There are two memories of my mom that stand out vividly in my mind, moments that I will never forget, moments that shaped the path of our relationship. The first was when I was nine years old. I came home from school upset. At that time our maid was Anna; she was younger and uninvolved, and, in hindsight, I’m pretty sure she was sleeping with my dad. She ignored me as I threw my backpack down on the kitchen floor and announced, “I hate my life!” The room got silent except for the turning pages of the magazine she’d picked up. It ticked me off that she didn’t even look at me so I pushed the bowl of glass fruit off the counter and watched it crash into a million pieces at her feet. That got a reaction.
“Look what you’ve done, you brat!”
I stuck my tongue out at her and warned her that I would tell my dad.
“You wouldn’t dare!”
I looked at her feeling every bit of malice a nine year old can and spit back, “Wouldn’t I?”
She reached for me like she would hurt me, but I pulled away. “If you even touch me, your job is over!”
She laughed and looked at the bracelet on her wrist, obviously a gift, “Your dad would never fire me.”
That’s the moment my mom walked in. She had a drink in one hand, still in her pajamas. She stood at the corner of the kitchen, not saying a word initially…just staring at the bowl of mess on the floor. I ran to her and tried to wrap my arms around her. I was desperate for some recognition, a hug, some sympathy, evidence of a beating heart inside her stone cold demeanor. She untangled herself from my arms while Anna started blaming me, giving excuses for what happened…”She was acting out and pushed it off the counter!” Of course, she followed up with the lie that she had nothing to do with it. I told my side of the story, that I was provoked, that I had a bad day, that I just needed someone to listen! Mom just stood there. I looked to her for some help, an offer, at the very least some defense! But instead, she walked away and said, “Just clean it up.”
No one asked me why I was so upset. No one cared that I had had a bad day, a bad week, a bad life. No one. She didn’t care that I hadn’t been invited to Zella’s party and had missed an opportunity to make friends. She didn’t care that I had to listen all day as she and the other girls during recess talked about how much fun they had in the bouncy house and the cupcakes that Zella’s mom made that were exactly like she wanted. She didn’t care that I lived vicariously through her stories of family and affection and concern every day I was around her, feeling less and less loved and cared for by my own mother and father. She didn’t care that they more I saw what other family’s had, I became more and more bitter about my privileged life, and she certainly didn’t ask. No, my mom walked away in a cloud like nothing she had seen mattered, and I felt that deeply. It was probably the very first moment that I wanted to hurt myself. Something, anything, a cry for help perhaps? Instead I helped Anna pick up the shards of colored glass as she apologized and sucked up only to ensure that I wouldn’t spout off to my dad about what had happened. I could read her feigned praise for what it was. Fear.
Just clean it up. Those words pierced my heart like a million little knives, and they still do. It’s not perfect, it doesn’t look good, I don’t care about you…just clean it up. And honestly, that’s what I spent the next nine years doing. My grades would suffer, I’d get a tutor before I was found out. My friends would hurt my feelings, I’d pretend like it didn’t matter. My parents would fight and bicker, and I would escape to my room and the melodies of Bach and Mozart because somehow the strings prettied up the chaos. I’d feel like crap, unworthy, unaccepted, and I’d take it out silently, quietly. Suicide wasn’t an option, it wasn’t pretty and would never be understood. Mostly I was afraid that if I did gather the gumption to kill myself, I would pass from life like nothing happened…as if the little time I existed meant nothing, not even a memory to be shared. That was a painful thought. I wanted to live. And, if I was looking for punishment, life was hell enough.
Those same feelings were creeping through my head when my mom busted in my room. She was angry and drunk. Never a good combination. I hated her like this. It’s never easy to admit that, no matter how much she’s hurt me. She threw something on the bed.
“What’s this?” I asked unaffected.
I picked it up and turned it over in my hand. I was confused. “Why and who?” Surely that was not happening.
“Your dad. Divorce court. Character witness.”
Wow. There were no words. I just stared at the manilla envelope.
“What? No excitement? No joyous shouts of ‘Ding dong the witch is dead?’ This is your moment, Oona. This is your chance to nail my coffin shut. Don’t tell me you aren’t even a little bit happy?”
There was an edge to her voice, like she was daring me to agree. But, it was her eyes that captured me. For the first time, I saw marked fear. She turned and walked away. Stumbling down the hall and cursing. Crap. I didn’t know how she had the capacity to yank on my heart strings. It was against all logic that I would even find it in me to care that she was hurting. What was wrong with me? For all intents and purposes I should be happy! I should be relishing the fact that I was going to sit before a judge and tell him and a handful of others what a horrible witch my mother was and had always been. I should be desperate to get her out of my life and watch her penniless and struggling! But, no matter what, she was still my mother. I couldn’t dismiss that. I couldn’t dismiss her, even if she had always denied me.
