Author’s Note: This was written Sunday night, but posted today…
Last night, nightmares tunneled up out of me from some doorless room within me, some unnamed place, some dirt cellar. Up they came, spiraling out of my throat in a tornado of a scream.
In the dreams, I am dropped into a bath of hands all over me. I am drowning in fingers. Yours. Your friend’s. You pieces of shit. You kidfuckers. I try to push you off…but you push me down into the chair and you hold me there as long as a broken promise…It’s just long enough for your friend to pull baling twine out from the blue bucket near the foot of your bed. Insurance and Bonds. Wrists and ankles tied to a wooden chair, hard as a pew. And then you fucking leave me with him. I call out and tearfully beg for you to come back, even though I know you are no knight. He unzips his jeans and advances on me. Somewhere, St. Germaine weeps.
I woke up from the nightmare this morning, with my body in a slick sheen of sweat…my hair wild from trying to twist my head away from your dirtbag friend. My only coping mechanism on days like these is to escape like I couldn’t back then. I tell Mike I’m leaving & take off in the car. I buy an iced coffee and some cigarettes and drive off to some back country roads, roads that calm me when I drive them. I chain smoke, as I swoop like a barn swallow over the hills in my old rustbucket, banking curves and leaning fast into them…My sunglasses prematurely turn the endless rows of cornstalks amber. I tap embers and ashes off the end of my cigarette absentmindedly, as I pass farmhouses and fields under blue skies, God’s favor.
I keep replaying this one goofy song by Keane, that feels both timely and anthemic. My brain tumbling the lyrics around till they’re polished to shine:
Then we love too much
Or we push too hard
Or we fly too high
Or we go too far
For a moment I was all that you could see
For a moment I was all that I could be
Nothing can take that away from me
Nothing can take that away from me
As I drive aimlessly, I find a fishing spot and pull off to watch the water. The creek is angry, the rushing water a remembrance of the rainy, downtrodden past few weeks. I take a few pictures to catalogue my day.
After regulating myself, proving I can escape if I need to, I returned home. I am dismayed to see Mike has left his son with the kids. His son made he & his girlfriend some pizzas. My kids were not fed, besides a few saltines. It’s well past lunch. I feel a deeply sucking guilt that this is what was going on while I was out driving. When Mike returns home, I tell him we are taking the kids to this retro amusement park from the 50’s about 40 minutes away. Per usual, he has no interest in doing anything with our kids. He argues that it might thunderstorm around 5. I tell him that is still plenty of time to take them. I force the issue. I am trying to give the kids something. I am trying to make it up to them. Not just the lunch…their father, me. It’s like if the carousel can just spin fast enough, their father & I will blur together…a cohesive family unit. The kids, realizing Mike is outmanned & outmaneuvered if we all push, start badgering him with the annoying relentlessness of a smoker’s cough. Irritated & beleaguered, he finally gives in.
As we get about halfway to the amusement park, the sky shakes the rain loose from the clouds. Mike angrily flicks the wipers on and, even though he doesn’t say it, I can feel the I Told You So over on the passenger’s side of the car. Oh look what time it is, facepalm o’clock. Mike asks if we should turn around. I point at the clearing off in the distance, “Maybe it’s not so bad there—we’re already halfway, let’s just do it.” We get to the amusement park to find the grounds are underwater in parts, but it is open. The rain has also abated. For now.
Bridget has her heart set on riding the rollercoaster. My little lioness. All roar and fang. I tell her that she might be too short to ride it…but she is determined. We head to the ticket booth. $1.50 per ticket & the rides take multiple tickets. Oof. Take a girl to dinner before you try to fuck her up the ass, but…ok. I have $25.00 on me…I buy 16 tickets. I feel a brief gut twist thinking about how that money could be put to better use. But…passé riff on the Mastercard commercial coming up: Tickets? $25….Gas for angry ex’s car? $15….Happy kids? Priceless…Then I realize that if Bridget rides the rollercoaster, she will have to have an adult with her and that means ½ the tickets will be gone. Mike & I finesse her over to the kiddie section with Jedi mind tricks and Svengalian skill.
