she’d come home from college that second summer, all keyed up over her selection of a major and
ready to bounce ideas off her baby brother and the father she adored. Instead, she’d come home to little fanfare,
walking into an empty house and calling out for anyone, even Samantha, to recognize she was home. She’d told
them she was coming, she knew Samantha had to have put it on the calendar; she put everything on the calendar. Kate had wandered through the entire house, growing increasingly more frantic when she couldn’t find anyone.
Something must have happened. Samantha usually had the fridge stocked with Kate’s favorite foods, and her
father always took the day off to wait for her arrival. Yet no one was anywhere. It was impossible not to worry; everything was wrong.
Kate paced the floors, wondering if she should call the police or at least one of Max’s friends to find out where
Max might be. In the age before cell phones, there was nothing to do but wait. After almost an hour, the back door opened to a cadence of laughter and Max burst in with a smile on his long face. Behind him, Samantha stepped in, her eyes sparkling in an unfamiliar way. When they saw Kate, they both stopped short. A bigger smile splayed across Max’s face and he crossed the room in just a few lanky steps, wrapping his arms around her. Kate pushed him away, staring at her mother.
“Kathryn!” Samantha stepped forward with her arms outstretched.
“Where were you.” Her voice was flat, all excitement disappeared in the forty-five minutes of panic and worry.
“Darling. I’m so happy you’re home!” Samantha spread her arms wide, as though Kate would just fall into
them like suddenly everything was fine. “I’m sorry… just forgot it was today, that’s all. Are you hungry?” When she noticed Kate wasn’t coming any closer, she busied her hands with kitchen work, opening and closing cabinets as though something might be discovered there that would make everything better. Kate watched her for a moment, expecting something more. Her anger was replaced with disappointment, and she turned and left the kitchen, with Max following along behind her like a chastised puppy.
There were too many memories like that one; too many times her mother had disappointed her. She’d had to
ask, at dinner, where her father was, and only then did they tell her he was in the hospital. There was no
explanation, no reasoning except that he was sick again. When she asked to visit him, they told her he was
contagious and couldn’t have visitors. She could call him, and she did… sometimes twice a day. And eventually, he came home and everything seemed somewhat normal for the last two weeks of her summer. But that feeling of being left out of some secret club that her brother and mother created never went away. From that summer on, she had never felt at home in her home.
Today was just more of the same. Kate was tossing clothes into her suitcase when she heard his steps on the
floor, and she turned to see Max leaning against the door frame.
“Don’t go, Seez.” He used their old nickname, but she wouldn’t let him talk her into staying.
“I can’t do this, Max.” She wouldn’t make eye contact, wouldn’t stop haphazardly throwing her and Ty’s clothes
back in the large red suitcase she’d only just unpacked.
“Give her a chance to explain, Seez.”
“Explain what? That I’m somehow not part of your secret club? That you and she have this mutual understanding that I’m supposed to just grin and bear through?” Each word was accompanied by the soft pad of
cloth on cloth, as if throwing the clothes would make her feel better.
“You just don’t understand. You need to talk to her.”
“Why.” Kate turned and faced him, her eyes glistening with tears. “Why should I talk to her, Max? She hasn’t talked to me, not really, since I was a kid. She doesn’t give two shits about me and you know it!”
“Kathryn.” Samantha stood in the doorway, her eyes wide and face pale. She looked as though she’d been
slapped hard across the face and for a moment, Kate felt almost sorry for what she’d said. “Kathryn, please don’t
leave.”The words seemed to hurt her mother to even say but she continued. “There is so much that needs to still be done; so many things that need to be sorted through. I,” she paused and reached out a thin, frail hand slightly
towards her daughter before pulling it back and laying it against the door frame. “I need you here.”
Kate turned away, her back solidifying the wall between them and continued her frenetic packing. “I won’t leave town,” she spat the words out, hoping to mask the hurt in her voice, “But I’m not staying here. Ty and I will get a hotel room.”
Posted on | September 14, 2015 | No Comments
Although she wanted nothing more than to be home, Samantha didn’t drive to the house. Instead, she meandered the familiar streets of her town, finally pulling into a parking lot at one of those coffee shops she saw everywhere but never went into. Of all the places in town, this was the last place her children would look for her and honestly, more than she needed to be home, she needed to think. For the past twenty years, she’d done nothing more or less than be at her husband’s beck and call. She’d taken him to all his appointments, made sure his clothes were always clean and ironed, and cooked him three square meals a day. She did everything in her power to keep his world neat and clean, to keep the monsters at bay in the only way she knew how. But of course it wasn’t enough. There was nothing she could do to keep his monsters at bay.
Samantha ordered a tea which inexplicably came with a myriad of questions on temperature, size, and everything short of color of the mug, and then settled into one of the cushioned chairs. She couldn’t stay away forever, certainly. There were so many things that needed to be done now, so many secrets to share, so many lose ends to tie up. She thought about the years she’d lost, the people and places she’d lost, and for the first time since Jackson left, she felt honestly like crying. The tea was luke warm at best and she sipped at it absently. Without warning, a memory crept up on her, one she’d pushed down for so long she hadn’t known it still existed.
