by C. Cimmone
My father never hit me in the face. He never duct-taped me to a kitchen chair and beat my legs with a wooden ruler. He never kicked me, never hit me in the arm with the lid of a frying pan.
My mother did.
She strangled my brother once – let go before it was too late, he said – and once he was grown, she didn’t babysit like grandmothers do and we both knew it was, in fact, much too late for him to say I love you before he hung up the phone.
My father, however, was always ahead of her storm. He’d laugh, shake his head, pay no attention to the slamming, the screaming, and the burning up she did on the other side of the house.
Your mother’s in a bad way, again, he’d announce.
He taught me to outrun her, to wait it out, to drown out the noise with Johnny Cash and McGyver; and just like a spun-out tornado, she’d fizzle out, shift with a sigh, end on a grin and a late-night cigarette.
Nothing to worry yourself about, he’d remind, as she scooted mattresses from one room to another and ran bleach down the kitchen walls. I didn’t bother her with questions about bleeding or breasts – I took what I knew from my father and built a new life – a life without women or intimacy. I kept my life compact, thorned and protected from anything with rotational circulation.
I tried my best to call her on my way home from work or on a hang-over Sunday. She’d list my father’s new medications over the line, let me know about an alligator they found in the front yard, and tell me about her recent re-arranging.
I think I’ve just about got that back bedroom the way I want it, she’d brag.
That’s good, ma, real good.
I’d turn over the phone, stare at the muted television, and wish I could climb into her center, find out if it was hollow or full, and call my brother to report the findings. I worried there’d be nothing more than a silver vortex: spinning memories of her walking up on her father – drunk head smashed into the steering wheel – wearing his favorite shirt; or pieces of her sisters being molested – her whispering to them it would be okay as they all walked to school with hot potatoes in their pockets and holes in their shoes.
Maybe there was nothing to any of it, like my father had advised. Maybe my idea of a mother was skewed – too many years of television and falsehoods to count. Maybe you’re not supposed to know how your mother’s hair smells, how soft her belly is. Maybe you’re not supposed to hug her too often, as she may be too fragile from bearing children.
No matter how hard I worked to understand the turbulence, the spinning, the shifting skies, I couldn’t let go of the past, couldn’t stop worrying about her dying and being gone forever.
When I’m dead and gone, I’m going to haunt you, she’d threaten when my father and I laughed at her anxieties.
I’ll walk up and down these halls and rattle my chains – drag them from room to room!
Between ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ I could see her chest rising. I could smell her hair from the second pew and I could see my brother crying from the first. The video flashed her from years ago. My father shook his head.
I remembered her in that plum velvet shirt. I remembered her teaching me to read, to be smart, to push myself to tears at the face of a worn-out chalkboard. I remembered her telling everyone I won the spelling bee, that I attended a special school for gifted children, and that the President of the United States sent a letter to our house about my reading.
I closed my eyes as my brother spoke about her pies and her roses. I imagined her walking around the edges of a dark cloud, chains flowing from her hair, her body fizzling out into a translucent cloud of dust.
C. Cimmone is an author and comic from Texas.