The kiddie section is made up of tame circular-going rides that I rode as a child 30 years ago. Mike admits he rode some of them as a child, as well. Looking at the rides, I can almost picture my older sister and me in the boats together as children, trailing our hands in the water till the staff yelled. The rides are painted in retro bright colors that I imagine wouldn’t be anomalous for old Miami or Havana. The loud pumping organ music from the indoor carousel competes with the cheap electronic sounds from the arcade & the deep, rolling bass sound of the heavy wooden balls used to play the antique skee-ball games in Playland. For a minute I am lost in sentimentality…picturing my Great-Aunt Rosemary off to the side of the turtle ride in her polo shirt and Bermuda shorts, stubbing a Virginia Slim out on the bottom of her sandal. She used to take my older sister & I to the amusement park in the summer. I never thought much about it as a kid—but see now she probably realized we wouldn’t have gone otherwise, my parents couldn’t afford it. Other thoughts start to catch up to me, as I revisit my past. I shake my head to etch-a-sketch to a blank slate of the present.
I let Bridget & Rowan loose to pick their rides…As the staff hopscotch their way around puddles to let my kids on rides, they seem less than thrilled to be assisting us. There are droplets of rain starting to fall, but I fought with my ex and I paid $25—the kids are going on the rides. I. Am. Trying. To. Make. Fucking. Good. Memories. Goddammit.
The kids, for what it’s worth, were thrilled. Even when the sky completely dumped on us all, they shrieked and laughed in their canary colored Ferris wheel cage. Once they got off the Ferris wheel, they had used their tickets up anyway—so we grabbed their hands and headed for the parking lot. It’s at this point that Bridget loses her shit. She begins to cry, scream and dig her heels in because she wants to ride the rollercoaster. I try to be patient as she refuses to move. Our dresses are clinging to us. My makeup is running. My feet are soaked. I try to reason. I try to comfort. Nothing doing. She is pissed & determinedly so. Finally, with her little pointy cat-like chin angrily jutting out, she turns to me and says sarcastically, “Nice job, Mom. Thanks for picking a day it was raining to bring us to the amusement park.”
It is then that I also lose my ever-loving shit.
In between the Tilt-a-Whirl & the Scrambler, I start yelling at her, “You are so ungrateful. I did this for you. I wanted you to be happy. If this is the thanks I get, I am just not going to try anymore.” It is a narcissistic and ugly thing to yell at a child. I want to suck the words back into my mouth, even as I’m saying them. She’s crying. I’m close to tears…and, with my makeup running, I look like a member of Insane Clown Posse…or at least someone that attends the Gathering of the Juggalos. Mike is pissed at all of us. Rowan is puddlejumping…my oblivious, happy, little frog. On the car ride home, no one talks. Every time I look back at Bridget, she “hmphs” me and turns away. I am not sure if I am more angry or sad how the day ended. I try again to tell her that it is ok to feel sad & disappointed that we had to leave without riding the rollercoaster, but that she can still be grateful for what she did get to do. She thanks Mike for driving us in the bad weather… but says nothing to me…which hurts more than I want to admit.
In the silence of the car ride home, I think about how my day started out with memories of a childhood mostly bereft of anything actually resembling a childhood…and how I tried to turn that into an afternoon of doing better for my own children…but how I couldn’t even get that quite right. I hear those fucking Keane lyrics in my head again. “Then we love too much/Or we push too hard/Or we fly too high/Or we go too far…” Sigh. I know it is not Bridget’s job to see how much I struggle, but I am afraid that someday she won’t understand the amount of love I had for her, if she doesn’t understand how hard I have tried to make her happy…especially if she grows up to be the opposite.
Instead, maybe someday I will write her a story that starts out: The mother stood at the base of the Ferris wheel and watched the little girl that looked just like her when she was that age… only the girl looked much happier than her mother ever was. The other main difference between the two of them at that age being that the little girl’s mother was actually present & watching her, lovingly… As the yellow mesh cage ascended towards clouds pregnant with rain, the little girl shrieked with delighted laughter…And the little girl’s mother found herself contradictorily wishing that the ride would never end for the little girl, but also that her daughter was already wrapped safely in the warmth of her yearning arms.
Nothing can take that away from me.