Max was only twelve. He’d been up in his room,playing on the computer in that intense way he had. Kathryn was away, off at her first year of college and maybe that’s why it all fell apart. Somehow, Jackson always made more of an effort with Kathryn was there, as though convincing her that everything was okay was more important than actually being okay. When she left, everything just fell apart. But Samantha hadn’t known how bad it had gotten, hadn’t realized how bad it was, until that day. She’d been making tea, that awful smelling tea that Jackson’s doctor suggested because the smell of it masked the taste of the medicine she slipped and stirred in with the organic honey he insisted on. She remembered being so very tired that afternoon, feeling off kilter and exhausted from the mask of her every day life. She carried the mug of tea up the stairwell to the bedroom, where Jackson was having a rest. She could remember each step, the clatter of spoon against mug as the wood creaked beneath her feet. She’d juggled the mug to her left hand and knocked softly at the door she ought to, by right, have full access to. Of course she didn’t, though. It was Jackson’s room, his cave where he retreated at any given moment to be free from their life together. He didn’t answer the knock and when she turned the handle, she realized the door was locked. She’d been so angry at him in that moment. How dare he lock her out of her own room? She sighed with exasperation and, giving up all pretense of being quiet, she marched over to Max’s room and threw open the door.
“I need the key, Max.”
He looked up and blinked, brushing those ridiculous waves of black hair from his forehead. It was like she’d awakened him from a deep slumber and it took him more than a few moments to respond.
“The key,” she held out her hand, expectantly. “Your father fell asleep and accidentally locked me out of the room. I need the key.”
“Oh!” Max grinned in that endearing way he had and stretched his arms up over his head. “I put it over the door, just in case.”
Samantha couldn’t help but grin back. Max had unintentionally locked himself out of his bedroom several times and they kept one of those master keys in the house. Of course he would have placed it somewhere he could easily reach it. He stood up and walked into the hall, pulling the key off the top of the door frame and stretching it out to his mother.
“Want me to? I’m kind of an expert now,” He grinned again, and Samantha nodded.
“Yes, thanks. I’m going to go reheat your father’s tea, tell him I’ll be up in a minute.”
Max nodded and she started back down the stairs to the kitchen. If she could go back, she’d do it all differently. If she could go back and change the past, that was one of the many decisions she would rethink. She’d take the key and handle it herself, if she could rewrite their history, and protect Max from that moment that was before him. As it were, she couldn’t go back, and she remembered hearing the click of the key against the lock, and smiling to herself over how good Max had gotten at breaking into their own house. She remembered the soft pat of her bare foot on the step and then that quiet, that awful, eerie quiet that sent every hair on her body standing on edge. She didn’t hear Max talking. Suddenly her foot stumbled, she dropped the tea and didn’t even hear the sound of the mug shatter against the floor. Something was wrong.
She took the stairs two at a time and pushed her way into the room. Max was standing by the door, his mouth open, his whole body shaking. It took her less than a second to survey the scene before her and then she was screaming. She was screaming and her screams released something inside her. She flew to the closet, desperately positioning herself beneath the dangle of her husband’s feet.
“HELP ME!” she screamed, begging her son to move from where he stood. He moved in slow motion, not towards her, but towards the bedside table where, in her frantic attempts to bolster Jackson’s legs and relieve the strain against his neck, she couldn’t tell what he was doing. Later she knew he was calling for help, begging for an ambulance to come and help her save the man she used to love. But in the moment, all she knew was the sound of her husband’s ragged, fading breath, and the desperation of her hands. He was too big for her, too strong, but Max pulled the chair closer, positioning it under Jackson’s feet as the two of them held him, against his will, on the solid surface until the paramedics came. She watched her son wrap his twelve year old arms around his father’s leg, as Jackson kicked and flailed against him; watched as Max’s face broke and crumbled and broke again as he sobbed with an angst that broke her. She’d spent so many years trying to protect her children from this, from the reality of their family, and now she had failed. She had failed her son. Her hands loosened on Jackson’s leg, wondering for a moment if she should just let him go, just let him have what he seemed to so desperately want.
Her son’s plea pulled her back and she remembered why she did this, why she fought so hard for the life her husband didn’t want. She braced herself against the kicking leg and let the tears fall, waiting for the peace that would come when they took him away again.
Her tea had grown cold while she shuddered through that memory, but after the images faded she realized she didn’t want tea anyway. She stood, tossing the cup in the trash and trying to remember what she did in the days and months and years before the accident stole her husband.
She couldn’t remember one thing, one person, one activity she had engaged in that had been only for her in the last twenty some years and she knew suddenly, without a doubt, that with everything she’d tried to protect her children from, she’d ended up preventing them from knowing her at all. It was time to change that, if there was any way she could. She stretched her arms back, feeling the crack of her shoulders releasing tension. She should go home.
Posted on | September 11, 2015 | 2 Comments
This was taking too long. Why did it have to take so long? She just wanted to be home, alone in her bedroom. She wanted to put on a nightgown and climb into clean sheets that were still warm from the dryer. Sheets that smelled clean in a normal sort of way, not clean in that antiseptic way they’d smelled for so long. She just wanted to be alone. Yet here she was stuck in this room full of people who seemed to be multiplying by the second. There were not this many people who loved Jackson, were there? Who else were they here for? She had left behind her friends on that long ago day, and none of these people seemed young enough to know the kids. Of course Des was here, though she had to admit she wished he weren’t. He made her so uncomfortable, the way he controlled her son’s emotions. Ever since the first time she’d met him, she’d wanted to rip his face off. Jackson said she was crazy, that Desmond was a good friend to Max, and yes, she knew that he was. But she also sensed that he was much more to her son, and that made her wary.
She knew if she could just get him away from Desmond, get him to remember who he really was… maybe he could find a girlfriend. This thing with Desmond was just crazy. It wasn’t Max. She watched them try to avoid touching each other in the crowd and she shuddered.
