Emma’s mom watches us back down the driveway, her arms crossed against the chilly air. The lights falls around her silhouette. Headlights highlight her unreadable expression. An older me would have been grateful for her concern. The person sitting in this seat thinks she’s probably feeling tremendous relief at watching us leave. “Thank god that girl’s out of our house,” she will tell Emma’s dad when she gets back inside. He’ll grunt tiredly and they’ll go back to bed, slip back into comfortable dreams, feeling safe with their normal children. A girl and a boy and a dog. I wonder what I ever had in common with Emma, really.
“Are you hungry?” my mom asks. She reaches towards to radio but thinks better of it, pulling her hand back at the last second. The car stays silent as we wind through the quiet streets. I shake my head. I can’t remember the last time I felt hungry. Or that I could remember how to fall asleep.
My mom sighs and the silence continues until we reach home. She doesn’t try to stop me when I head towards the living room and turn on the TV. The lights and the noise are enough to stop my thoughts for a while, and before I know it, the room is aglow with pre-dawn light.
“Whats up?” Emma texts me the next morning. I’m still in the pajamas I put on at her house, sitting cross-legged on the couch, trying to eat a waffle.
“Not much,” I type with sticky fingers. So far I’ve managed two bites. The maple tastes fake and overly sweet. I can taste the eggs in the batter and I’m gagging at the smell, pushing the plate away. I’ll figure out what to do with the rest of the waffle later.
“Why did you leave?” the cartoon bubble pops up with a suctiony sound. I put down the plate with the waffle and pick up the phone with the edges of my hands, careful not to smear the screen. I don’t know what to tell her. I didn’t know what to tell her parents when I tapped on their door at 3:30 in the morning. That I was going to throw up. That I couldn’t sleep. That I was thinking too much. That I wanted to die.
“I needed to be home,” I type. She’ll be curious and try to wheedle the truth out tomorrow morning at school, but that’s a whole 24 hours from now. Lots of things can change in 24 hours.
At 11 a.m. my mom bounds down the stairs in her workout clothes.
“I’m going to yoga,” she says brightly. “Want to come?”
“Not really,” I say truthfully. I’m half-watching an infomercial for a food processor (so many colors!) and half-watching a spider try to vault from one end of the coffee table onto the TV shelf. So far he’s only ended up upending himself, dangling stupidly from an invisible thread.
“Elaine.” I look up. Her eyebrows are pushing into one another. She looks hilarious if I ever feel like laughing again. “You have to try.”
“I have to try?” I ask, incredulously. Definitely don’t feel like laughing now. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Don’t take that accusatory tone with me,” she says. I can see faint bluish circles under her eyes, even through her foundation. “We’ve been through this.”
“Yes, we have,” I agree. I turn my attention back to the TV/spider, hoping she’ll take the hint and leave. After a few minutes, she does.
But then she’s back, like she’s always back, like now that my dad’s gone she has to be in my life 24/7. “Don’t you have any friends?” I asked her last week after she joined me on the couch to watch Modern Family. The couch is huge, big enough for six people, but for some reason she had to sit right next to me, crushing my foot and pushing against my elbows.
“Ow!” she exclaimed, “Your elbows are sharp!”
“Well, sit somewhere else,” I said. “You used to go out on Thursday nights.”
“We used to go out,” she replied sadly. “Your dad and I share a lot of the same friends.”
“That doesn’t answer the question.” Why are you still sitting here, I wanted to say.
She sighed. “Sue’s pretty upset that your dad and I separated.”
“Don’t use that word,” I warned. “You’re thinking about things.”
“That’s called a separation,” my mom replied. We watched Modern Family. Some families are funny; and some are not.
“Let’s grab lunch,” my mom shouts down the stairs as she heads upstairs for her shower. I’m surprised she’s back already, but then I look at the tiny clock framed by books in the bookshelf. I’ve been sitting here for two hours. I haven’t even moved my legs. When I do, needles of pain shoot through them. Fuck, I whisper to myself. Fuck fuck fuck.
“I’m not hungry,” I say. I can feel a layer of grease collecting on my skin. My hair needs washing, especially after playing soccer with Emma and the rest of the team yesterday. Fortunately, this room is the only room in the house without a mirror. I will likely live in this room for the rest of my life.
She enters the room smelling like shampoo and mint.
“Come on,” she says. “We’re going. I don’t care what you say.”
“I say I’m not going.” My words are sharper than I’d intended, but it’s too late now.
“Laney,” she says, louder. “We need to get you out of this house.”
“There’s no “we” here,” I say. My nose stings like I’m about to cry again. “Please go away.”
“Get up,” she says. Her voice is hard like when I was little and I did something dangerous. “Get UP!” She reaches over the back of the couch and grabs my arm. I yank it back, and it flies into her face. I hear my elbow connect with a sharp pop.
She screams and drops my arm. I force myself to stare straight ahead at the television. Do not turn around, I tell myself. Don’t show weakness. You hate her. She ruined her life and now she’s going to ruin yours. Don’t turn around. Someone is being wheeled frantically into an operating room on TV.
I can hear her moaning behind me and the sound makes me suddenly mad. She deserved to get hurt grabbing me like that. The sound of her pain makes me want to hit her again. I turn around. She’s slumped against a chair holding her mouth with her right hand. She looks pathetic.
“You’re pathetic,” I say. She looks up at me, her eyes blue and wet with tears.
“I am. Pathetic,” she says. I’m surprised I can see her lip beginning to swell, the first indications of a bruise that she won’t be able to cover with makeup.
“You’re a bad mom,” I tell her. “This is all your fault.” I thought I’d feel better saying it, and I do a little bit, but I mostly feel wrong. This is not how daughter’s are supposed to act. I feel hot tears building behind my eyes and I can’t really stop them from running down my cheeks. “It’s your fault.”
She starts moaning again, but it’s worse this time, filling up the room and drowning the sound of the television. “I know,” she cries. Tears and blood-tinged saliva drip off her chin onto her cream blouse. “I’m so sorry,” she blubbers. I want to hit her again so badly, but I’m frozen on the couch. All I can do is watch. “I’m a terrible mother,” she says. “I never should have had you. I never should have gotten married. I’m a fucking mess.”
I’ve never heard my mother swear before. She would even scold my dad for swearing under his breath at drivers, bad days, and bad service at restaurant. Even “heck,” she says, is “crass.” Hearing her say the f-word in our living room makes me feel sure that our old life is never coming back. Neither is my dad. The old me is never coming back and I don’t know what to tell Emma tomorrow at school.