So, don’t tell her that she only has one mother and that this is time she can never get back. She will grimace at you like you have three heads and proceed to educate you in a reality you know nothing about. Don’t tell her because she will elaborate on late school nights where she was made to wake up and get into the car in her nightgown. She will tell you all about how she and her sister would sigh, grab their blankets and fake enthusiastic belief in their mother when she declared they were going on an adventure…again. It was a school night and neither little girl wanted to be awake, much less huddled into the waiting car for the next few hours.
Mom’s adventures were not a trip to the country for a picnic, nor were they a day at the nearest museum or park to play. Nope, mom preferred adventures that surrounded her and well her married boyfriends. Adventures in mom’s twisted brain meant she would reward us with chocolate donuts and orange juice (yuck) if we sat quietly in the backseat while she stalked her boyfriends. Yes, you read that right. Her first grader and fifth grader were driven around the city when they should have been sleeping, just so she could see if her man was out cheating on her or resting in his half-double house on Tank Street.
See, mom was single and she had both of us to take care of. She preferred not to work also. Now if you ask her, she will give you some lame excuse about back issues but the truth is that she was simply lazy. What you have to understand is that the world owed her. She did not believe in working for anything, no. It was much easier to have a boyfriend who thrilled the kids by letting them toss cookies into the cart at the grocery than to feel the exhilaration of her own paycheck. When school came around in late summer, those same boyfriends would feel pity for her kids and finance clothing for them. Button down oxford shirts, one in each color and two pairs of jeans. If he was a generous soul, we could pick out not only a new pair of Keds, but a pair of loafers as well. Those were the good school years, when we had two pairs of shoes to wear.
You see, life was always an adventure with mom. Not the type where you tag along with a pen and journal or a loaded camera around your neck, but the type where you end up in expensive, long-term counseling from watching your mom rip the buttons off of someone else’s oxford shirt on the side of the road. Yeah, it happens. All these years later, I cannot recall the reason behind her anger, but I suppose it is no longer relevant. I know it followed one of our sting operations where her boyfriend finally arrived home, only to find her standing there on his steps, waiting for an explanation. It’s rich isn’t it? A single woman, dating a married man and expecting him to explain where he has been. Holy psychosis, eh?
For some reason he got into the car with us, I have to reason that he felt it was best for us if he just did what she wanted him to do. Maybe he thought if he took a ride with her to our house, we could go back to sleep where we belonged and she might cool off knowing her kids were watching. Fat chance buddy. One moment my sister and I are thrilled at the idea of possibly returning to our slumber shortly because mom is heading home, the next we are yanked to one side of the back seat as the car comes to a halt. Suddenly we are on the side of the road and mom is in a rage. She is swinging her arms wildly and screaming at him. Her fingernails claw at his face every time they make contact and he is so taken aback that he cannot defend himself. He only deflects her assault out of sheer terror. He looks over the seat and makes eye contact with me, I wondered what on earth he could have done to make her so angry. We never did that and I cannot figure out why he would do whatever it was in front of us. We just want to go home, please. We’re really sleepy and this seat isn’t warm or comfortable.
I distinctly remember the light on the ceiling of the car clicking on as the door is opened on the passenger side. As mom is trying to throw him out of the car, I am shoving my sister too. She was all of a seventh grader at the time and I was willing her toward the door. Tears are streaming down my face and terror is filling my lungs. I’m screaming and begging her to go get the police. I cannot comprehend what is going on in the front seat, the blood, the limbs being hurled at him with every hate-filled word. The jagged violence I am witnessing is more than my brain can process and my heart is breaking into pieces as my young mind wonders if I am going to die here.
Someone had to help us, they needed to run fast and they had to help. In my little mind I was certain that the cops or any stranger could make her stop and things could be calm again. Please go find the police I begged of her, in the chaos and flickering of the light I don’t think she heard me. I screamed louder. But my sister was crying and yelling for them to stop in the front seat, she was begging for it to end. You could see how it was hurting her too, my big sister was scared. I remember shoving my feet at her telling her that it was the only way to save us and she was the bigger sister. If anyone can protect me and get us home safe, it has to be her cause at this point mom does not see past him and her rage. I don’t think mom even knew we were there anymore, nor did she care.
I could only see the panic on my sister’s face in those moments, I could hear my screams and see her face. She was still so young and here I was pleading with her to make the adults behave, to stop the pain of what our lives had become. This was no adventure, this was hell and we were living it in that moment. I just wanted it to be over, I wanted to be back in our bed, safe and asleep. I didn’t want any more trips out at night or lies about how much fun it would be. I wanted to stay at home, I wanted my sister and I to be left out of it. Yet there was nothing we could have done, we were just children and all we could do was console one another and turn away from what was happening in our lives. We knew that even if we could not make the screams stop, we could find comfort in one another to maybe muffle the sounds of what our mother had brought upon us.
Sitting here today, it becomes hard to discern the moments of this memory. The lines between past and present are blurred, is it past or present? The act of simply reliving it on the page puts me right back into that car. I can feel the cold seat beneath me, the bright light above us and I am frightened of the arguing. The hitting, the anger, the violence. Someone should have made it stop, someone should have heard our small screams. Someone should have seen us leaving the house in our nightgowns. Someone should have seen it was the middle of the night. Someone should have helped us…someone should have.