Samantha turned her thoughts away from Max and back to the problem before her. She had to find a way to stop this, to extricate herself from the hushed murmur of voices and get home to where her thoughts were her own. Maybe she could faint or collapse or something to get everyone to leave. No. If she collapsed they’d probably take her to the hospital and all she wanted was home. All her life, she’d done the right and proper thing, even when she didn’t want to. She’d pressed and tucked and pushed down so many of her own wants and needs that she barely knew who she was anymore. Maybe this was her time, though. Maybe now that Jackson was gone, she could be Sammy again. She looked around the room, at all the expectant eyes and arms and she felt nothing but disgust. She couldn’t do this anymore.
She remembered the first time she’d tried to leave him. It had been at the tail end of winter, though it was unseasonably warm. She remembered that because she hadn’t known exactly what to pack for the kids. Should she prepare for cold weather or hope it stayed warm? It was later in the evening when she’d pulled out the suitcases and started the process; perfectly creased and folded underwear, slips, and blouses. In retrospect she didn’t know if she took her time so he would see her, or if it was really that important for her to pack so neatly. She’d made it halfway through when she heard the door open and his footsteps in the hall. She was sure words were exchanged, sure that he asked her something and sure she had responded, but all she really remembered was the look in his eyes. He didn’t look angry or even sad… he looked disappointed. He looked as though she’d let him down, as though she’d failed some important test she hadn’t known she was taking. With less than two steps he was by her side and though she’d thought he’d hit her, though she’d wished he would hit her, all he had done was turn the suitcase upside down, scattering her perfectly folded clothes across the floor. And then he’d kicked them around, each swing of his leg bringing tears to her eyes, each swing of his leg reminding her that she couldn’t leave, she could never leave. Bruises she could explain. Bruises would give her something to throw back at him, something to show her children when their tender, trusting eyes asked “why”? But there were no bruises, there would never be any bruises. Instead, he kicked her clothes around the room, silently reproaching her for disappointing him again.
Her whole marriage after the accident had been one long disappointment, probably for both of them. She looked around this room of people who had never really known her husband. She saw her children’s faces, saddened by his passing, but all she felt was relief. This was just so theatrical, she thought, so far from what should be happening right at this moment, to commemorate his death. It wasn’t that she hadn’t loved him, she had… once. But it was so long ago that she couldn’t really remember what that even tasted like.
She stood there for a moment, hovering between who she should be and who she wanted to be. Finally, with purposeful steps and without once looking backwards, she crossed the room, waltzed through the open door, and slammed it closed behind her. She was leaving him again, but this time, at least she knew she wouldn’t go back.
Kate, Max, and the mismatched onlookers watched her leave, their collective eyes widened in disbelief.
“Did she just…”Max trailed off, gesturing towards the door.
“She totally did,” Kate shook herself into motion and started after her, calling for Tyler to follow. Her children and the rest of the funeral goers made it to the parking lot in time to witness Samantha car peel out onto the road and disappear.
“Well shit.” Kate spoke without thinking, her mouth staying open until Max ran up beside her and closed it with one finger.
“Little pitchers,” he trailed off, flipping his head toward Tyler who looked innocently up at his mom.
“What’s ‘shit’ mean, mom?”
Posted on | September 11, 2015 | No Comments
She couldn’t believe Des had done it, but she had to commend him for his timing. He was absolutely right, Max needed him there. Hell, she needed him there. Des had this calming effect that she wished she could find in a man. Max was pretty lucky, even if he didn’t realize it. She looked at her brother and could tell he’d finally cried; crying; it was about time. He’d been fighting with his emotions over Daddy’s death since it happened and she’d wondered how long he could hold it all together. She watched as Max distanced himself from Desmond and shook her head; she was always amazed by how much her brother lived to please Samantha.
Kate almost giggled as she watched her mother greet Desmond, and wondered when Max would grow a pair and tell Samantha the truth. She had to know, right? Everyone knew. Des was a public figure back home and it would take her mom all of three seconds to Google him, for God’s sake. But her mother always had lived with blinders when it came to Max. All she wanted to see was a perfect son who followed all the rules and Samantha-imposed guidelines for how to live a perfect little life. She watched her mother move away from Des and toward her. Suddenly she became aware that she was boxed in, totally surrounded by her mother’s friends and church members and she had no escape. She was at the mercy of her mother.
“Kathryn,” Samantha held out her hands to her daughter but Kate refused to take them. She looked over her shoulder, hoping that maybe Tyler was doing something he shouldn’t just to give her an out. He was sitting quietly in the corner with the iPad… of course. Just like the boys in her life to never be there when she needed them. She couldn’t help but notice the touch of mirth in Max’s eyes as she looked to him for help and he turned away. Just great.
Samantha wouldn’t take no for an answer and she reached down and grabbed Kate’s hands in hers. Kate was taken by surprise at the roughness of her mother’s touch; in her memory, those hands had always been so smooth and untouched by work of any kind. These hands in hers were older, weathered in a way she hadn’t expected. She avoided her mother’s eyes as she responded.
“It’s Kate, Samantha, how many times do I have to tell you that.”
“Kate then, fine,” her mother sighed, “Can you at least call me ‘mother’?”
“I don’t know, can you BE one?” The venom in her voice actually took her by surprise and she looked up at her mother, startled. Samantha’s eyes hooded slightly, protecting her from the anger in her daughter’s voice. She looked old all of a sudden, and Kate’s glare softened.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She mumbled, squeezing those hardened hands lightly. She still couldn’t call her ‘Mom’, but she could call a truce for today. Daddy would have wanted that. She cleared her throat to disturb the silence.
“How are you doing, Kate?” Her mother spoke her name with a clipped enunciation as though saying anything other than Kathryn was physically painful. Kate wouldn’t let her get to her; she took a deep breath.
