Someone called asking for her.
It was the hospital where she first went, and I knew the person was used to hearing that people were dead. It wasn't like anything that I could say was going to surprise her and the more I think about it, the more I understand maybe that is what threw me off the most. Maybe I wanted to be able to tell her that she was alive, to "hold on, let me get her." I was angry at having to give the answer that I did, and then I was angry for having to continue the conversation after saying that she was dead. They wanted to educate me. Was there anything I wanted to know about? Were there any questions they could answer? Were we happy with the services the hospital provided? Ok, lady. If you haven't realized that although this may be commonplace to you, this was my mother she just died, and I don't want to talk to you because I am still wrapped up in the fact that there will be many things that I will not have her here for, and her being gone is not commonplace to me. But I couldn't really say that. All I could do was answer the questions as well as I could with annoyance the caller did not seem to pick up on.
Ironically, my father did. His response was surprising; in general he did not protect me in a kind way, and almost never in a way that I wanted. He asked who it was and all I could say was "they keep asking me questions," knowing my father's controlling nature would take over.
Within an instant of handing over the phone, I was opening the door to the garage. I took a seat on the steps next to a makeshift shelf where my journal, books and ashtray lay. They stayed there waiting for me, my journal hidden in newspapers for protection. I shuffled through until I found it and lit a cigarette. I could smoke out there, which I wasn't allowed to do in the house. That's why I went there after receiving the call like any addict I wanted the numbing effect of my substance. I could sit there for hours, talking on the phone, writing and just being away from him. It was one of the places where he left me alone for the most part well, unless he thought I should come in. It was early, though, and I had time. Smiling, I wondered if she would have suggested not smoking, then lit another cigarette.
I walked back into the house so dramatically changed over the past few months by her absence to the one place that had not, my room. I found comfort in the consistency of my messiness. I took one of her shirts from the shelf in my closet that I stole before everything was taken away and held it to my face, her fragrance still lingering. I inhaled my youth. I inhaled sitting next to her on the couch, leaning against her body as I watched TV. It lifted me for a moment until the realization that, moment by moment, time was stealing her smell away. I threw the shirt down in anger, fighting back tears, then picked it up again and placed it carefully on the hanger and back in the closet. I wanted to preserve what was left. I turned around and faced my disaster of a room, memories and philosophies covering the floor and walls. My room contained all essential memories and most of them were positive. They reminded me, too, that there was good in the world. They reminded me that if I could have those moments while living here, imagine what they would be like when I left. It was time to go and escape for a while. I gathered all the necessities for escapism my journal, cigarettes, a book and left dressed as if there was someplace to go.
So now I am driving away from home into a softer world. A song comes on the radio and reminds me of a year ago. Then I was overwhelmed with visions of the past with my mother and her ever-approaching death, overwhelmed with the constant abuse from my father whose only way of dealing with loss of control is to control others. The two years my mother was sick were filled with growing fear as well as anger and sadness of losing my mother. I had faith then, despite what the life I was in. But I had no understanding even with faith why God would choose to take her instead of my father. I had all these crazy visions that she would come around, that she would lose her fear, and she would leave him. I knew she would be happy if she did, that she would love me more, because it's hard to love anyone when you are unhappy. No matter what they do it's never enough. I told her we could move out together, get an apartment, we could leave him together. It was one of the many times her rejection broke my heart, when laughing, she said, "You and I, together?" I didn't think it was funny at all. I was serious. I wanted away from him. I wanted away from his rules, from always being wrong, from being trapped and controlled and knowing it. But I knew I couldn't do it alone. He would have taken everything away from me. That's the way abusers set things up, so that you can't leave. They blackmailed you in some way. My hope was in her, but she wasn't going to do it with me. When she first got sick, I thought that maybe with the threat of death she would want to leave. But when she stayed through the first lump, I knew there would be no hope when more came. And the sicker she got, the more violent he became, the more threats, the more degradation, the more drinking, the more sadness. Death was creeping and crawling within my mother and through this house. It affected everything. It tore her body to pieces, stealing her beautiful blonde hair and replacing it with silver. It took her robust body and shed it of its excess weight within days. It turned her yellow, so yellow I prayed that the shock be taken away from my face when I first saw her. I envy those given the gift of sudden death and envy more so those left with only suddenness. I think it's easier for everyone. So now I try to leave all those things behind. But instead I see her lying on her death bed. I see myself lying there too, my body curled up against her, holding her hand, which was already changing colors. And with that thought, my hand instantly strikes the steering wheel, breaking the lock of my sadness, and releasing tears too afraid to fall, because if they did they would never end.
You know it's the fates coming in when every song you don't want to hear comes on the radio, people ask you all the questions you don't want to speak the answers to. At that moment you know that something God, fate, your angels or guides are forcing you to remember. I don't want to remember. If I could prevent it, I would have never lived it in the first place. But no matter how much I fight, I remember anyway. I wish my memory wasn't so good. It haunts me all the time, constant reminders of mistakes, exact replications of conversations good and bad. I have this wonderful ability to pull it all back, not only pull it all back, but relive it with all the emotions it first brought. I've lived too much in my years, too many experiences for such a memory. I am lost and I am hoping that I will somehow be found again. That these memories so cluttered in my head, will be released and fade away, that my stories will be calmed and the people immortalized somewhere besides my mind. The weight of their sadness immobilizes me.
I arrive at my destination, an old firehouse turned coffee shop. I walk through the door, my mind still confused, and find a place at the bar. Stan Getz begins to play against the backdrop of bookshelves filled with classics, the familiar mural, the regular misfits spread across the room. The walls are filled with pictures and music from each of us. All of us sad, each of us showing it in different ways, but finding comfort in one another. I leave all my possessions on the counter, save my coat, which I hang in the back room. I am home. When I return again, I find a glass of tea placed before my belongings and know my story can be told. Finally there is someone there to listen.
Bio: Tanja Hodge is a writer and mother from Fredericksburg, Virginia. She has a Bachelors in psychology and has worked in several helping professions. Currently she stays home with her three children and uses her evenings to escape at a local diner where amidst the chaos she is able to write. Tanja can be contacted at TanjaHodge@adelphia.net