By my own admission, I know very little about my mother. What I do know, I am not sure is even true. Some people say there are two sides to every story, but to the story of my mother, there are as many sides as those funny shaped little dice with all the numbers on them. Too many to count, impossible to understand. All I know is what I remember, and what I felt at the time. So this is my mother, from my point of view.
I didn't know my mother was an alcoholic until she left my father. If he had one gift when I was little, it was making her look like the bad guy, and somehow simultaneously hiding all the truths about any real faults she had. I knew my parents went out a lot. I knew they drank a lot. But I didn't know what an alcoholic was, or that she was one, or who was to blame, or why she was always crying. I just knew that the yelling scared me, and when it got to be too much, my brother would let me listen to music with him in his room.
When my mom finally did leave my father, she disappeared for a year (I think) and when she resurfaced, she had an apartment in a shady part of Phoenix called Sunnyslope. It was small, two bedrooms and totally bare. The furniture was all mismatched and I could tell she didn't know what to do there all by herself. I don't remember her ever really cooking, and it seemed like she was never there, but that can't be true. I just remember there was always ice cold Pepsi in the fridge, and she stayed out late a lot. She had scented trash bags too. I guess sometimes in life it's the little things.
She and my dad tried to date each other again, I remember that. How awkward and unnatural that was. They would go out together and come home smashed, loving at first and then suddenly angry. One night my dad got pissed off about something, and there my sisters and I were in our pajamas in the middle of a hot summer night, as he screamed at her, and pushed her, hard. She tumbled back, knocked over a black and white dining room chair, and fell down, her legs flying over her head. I remember I saw her underpants. I was so embarrassed for her. It was the only time I saw her stand up to him. She stood up, clenched her fists, and told him to leave. And even though I didn't know what was happening, or why they were fighting, and I didn't want my dad to go, I was proud of her. All three of us girls looked at my dad, out of breath, sweating and full of rage, waiting to see what he'd do next. But he didn't do anything. He left. It was the last thing any of us expected. My mom stayed up all night cleaning all the appliances. I got out of bed as dawn broke through the slatted blinds and helped her scrub the toaster, but I didn't know why.
That summer went by quickly in a flash of swimming in her apartment pool, waiting for her to come home, watching Beavus and Butthead until the sun came up on MTV with my sisters, and my very first case of serious insomnia. I had my 8th birthday in that apartment. My mom and dad bought me an awesome birthday cake in the shape of a dragon, with red icing and yellow scales. It said "Happy 8th Birthday, Sarah" and they both told me how when they were having it decorated, they both accidentally told the baker it was my 4th birthday, but neither of them knew why.
Then one day, it all ended. Anita and Michele, our middle sister got into a fight about something, and she told her to go. My dad's dad was dying of cancer, and he was living in his sister's house, where his dad was on his death bed. He said we could come stay. I watched Michele pack what little stuff she had into spring rain scented trash bags, and then I did the same. My cousin Brandy came and picked us up, and we left.
I wonder what life was like for her in that little apartment all by herself. I wonder if she missed us, if she wished she could take it all back. I wonder if she cried, if she blamed herself, if she blamed my dad. I wonder who drank all the Pepsi she kept buying, and what would have happened if we'd stayed.
There have been so many moments in my life that I thought at the time were insignificant. Moments that seemed like every other minute of my confusing life, things I didn't realize at the time I would remember forever. Things like the way my mother looked when she came home from work. Or the fact that Brandy had a hair clip wrapped around the emergency brake on her car. Or that my grandfather (who I barely knew at all) like biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Things like the time my mother brought home these weird clear sodas with little floating colored balls in them, and I understand somehow it was her way of saying she cared.
It is this that grips me in the still of the night as I check on my kids before I go to bed to make sure they're still breathing. What will my kids hold onto? What little, stupid, insignificant memory will they take with them when they turn 18, when they get their first apartment, when they fall in love for the first time? What moment in time will be forever frozen in their head, left their to replay every time they're afraid, alone, happy, unsure or heartbroken?
Will it be all the times I tried to do the right thing? Or the times I messed up? When I was shorter than I wanted to be? The moments that I would give the very breath from my lungs to go back, change, replace, undo?
What are my children holding onto, when they lay their sweet heads down at night, and drift off to sleep?
I hope I'm doing the right things.