“I’m alright,” She glanced around, wondering when her mother would let go of her hands. “How are you?”
Samantha actually laughed, a strange and strangled sound that was alarmingly out of place in the quiet murmur of the room. Kate met her mother’s eyes, sensing a wildness there that scared her. For the first time, she actually found herself wondering who this woman was. Was she upset about Daddy? Was her mother actually human? Was she possibly even falling apart?
“Samantha … mom?” She choked out the word, “Are you okay?”
Samantha dropped her hands and patted absently at Kate’s shoulder as she turned away. If she didn’t know better, Kate would swear her mother was actually mumbling to herself. Something was definitely wrong; something more than just Daddy being gone. As her mother moved away, Kate’s eyes sought out Max.
The best thing about her brother was that he could always read her emotions. She didn’t have to say anything for Max to start moving towards her. Des followed, a half-step behind, and before she could clear her thoughts they were both standing in front of her.
“What is it?” Max didn’t mince words, and he placed his hand on her shoulder, sinking into the still warm spot where her mother had been moments before. She shrugged and gestured toward their mother.
“Something’s wrong with her,” Kate’s words sounded silly in her head. Of course something was wrong with her, her husband was dead. Only she knew it was more than that, even if she didn’t know why. Max looked at Des and they both looked at her with incredulous stares.
“Something is wrong with her?” Max patted her gently. “Well, yeah, Kate. It’s a funeral.”
Kate shook her head.
“No. Max, it’s more. It’s more!” She watched Samantha across the room, the way she seemed to float absently around the people. She wasn’t connecting, that was it. She was totally disconnected from the woman she’d always been. It couldn’t just be Daddy. She’d never shown any interest in him when he was alive; there was no reason for her to grieve his death. What she was seeing in her mother didn’t seem like grief, anyway. It seemed more like she was, well, lost. As though someone had spun her around and around the way Kate used to spin as a child, and then released her… dizzy and confused and without direction.
She tried to explain all of that to Max but he nodded and smiled with a tenderness that seemed to say ‘you’re overreacting’. She knew she wasn’t crazy; something was definitely wrong with their mother. She finally gave up, stepping away from Max and Des and starting after Samantha. Someone had to do something. She caught up to her quickly, matching her slow and aimless stride through the room.
“What’s going on,” Kate whispered softly, leaning close to her mother. This wasn’t the role she wanted to play, she thought, as she tucked a loose strand of purple behind her ear. She just wanted to get in, get out, and get back to her life. Samantha looked at Kate with a small smile.
“I’m fine, Kathryn.” She smiled, then corrected herself. “Kate. I’m fine.”
At least that was a more convincing exchange, Kate thought, and she tried to shake off her concern. Who was she to say there was anything wrong with Samantha? After all, she didn’t know her mother on a good day and hadn’t since she was a little girl. The last time she had really felt close to her mother was so long ago that she barely remembered the feeling.
Every summer, the four of them took a trip to the same house at the same beach. When it was just the three of them, before Max, Kate remembered building sandcastles with her mother; delicate creations with shells and sand and drips of salty sea water. They would spend a week covered in the slick film of sunscreen, smelling like cocoa butter and sunshine. In the mornings, they would play on the beach for hours, taking a picnic lunch and eating with toes dug deep into the sand. Kate couldn’t smell sunscreen without feeling she was standing on the wooden slats of that rickety deck with her eyes squinted shut and her arms outstretched as her mother smoothed lotion across her skin.
It had been on one of those trips, when her mother was round and ripe with her baby brother, that Samantha crept into her room and sat beside Kate on the twin bed.
“Kathryn…” she sang her name in an off-key lilt that always made Kate lie extra still, wanting to wrap herself in the warm blanket of the moment. Finally, she opened her eyes and smiled up at her mother. With a finger to her lips and another crooked to summon her from bed, Samantha instructed her to climb silently from bed and get dressed quickly.
“Where we going?” Kate whispered into the curve of her mother’s ear and then grinned as Samantha responded. They slipped from the house and out into the salt of the morning. She held her mother’s hand tightly as they crossed the streets and made their way over onto the shifting sand. Samantha pulled off her shoes and tossed them aside and Kate followed, walking just behind her mother and fitting her tiny feet into the imprints of her mother’s. They walked that way for what seemed like miles, just the two of them on the empty beach, until her mother stopped, turned, and smiled down at Kate. She sat down carefully, tucking her long skirt beneath her legs and patted the ground beside her. Kate flopped down giggling, snuggling up to the side of her mother. They’d sat there in almost absolute silence, watching the sun rise up over the curl of the waves. She couldn’t say what they talked about or if they talked at all, she could only remember the warmth of her mother beside her and the feeling of being perfectly content. Kate wondered what had happened to that woman, the one who sat beside her at the beach that long ago morning. It seemed like everything since then had been a disaster; a push and pull of mother versus daughter with neither of them willing to give even an inch to the other. She wished they could just go back to that morning, even for just a moment, so she could ask Samantha what it was that would happen, what would drive the wedge between them. Something had happened. Something had to have happened. But Kate didn’t know what it was that she had done.
Posted on | September 10, 2015 | 2 Comments
He almost felt him before he saw him. It was like a wash of peace sort of settled in and around his heart and when he looked up, there he was. Of course, he wasn’t supposed to be there, but damn if Max wasn’t glad as hell to see him. He looked good, too, freshly shaved and in that blue tailored suit that Max loved so much. It brought out his eyes, that warm chocolate brown that made you want to dive in and swim around for a bit in the beauty of him. Max had never known anyone like Desmond. He was just so damn beautiful. Too pretty to be a man, with that smooth as butter skin and the deep rich roll of his voice. Still. Dammit he shouldn’t be here.
