My daughter drew a picture of me at school.
A little happy sun above me. Me, clothed in rainbows. Jittery shock of clown red hair. Black pits for eyes. And a u-shaped smile.
She points, “Look, mom! I drew you like you’re actually happy for once.” How do you not cry when your kid says that to you? In my case, you look at the picture your child drew of the happier version of you that she wishes you were & you imitate it. For her sake. For yours.
Bridget started school last month. Of course, her first day there was no shortage of emotional fuckery despite my best attempts to be the mom who is actually happy for once. There my girl was; polo with school emblem, pleated khaki skirt, frilly ankle socks & ponytailed hair…her excitement, halogen in her eyes…all light and wonder shining out of that perfect little face. And, for a moment, as I stood there looking at her—I saw myself at her age. At 5, we could have been mirror images and I remembered being so abuzz to go to school, too.. But as I stood there thinking about it, the image was a Polaroid burned into a dead leaf, curled up by the lighter. In the wreckage of memory, I saw the 5 year old that I actually was; a scared, dirty 5 year old cornered in my uncle’s trailer by 2 grown men. After realizing my mom couldn’t hear my calls for her and that I wasn’t going to get out unfucked with, I slid down the wall to the floor. As they stood over me, I pulled my skinned knees up to my chest, wrapped my little arms around them & put my head down and sobbed. My uncle’s giant friend finally just picked me up, slung me over his shoulder and carried me away to grind my bones to make his bread.
No, I wasn’t excited to go to school. I was excited to crawl through a door in the wall to a garden where my abusers couldn’t reach me for a few hours. They could only extend their arms inside and make swipes at the hem of my passing skirt while I danced merrily away from their fingertips. Safe.
And then I was upset that that is what I’m thinking about on my child’s first day of school: how the lens is so warped, how even today I continue to let my past rob me of what should be happy moments…I always let my past pull them right from my fist, no matter how tightly I close it.
I tried to right myself to human being. I got Bridget ready. Mike asked Ian to watch Rowan. We surrounded her in a cloud of our loving, parental nervousness and marched her down to the bus stop. Unfortunately, the babysitter met us there on her way to our house & barnacle’d herself to us. She basically showed up, forgot she was just the daycare provider & hip-checked me into the background….Like she did for all the years she took care of Bridget’s needs while I was too busy working, she fixed Bridget’s clothing, straightened her hair, hugged & kissed her—as I sat there, trying to be useful, to be needed, to fucking MOTHER my own child. She continued doing this till I felt like the babysitter and like she was the mother. And I finally just let her. I was in no condition to fight…all busted knuckles & glass jaw.
In attempt to be a mother to someone, I kept asking Mike to make sure Ian was up and watching Rowan. He told me he didn’t need to do that, Ian would certainly get up and watch Rowan as he had been asked…he shoo-flied away my worries of Ian being irresponsible. Finally, the bus came, and the babysitter didn’t even let me cross the road and put Bridget on the bus by myself. She intruded on my goodbye, kissed Bridget & sent her off, as I faded into unnecessary. I stood there, unable to express my frustration, the feelings of my maternal inadequacy being cask of amontillado’d in my throat…walled up alive within. After the bus pulled away, we all walked back to the house & Rowan was up, by himself, sobbing because he couldn’t find anyone and thought we had just…left him. My heart clutching at the thought that he could think that we would abandon him, while at the same time guiltily recognizing the fact that I basically sign a contract to do just that every time I decide on suicide as a solution to my problems.
I took off in a 4 wheeled flurry of absolute batshit insanity…ended up driving the opposite direction of work and was weeping so hard I had to pull over on a random street. I chainsmoked a few cigarettes, stubbed them out on the pale of my arm. I showed up to work, hours late, blistered, puffy eyed & a complete emotional pileup and was told that I was in no condition to work and needed to go home. I laid in bed, all emotional fetal position and mental thumbsucking. Mike came to get me when it was time to get Bridget off the bus. I told him I couldn’t do it. After hearing the front door close, I knew I had made the wrong choice. I pulled myself out of the sucking hole of a bed. I stumbled my way to the corner in time for Bridget to get off the bus and see her two parents eagerly awaiting her…
And you know, I don’t remember if I smiled, but I was there, goddammit. I was there, with my scarred arms outstretched & full of memories of the first time they held her and how I couldn’t imagine ever being any happier than I was in that moment.
Me, on my first day of school Bridget, on her first day of school
“Hide your diamonds in the dirt in careful rows
Let your doubt unravel all their, all their pretty bows
‘Cause your heart is broken by the things you love
And your light, it carries but it’s not enough to change the weather
While you’re swinging like a wrecking ball
Bury all your love in secrets
And loneliness in alcohol.