I looked at the subpoena and wrestled. How could he ask it of me? How could my father dare? This was some kind of sick game to him, it seemed. Well, I wasn’t playing. They had used me my whole life for whatever suited their purposes! I was completely done. I was an adult, and court order or not, I had a choice. That was it. I grabbed my keys and jumped in my car. It was time to clean this up.
I arrived at my dad’s firm fifteen minutes later, angry and justified. His obviously new secretary was filing her nails and flipping through a magazine, and I had no patience. I kicked her desk.
“I need to see Jeffrey.”
“I’m sorry. He’s in meetings now.”
“Do you know who I am?” I demanded.
“Uh, no ma’am but if you’ll wait just a minute I’ll buzz Mr. Stuckey and see when he’s available.”
“No need,” I called behind me as I walked past her desk and through the double doors that led to the offices. She called after me to stop, but I ignored her. Dad’s door was closed which generally means he is with a client and can’t be bothered, but he bothered me, so turn-about is fair play. I didn’t knock I just swung the door open, barely noticing the other man in the chair across from the desk. I threw the manilla envelope on his desk.
“Oona, love,” I grimaced at the word. “I will be with you in just a minute. I am just finishing up with Mr. Davis.”
“No!” That time I yelled it. He got up from his desk and walked around to me, putting his hands on my shoulders to turn me around. I stood strong. “No.” I was determined.
He lowered his voice, “Not now, Oona, I beg of you.”
I laughed and didn’t bother with lowering my voice, “You beg of me? Really? I have power over you in this situation?”
He was not amused. In my ear he hissed, “You have exactly five seconds to get out of my office or I’m calling security.”
I pulled back like I’d been slapped, “Security? On your own daughter?”
He gave me a look that said, “Don’t tempt me.”
By that point, the secretary was at the door apologizing, and it was then that I noticed the bracelet on her wrist. I knew that bracelet well. I’d seen a few just like it in my life time. All the images of that bracelet flashed before me, and suddenly and finally I understood exactly what that bracelet meant, and I snapped. I was suddenly nine years old and hated my life and no one understood me, and I wanted to smash some fruit! I pushed past my dad, reached toward the desk and grabbed the papers out of the envelope. I held them to his face, and screamed, “NO!” I tore them in half, and then again in half, until it was too thick to tear again, and I watched as little pieces of paper floated to the floor like legal confetti. Everyone stood watching me. When I finished I walked up to my daddy, the man who had never loved me a day in my life and had the audacity to call me “love” and said clearly, “No. I’m not going to court. I’m not testifying to a single thing, and I’m not one of your mistresses,” and at that I glared at the secretary, “that you can buy off with a bracelet.”
I don’t know what happened behind me, because once I said my piece I walked out of the building and didn’t look back. I was done. There was no more lying. There was no more trying. There was no more taking advantage of me! I had had my fill. My heart had been broken a million times, but this time it was hard as stone. Pretty it up, make it look nice, don’t let anyone see that you are broken inside! That was no way to live. Fake lives in sound proof homes pretending like we weren’t completely falling apart! It was time. I was cleaning house, and I knew the moment I saw that bracelet that it had all started with him!
I didn’t exactly know where to go. It’s great to have passion, but without a plan it just feels like frustrated energy. I knew I had to do something. I considered going home and telling my mom that I knew, that he was the one to blame, that he was the jerk. I mean, she was a jerk, too, but now I realized he probably drove her to it! That thought just made me angrier! I started fantasizing about what she might have been like – maybe she would have been more supportive and loving and kind? Maybe she would never have become a mean drunk? Maybe she would have loved me and not seen me as the enemy? Ugh! This was all his fault! I missed out on an amazing mother because of his being a womanizing jerk!
I was driving and crying so I pulled over. There was the park. I could compose myself there. I got out of the car and stumbled, I looked to see if anyone had seen me. No one was around that I could see, but I noticed that I had broken the strap on my heel.
“Seriously? This is exactly what I needed.” I ripped the shoe off and threw it in the car. “Ugh! Take that, you stupid shoe! I hate you!” I reached down and ripped the other one off, I felt the leather stretch and pull, but I didn’t care. “Stupid, stupid shoes!” I slammed the door to my car and stalked over to the play area. In my mind I thought it was probably silly to be taking out my frustrations on an innocent and really expensive pair of shoes, but I didn’t care. My mind wasn’t communicating clearly with my heart, and I needed an outlet for my energy! Frustrated, I kicked the pavement. I admit, that was stupid, but the moment that I felt that pain it helped. I kicked it again, barefoot, and this time my toe started bleeding. I stopped and watched it for a minute as the blood began to spread and finally drop to the ground.
Suddenly my wrists were itchy. I rubbed my arms, “You don’t have to do that Oona.” But the blood on my toe, the throb, the physical pain was wonderful, and I knew that I could feel that release even more. I rubbed my arm again, my eyes taking in my scars, and the longing grew. I looked back toward my car, my purse, my relief.