It took only six purposeful steps for Max to find himself at Desmond’s side, breathing in the heavy sandalwood smell of him.
“How are you,” the rich voice poured out and twirled into Max’s ears like silk. God he wanted to hug him.
“What are you doing here, Des?” He kept his voice low, thinking maybe, if he was lucky, he could usher him out without anyone knowing. And then he heard it, the reverberating echo of his nephew’s voice, screaming out his boyfriend’s name. Desmond bent down to welcome the boy, lifting him up and into the air.
“Tyler! My main man! How are you, buddy?”
“My Grandpop died,” Tyler announced very seriously, gesturing back towards the coffin in the other room.
“I know, bud, I’m real sorry about that,” Des always spoke to Tyler like he was a grown up and he looked at him very seriously as he spoke. Tyler looked almost like he would cry and then he smiled.
“Are you gonna stay at Grams’ house, too?” Desmond looked over at Max with a long meaningful glance and Max knew all too well what he was thinking. It was time, his eyes said, and yeah sure four years was a long damn time to date in secret but here? What the hell was he thinking. He waited for Des to set Tyler’s feet back on the ground and then Max grabbed him lightly by the elbow and steered him from the room. Once he’d pushed him out into one of the preschool classrooms he closed the door and took a long look at Des, drinking him in the way he always did when they were alone. Damn he looked good. And Max wanted nothing more than for him to walk over and wrap his arms around him as if they were home. But they weren’t at home and Des had no business being here.
“What the hell are you doing, here?” His voice cracked slightly in the stale air of the room.
“Come on, Max. It’s your dad’s funeral. I can’t do this anymore,” Des stepped closer, laying a hand against his arm. “Christmas and birthday I can handle, but dammit this is big. And you need me here as much as I need to be here!” He raised his voice only slightly, but the frustration and anger was evident in his tone. Max knew he meant well, he knew that Des just wanted to be there for him and really, in a perfect world, Max wanted Des to be there, too.
But this wasn’t a perfect world.
“How can you not know that this is the worst possible time for you to be here?” Max felt the curl of red blaze up on his neck, “It’s my father’s fucking funeral, Des! His funeral! And my mom? She’s been through enough without this. Without you. Without … dammit it’s my father’s funeral!” The tears came without warning and Max felt something in him break. Des wrapped those warm arms around him and then he was kissing him, kissing his tears, kissing his mouth, kissing away the memory of that moment before when his father had just laid there, still and silent. Desmond held him until the tears stopped and then Max pulled back again.
“You need me here, Maxim, you do,” Desmond drew his hand across Max’s face, peeling away the tearstains. “I don’t have to be here as your boyfriend, okay?” His voice was soft. “I can just be here as your friend. Until you’re ready. Okay? Don’t shut me out of this, please.”
Max cracked his neck and thrust his shoulders back. He shuttered his eyes and turned away. “Just as my friend,” he nodded briskly. “Just… don’t look at me like that.”
Des grinned a slow, sensual grin and Max grabbed a box of tissues and threw it at him. “Yeah. That, asshole. Don’t do that!”
Max walked back into the room several steps ahead of Desmond only to have his mother glide over and place her hand on Desmond’s arm.
“Desmond. It’s so good of you to come,” she smiled and moved away, having done her duty to the man she assumed was little more than a roommate. Max breathed out a sigh of relief and searched for his sister’s eyes in the crowd. She lifted an eyebrow and gave him a half smile. Max shook his head. Nothing could just be simple. He thought he could handle this, living one life here and another at home, though he’d always intended to tell his parents. Eventually. Kate knew, of course, and none of his friends were in the dark about his relationship. It just wasn’t something you could say to the father who was larger than life and the mother who barely moved without approval from some 1940s etiquette book. Being gay wasn’t exactly what she had planned for Max, and Max had, if nothing else, always lived up to his mother’s plan.
He’d gone to the right school, taken the right classes, and played the right sports. He’d even taken the right girl to prom, buying the matching corsage and wearing the tie and cummerbund. He’d even joined the right fraternity, basking in the pride on his father’s face as he showed him around the fraternity house. His brothers had known before he had, really. They never tried to force him to bring dates to any functions and none of them seemed overly surprised to hear that he was living with Desmond. Of course they knew Desmond, a legend in his own right at their particular chapter. He’d graduated the year before Max arrived at school, but he still lived in the area and was the voice of reason and instruction when any of his brothers needed him. Everyone knew he was gay, but no one cared. He was just that cool; editor in chief of the student newspaper, president of the fraternity, and after graduation, a reporter at the local news station. Max was in awe of him, amazed by how effortlessly he moved between circles of people, how everyone just loved him and accepted who he was without any question. Besides all of that, he was just gorgeous in a way that could not be denied. And when he turned his attentions to Max, a lowly freshman who didn’t know anything about anything, Max was just overwhelmed by him.
Des had helped him realize why it was he didn’t quite feel right about the girl he dated in high school. Des was the one he turned to when that first guy, that jerk he met in the library, stole his wallet and phone after a brief make out session in Max’s dorm room. It was Des who tracked down the wallet and phone and made sure the guy thought twice about ever pulling that stunt again. Des was who held him when he cried over getting his heart broken again and again and then that one night, after he’d run back to school to leave the memory of his mother’s face after… he shook his head. Anyway, that one night when Des had admitted he’d been in love with Max since he first saw him at the fraternity house. And Max had never known he could feel as full of, well, life… as he did in that moment, when he realized Des loved him and he loved Des right back.
After graduation, they moved in together but still his mother didn’t know. His sister had just called him up one day and said “When are you going to tell me that you’re gay?” which still made him laugh when he thought about it. Since then, Des had become a fixture in weekly dinners with Kate and Tyler and sometimes he wished the four of him were all he had to worry about in terms of family. He’d always meant to tell his father, to come clean about his life and his love… but now it was too late. His father would have taken it so much better than his mother would. Or would he have? Max had to admit that the last few years had shown him that maybe he’d never really known his father at all.
He wished he hadn’t promised his mother he wouldn’t tell Kate.
Posted on | September 10, 2015 | No Comments
Tyler was getting tired. She could tell that he was bored and ready to go by the slight whine in his voice and the restlessness of his feet. He was only five and really, her mom was right… five was too young for a funeral. But she couldn’t very well leave him home, not when she so vividly remembered that moment when she realized she didn’t get to say goodbye to her own grandfather. She’d been about Tyler’s age then, maybe a bit older because she thought Max had been there, too, and she’d watched her mother pin her hair back in that no-nonsense bun. Her dad, where was he then? In the hospital, she supposed, but her mother was neat and pressed in… God, was it the same suit she had on now? Probably. Some things were always and yet never in style. And Kate had thought she would go, too. She’d put on that Easter dress, the one with the white ruffles on the bottom that she’d hated so much. She thought putting it on would change her mother’s mind, as though dressing like the daughter Samantha wanted would convince her mother that Kate was that daughter. She hoped it would convince Samantha that she was worthy of going alongside her to see their family and to say goodbye.
But it hadn’t been enough… it was never enough for Samantha. She couldn’t remember the words that were said, but she remembered ripping the dress off and banging her fists against the glass of the wide dormer window as she watched her mother pull slowly out of the driveway. She remembered the arms of her babysitter wrapping around her and picking her up from where she finally collapsed in the window seat, exhausted from crying. It had stuck with her, that feeling of not being good enough, and she didn’t want Tyler to feel that way, not at her hands, not ever. Her mother had been gone for what seemed like forever, coming home late that evening. She remembered Samantha sitting down on the side of her bed, reaching out one of those impeccably manicured hands and trying to touch her face. She’d turned away from her mother then, hiding her cheeks between the pillow and comforter, denying her mother the way she’d been denied. She’d heard Samantha sigh and then heard the clip of her heels against the floor.
And then she was gone.
It was the last time Kate remembered her mother ever trying to touch her.
Not that Kate had made it easy. She did everything she could to ignore her mother. If Kate had wanted to be a dancer, she would have refused simply because it would have made her mother happy to put those “my daughter is in the Nutcracker!” stickers all over her car. Samantha made it clear that what she wanted was a daughter exactly like her: obedient, put-together, appropriate in every instance. And it wasn’t like Kate hadn’t tried to be that for a while. She’d wanted so desperately to be like her mother… it just wasn’t her. She just couldn’t do it. And the more she tried to show her mother who she was, the more her mother drew away. Kate wasn’t Junior League and church picnic chair. She wasn’t “dinner is on the table at five pm sharp.” Kate wasn’t her mother.
But lately she’d come to realize that it was okay that she wasn’t her mother. No. She’d realize it was good that she wasn’t like Samantha. Kate had slowly started to embrace her own little quirks and nuances in a way she never had before. Before, it had always seemed like she was just being the opposite. Her mother hated tattoos, so Kate had one. Her mother hated dyed hair, so Kate dyed her hair. If it was the opposite of her mother, Kate embraced it as her own.
Only since Tyler, had she realized there was a lot of her mother in her, too, and that was okay, too. It didn’t make her Samantha. She could enjoy making a cake for her son without feeling like she was turning into her mother. She could even throw a party for her friends and not feel as though she were letting some part of herself down. In fact, the only reason her hair was purple now was because of the funeral. It had almost hurt her a little to put the temporary dye into her newly natural hair because she’d worked so hard to get it back to that warm, rich brown color it had been when she was a child. But she couldn’t give her mother that satisfaction. It was really purple, she thought as she pulled a strand in front of her eyes, and she almost laughed.
Across the room, she could see Samantha standing, aimless in a way she couldn’t remember ever seeing her mother. She almost looked… lost. Kate shook the unfamiliar emotion from her head; she would not feel sorry for that woman. She watched as the weird woman from their church hugged against Max and smiled at her brother’s reaction to the odd closeness of such an unfamiliar person. She wondered if Max would ever tell her mother the truth but she doubted he would. Max loved being the apple of her eye, even though that meant always being so damn perfect that Kate would kill him except that she knew it was an act. She knew how hard it was for Max to be here in that suit, here watching this funeral alone. He caught her eyes over the heads in the crowd and she grinned a little as he rolled his eyes. They were in this together; they always had been.
Sometime after Max was born, things changed around their house. Kate was never really sure what caused the change, but she knew that everything shifted somehow and her world became less about her mother and more about her father. He’d always been there, but after Max it was like Daddy became larger than life. She could have lived without Samantha, could have spent her life not caring one bit if Samantha was there or not there… but her father? She wasn’t sure how to live without him.