That’s when I saw Robbie walking up with one crutch. He startled me. What was he doing there? What did he want? I know looking back that he was just doing his daily exercise, but all I thought then was that I was being interrupted.
“Well, hello, beautiful!”
I blushed and hoped he hadn’t seen it.
“It’s hot out here! What are you doing?”
He was asking me? It was hot out? Well, yes, it was, but I hadn’t noticed until he mentioned it because I was so worked up about everything else. I placed my hand over my wrist instinctively, “Yeah, it’s not so bad.”
He laughed as he approached, “Are you kidding me? I’m burning up.”
I retorted, “Well, you are walking around so you are putting out energy which only makes you hotter.”
By that point he was stopped and was leaning on his crutch when he grinned and asked, “So you think I’m hot?”
I drew back, shocked, “No! That’s not what I said!”
He looked at me, “I was just kidding, Oona.”
Then I felt bad, “Well, I meant because you were exercising and probably sweating…” my eyes noticed him then, tight t-shirt and broad shoulders with an equally broad chest that tapered down to his waist… “Oona!” I pulled my eyes back up to his and my mouth spoke my thought, “But you’re not!”
He looked at me and smiled, “Yeah. You made that clear.”
I don’t think I could have gotten any pinker if I had been lying on the beach for three days straight without any sunscreen. His look said it all, and clearly indicated that he had interpreted my approving glance correctly. But instead of keeping my mouth shut and letting the conversation move on to other things, I stumbled through an explanation.
He cocked his head.
“You aren’t sweating! What did you think I meant? You aren’t hot? Or you are hot?” I was floundering and feeling stupider by the second, I shifted gears. “I mean, whatever, the better question of the day is, what are you doing here?”
He pointed to his crutch and his leg still in a boot, “Exercise.”
I sighed, “Well, yes, okay, I guess, ha! I could have seen that.” Did I sounds as stupid as I felt. Probably, I turned a smile toward him to cover up my frustrations.
He smiled, “I’m up to two miles.”
“Great!” I was eager and desperate to change the subject.
He went on to talk about how he had started really slow and how the doctors told him it would take a long time to get his stamina up, but how God was obviously proving them wrong. I smiled at his determination and his hope that he was ahead of the game. From the little bit that I had heard and seen of Robbie, he wasn’t one to be kept down for long. Resilient, I wanted to say, but in my heart I heard, “Strong.”
“So, that’s why I’m here. What are you doing?” It was at that point that he looked down and saw my bloody foot, “Besides taking your anger out on your foot.”
I looked at him, questioningly, how could he know? Then I got angry, “Have you been watching me?” He started to answer, but I barreled on, “Really, Robbie! How dare you? I stubbed my toe! I might have been angry, but I didn’t do it on purpose!”
He looked at me very seriously, “I was kidding.”
I hugged myself, protecting my vulnerability, “You could have said so.”
He touched my arm, and it felt warm and compassionate, “Why are you angry?”
He would never understand my jacked up crazy life,and I didn’t really feel like getting into it all with him or anyone else right then! I wasn’t looking for a hero just a release and unconsciously as I thought it, I rubbed my wrists again. He watched me. I shrugged off his hand and threw my hands to the side, “You don’t know me.”
He looked in my eyes, “I think I know you a little more than you understand.”
I wasn’t sure if it was the way he looked at me or the look in his own eyes as he said it, but he made me want to believe that. Maybe he did understand? I dismissed the thought. He couldn’t possibly; we were worlds apart, he was a guy, and I wasn’t a Christian! I looked back at him, “I doubt it.”
He pointed at my toes, “Those are gonna look like this tomorrow,” and with that he unwrapped his hand from around his crutch and balanced as he showed me two very bruised sets of knuckles. I didn’t understand. I was in shock. I didn’t know what to say, but he wasn’t finished, “Just like those,” and he pointed to the wrists I was trying to hide, “look like these.” And with that, he took off his shirt, and I watched in disbelief as he pointed to the right side of his chest. There was no mistaking the lines that were there…and he was right, they looked like mine.
Without thinking, I reached out and touched them, they were older scars – a cutter knows. I looked up into his eyes; it didn’t make sense. How could he? Why did he? The questions ran around in my head, but mainly I was in disbelief and my hand still traced the lines. He gently grabbed my arm by the wrist and said, “I know.” His action though gentle surprised me, and I pulled away. Let’s face it, scars or not, catching yourself rubbing a man’s chest is awkward. I backed away.
“I have to go.” I still just stared at his chest and clutched my wrist to mine.
He shook his head, “Oona, no. Let’s talk about this.”
I shook my head harder, “No. There is – nothing to talk about. I have to go… my mom is waiting.” I hated that I lied to him, but in those moments when you can’t process and you can’t explain and you can’t trust yourself to ask, it’s always best to leave. I walked back to the car, completely unaware of the dried blood on my foot or any throb from my toe. I couldn’t think of anything else but what I had seen, what he’d exposed, and I had a feeling no one else in the world knew what I had just been told.