When she’d had bad days at school, it was always her father she ran to, always his arms that held her and stroked her hair against her head. He was the one who got her smiling and laughing again when the boy in seventh grade started everyone calling her a slut, even though she hadn’t even kissed a boy at that point. He’d passed a note around school, telling everyone that she had written it and left it in his locker… a note that promised to do something to him after school if he’d meet her in the girl’s bathroom. It had been the worst year of Kate’s life, those hours at school with everyone whispering about her, with all the older boys cornering her in the hallway and asking her to meet them later. She’d lost almost every friend she’d ever had. But at the end of each day, it was her father who kept her chin up and who told her not to let them get the best of her. It was her father who talked her mother into changing her schools, sending her to the private school clear across town where no one really cared what those public school punks said. Somehow, he’d made it all just go away and the unknown circumstances behind her transfer created a backstory that spread like wildfire. She was mysterious. She cut all her hair off, dyed the strands around her face bright pink, and started eighth grade with a reputation of being someone you didn’t mess with, someone you didn’t want to piss off. She, with the help of her father, totally reinvented herself at that moment and it was then that she realized she could be anyone in the world she wanted to be… she wasn’t stuck just being Kathryn Benson.
Kate looked back again at Max as he strode across the room with long, lanky strides. There was something unfamiliar in his eyes, something both pleased and scared. She watched him walk by with no indication of even knowing her and it was then that she saw him. He’d come. She couldn’t help it… she grinned. Somewhere deep down, she’d totally known he would show up. By the time Max had almost reached his side, Tyler had spotted him, and in his loud five-year old voice, he squealed out:
Posted on | September 10, 2015 | No Comments
It was the same church, the same aisles, and even many of the same people. Yes, they were all older,
but if she squinted just so, she could almost transform her neat black suit into the flowing lace and silk of her wedding gown. If she closed her eyes and breathed in, the flowers even smelled the same. This room smelled of love, not death. It shouldn’t represent death… not this room where they first looked vowed “til death do us part.” No one really thought about that, did they, the “death” part. It was all lace and frills and laughter then. She breathed in again.
These flowers didn’t smell the same. These flowers were too sweet, too overpowering. Suddenly the room wasn’t the same at all… it was full of a thick and cloying perfume designed to mask that underlying smell, that faintest of whispers that death was here. She tasted it again in the back of her throat, that metallic wince of pain
that took her right back to that moment, right back to the moment she hoped to leave behind. What was it about
smells these days that seemed to always deliver her back to that moment, that bitter, metallic stench of a
moment. She cleared her head and moved forward, stepping out into the side room the minister had set up for
The waiting room.
God knows she’d spent a lifetime in waiting rooms over the past few years, each one different. The
one she’d spent the most time in was seared into her memory. It had always tasted stale on her lips, an old
smell of cigarettes, patchouli, and loneliness. There were no hushed sounds, no whispers or murmurs that you find in the average doctor’s office because everyone knew why everyone else was there. It was a room filled to the edges with pain of every flavor; some were curved in bent in ways nature never intended and some, like Jackson, seemed out of place, impossibly well for such a room.
He worked the room with smiles and boisterous yet gentle pats on the back. These were his people. These
were the ones who knew his secret, knew what he struggled with every day. Here, he was even more, even bigger, ever the Jackson that everyone thought they knew… the Jackson he desperately wished he still was. He laughed and joked, giving no sight of his torment other than the clenched white knuckles against her fingers. It embarrassed him, this need for her. She could feel it in the way he looked at her now. There was no longer the bluster of bravado and the puffed out chest; gone were the days of “I’ll take care of that” and even Honey Do lists were her responsibility now. He hadn’t wanted anyone else to help, not the kids, not the neighbors, and certainly not the church family they’d worked so hard to embrace. She felt isolated and alone, wedged into this tightly squeezed space beside him while he pretended to be the man he once was.
“Can I get you a chair or something, hon?”
The voice felt broadcast on a loudspeaker and shook her from her daydream. She looked up, her blank stare meeting the eyes of, oh what was her name. The loudmouth do-gooder who had been calling non-stop since all of this happened. Nancy? Ann? Annie? She couldn’t remember though she knew they’d been in Sunday School together back when she’d actually attended. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and pasted on an absent
“No thank you, Annie?” She raised her voice in a question and the woman smiled patting her shoulder. Yes. Annie… that was right after all. Samantha watched as the woman wound her way through the room, stopping to lay a hand against Kathryn’s cheek in a strangely intimate gesture for one so unfamiliar. Watching her daughter
stiffen against the touch almost made her laugh. Kathryn didn’t think Samantha knew her… but she did. She had
known her from the moment she first felt the flutter of motion in her abdomen.
She had been painting in the nursery, something they now said you absolutely couldn’t do as a pregnant woman, and her hair had tiny specks of soft green dotted against the darkness of her curls. Jackson was in the kitchen doing something, who knows what, and she’d called out with a shriek that brought him running to her side.
“What is it? Is it the baby?” He was out of breath and holding her at arms length, checking her for blood or
signs of distress. “What is it, Sammy?”
No one but Jackson had ever called her Sammy, no one. It wasn’t even something that anyone else ever heard… just his private name for her. It was one of the many things that disappeared and she often tried to remember the last time she’d heard him say her name that way, the soft caress of his voice, the adoration that she was his wife. But pregnant with Kathryn, she’d been his beloved. She giggled at his worry, dotting his nose with paint from her
finger and bringing his free hand to her belly.
“It’s moving,” she grinned, watching his eyes light up as the tiniest of kicks bounced against the press of his flesh. He kept his hand there, gazing at her with so much wonder and love that she’d thrown the paint brush down and tried to push him to the bedroom. But Jackson never would love her that way when she was pregnant. Still… those moments when their marriage was new, when she was flushed with his adoration and love and the expectation of Kathryn… those were the best of all their times together. It was only later that everything changed, that everything became so black and white and rigid. Before , when it was just the two of them, it felt like the world was opening up its arms to welcome them into the fold… as though any and everything were possible.
It was in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday when Samantha felt the first roll of labor sweep through her and they were at the hospital before she could hardly think. Jackson would have reached in and pulled the child out himself if he could have, he was that excited to meet his daughter. Back then, they didn’t have the fathers in the room the way they did now, so in her mind she always pictured Jackson pacing up and down the hospital hallways in a fedora, smoking a cigar like in an old black and white movie while she welcomed her wailing daughter into the world.
The moment they laid Kathryn against her skin the baby quieted, turning her deep set eyes up and blinking in the light. She stared at Samantha as though she knew everything about her… her thoughts, her feelings, her emotions… as though she had been privy to all her innermost thoughts by virtue of being in her innermost places. Samantha couldn’t bear to look in those eyes and she turned her head, avoiding looking at the daughter she had grown and birthed. She felt the room grow still as though she’d committed a dark and evil sin, despite the fact that everyone around her continued to move around her in circles and squares. She was honestly relieved when they whisked her away for a bath.
But like a tiny boomerang, that wail and those eyes returned and the next time they met, Samantha was smitten. Yet somehow, she always felt that Kathryn remembered those first early moments when her mother turned away. Somehow she carried in those dark eyes the memory of that hurt and betrayal, regardless of how Samantha tried to make it up to her.
Absently, she stroked her barely wrinkled hand against her stomach, feeling the familiarly unfamiliar raise
and fold that marked her as no longer a young woman. But she had been young once, she smiled a little at the
memories then remembered anyone could be watching. She supposed she owed Jackson one more day of her full
attention. It was the least she could do, though honestly… what did it matter now?
In the harsh neon lighting of the room, she could almost count the tear tracks on her children’s faces. There were streaks of black beneath her daughter’s eyes, smudged with tissue, and the tell tale off color splotching against her son’s face. He didn’t cry often, but she could always tell when Max was upset. Even as a little boy, as his emotions grew inside him, a red flush would rise up and over his chest and neck, creeping up to the corners of
his ears and onto his cheeks. Jackson called it the curse of the Irish, which always seemed silly but it gave Max
something to blame it on. He needed a haircut, that tall boy who was no longer her baby; he desperately needed a
Of course, Max really wasn’t her responsibility any more. Jackson had been on her for years to give him his space, to let him “bloom into the plant he’s supposed to be,” as Jackson would boom out in his loud voice. “They don’t grow like your garden, Mom, they’re not just what YOU plant.” He’d tousle her hair when he said it, as if it
made the words less harsh and unforgiving. Maybe it was after Max that he stopped calling her Sammy? She
couldn’t remember now.
There had been babies between, she sighed, watching her children. There had been what felt like a lifetime of babies between. Kathryn was barely one the first time she lost a child, and she still didn’t know which of them took it the worst. Jackson would spend hours sitting in the rocking chair of the nursery and she’d hear the
creak of the wooden floor boards as he rocked back and forth, watching Kathryn sleep. It was as though with each little life lost, he clung tighter to the one before him… watching her for signs that she would disappear, taking her giggle and toddle along with her.
There had been four babies altogether, four sweet little babies who never made it into her arms. She thought about them sometimes, wondered if among the four was the ballerina she’d always wanted, or the ball player for Jackson. She’d been so sure she couldn’t have any other children that she’d cried for days when she found out she was pregnant with Max, wishing the loss of him to come sudden and soon before she had time to acclimate herself to the thought of another mouth at her breast, another sweet smelling head nestled against hers. Even at nine months, when Jackson crowed about the house like an Olympic champion, so proud of his manhood… his virility… even then she hovered on the edge of knowing he would leave, knowing this was just a temporary moment for the two of them. It wasn’t until she heard the breaking cry of his birth and saw the squirm and
wiggle of his arms and legs that she let herself weep. She cried for what felt like days at the miracle of this child…
this reminder that she was still a woman, still able to be a mother again.
After Max there was no real need to pretend they would ever have more children. “One of each,” everyone smiled, as though that was the ultimate goal: two kids, one of each gender. As if the other four babies, whoever they would have been, hadn’t mattered at all because why would they need anything other than the two? Kathryn was six years older than Max and so it always felt more like raising two only children than siblings. From the moment they brought him home, Kathryn had taken on the role of “little mother” as Jackson called her, solemnly hanging diapers and rocking her brother to sleep. It was the only time Samantha ever saw her daughter act “feminine;” those moments when she cuddled her baby brother to her chest and murmured words to him that only the two of them knew. It was the same way she was with Tyler… a natural mother, nurturing and loving in all the ways Samantha never had been. At least not after.
Becaise she couldn’t really nurture her children, could she? Not with Jackson around. Everything was about him: his needs, his wants, his troubles and aches and pains. Everything she did, from the moment it all happened, EVERYTHING she did was for him. She wished she could say that she wanted to care for him that way, that she wanted to devote her time and energy to her husband in an act of self-sacrifice and love; but that wouldn’t be honest. She loathed him for it. She loathed the way he looked at her with those wide eyes, the way he would beg her to do something, anything for him. But she always did it. She always stopped and did whatever it was he needed because he was her husband, because she was tethered to him in sickness and in health, for as long as they both should live. Even if they shouldn’t live.
She sighed again, hoping the room would mistake her exhaustion for sadness. She tried to muster sadness for her husband but for so long she’d felt nothing but pity. She pitied him. She pitied every step, every breath, every word he spoke. And if she were being honest, this moment where he lie still and unmoving, gone from the world she inhabited? This moment was the best and most alive she’d felt in years. She wished she could go back and show her children who she could have been, the mother she could have been if they’d only known her before… if they could only remember her in the moments before, the days and years and lifetimes before everything changed and she stared blankly at the reflection in her mirror, not knowing who or what it reflected back to her.keep looking »