I’ve been contemplating how to do this for years. I doubt you’re surprised to find that it comes in the form of a letter. What an appropriate medium for us to converse. Actually, this won’t be much of a conversation. You will receive no floor time today. For once in your life it’s time you listen. I need you to hear how for years you dominated my life with your negativity. How you were an embarrassment and a liability, and how I am truly saddened to have known you. The narrator in my head has voiced what this letter could have been so many times that I thought this thing was going to write itself. But, like our relationship, something always seems to get in the way. I need you to listen and I need you to understand, because it’s taken me so very long to get here, and because I’m ready now. I’m finally ready.
* * *
There is a partition between the kitchen and the living room. One summer they decide it’s boring and in need of a change. Mom thinks making the whole wall a mirror would be cool, so they do that, and it looks cool. Between each panel there are beveled edges. When the sun hits in the morning the bevels become rainbows that fly out everywhere. I look at myself a lot now, I’m 9 years old and I’m getting pretty big. Sometimes I stare in the mirror and notice tiny little cracks in the ceiling. I can’t see them with my real eyes, only in the reflections. When I’m cleaning the panels I wonder if those cracks will still be there after I’m done spraying and wiping.
Not long later they decide to replace the floor, and soon the whole room is bright and sheen and shining. The rainbows bounce and split into smaller rainbows; buddies that can all play together. We dance in that mirror. We sing and dance and laugh and smile in those mirrors. We are stepping on feet and missing notes and singing off key and laughing and smiling together in that wall of mirrors. We are practicing and working together to create something soft and wonderful called harmony. We are practicing for church. We leave the mirrors and go to church and we sing and people clap and shake hands and laugh and smile with us. We are smiling when we come home to the mirrors because there is nothing like nailing a performance. You can see the joy in our reflections. It is still morning and the rainbows are out and swimming, and we are swimming with them. Our steps are light but the lilies on the coffee table bob and weave at our disturbances. Their pedals whisper of frost then swallow all the rainbows.
* * *
If you were here to read this, I just know you would be making excuses for yourself. 10,000 reasons why you deserve sympathy rather than punishment. But I’m here to tell you that I’m on to you: I know your game, and I know your bullshit. I know that when you were younger you were locked in a car, alone, with your brother. I know that when your mom went into the store he held a knife against your neck and made you promise not to tell. I know that you kept that secret until you got home and you told your mom that you had been raped, and how it was your brother, and how you felt scared and dirty. I know how she told you to shut your mouth, that no son of hers would ever do such a thing, and to never speak of it again. I know all this because you told me. You never mentioned if it happened again, but that seems very likely. No one should have to endure such a thing. I can only imagine the years of work necessary just to cope with such an occurrence, and I doubt that there was ever a reckoning. But as terrible as all that is, I need you to understand that your own actions are not absolved. You do not have a monopoly on suffering, and enduring hardship does not give you a license to dole it out to others, yet that is what you choose to do. In your own weakness you dragged others down into your misery. Dragged me down into your misery. Frankly I’m not sure how you could stomach it.
* * *
We are going to the mall to eat. There is a Mexican place there called Gabby’s, it’s alright I guess. I’m really mad because I don’t like eating with my family. I don’t really even like being around them most of the time. They are so annoying and they never leave me alone. Like, get this: A few months ago I started keeping a journal, I’m not sure why. I remember my buddy Matt saying he wrote in one everyday. Said it helps keep his head straight or something. Anyways, I just wrote what happened those days on some printer paper and put them in my dresser. I only did like, I don’t know…three of them maybe before I noticed that they weren’t in the same place I had left them. Balled up socks had rolled out of place, the corners of my underwear were bent out of fold, the top drawer not fully closed. Someone had been there. I was pretty pissed when I found out it was mom. I talked to her and asked her to stop going through all my stuff. Well she totally didn’t, so the next day I wrote that I was going to kill myself as a joke. It was so obviously fake, I still can’t believe she actually fell for it. But the next day I was called into the office by my guidance counselor. Total bullshit. What 15 year old wants to deal with that?
We are at the mall now. We go in and order. We wait. As the food is coming out I hear mom ask for “… a tall empty glass with a napkin in it please?” A few months ago she had convinced the church to raise some money for a gastro-bypass surgery. Now her stomach is only the size of a large persons’ thumb. She totally didn’t even need that surgery, she just got fat because all she does is take pills and doze off. Then she wakes up, eats, and then it’s back to bed. She was one of those fat fucks who ride around in electric wheel chairs instead of walking. Or if they are out of the electric ones I got to push her around, which was super embarrassing. It’s a small town. People know, and they judge.
I’m really hoping she doesn’t do it this time, but when the show starts I know my meal is over. Mom is gagging. One…Two…(and this one is longer)…Three. Her mouth opens and puke pours into the cup: solid with chunks, then liquid with bits, pouring out like soft serve on a hot summer day. The napkin does its work and soaks the mess. She gags a few more times, and thus completes her mealtime ritual. People in the restaurant turn to look. I turn to look away. Moments after this she will start eating again as if nothing happened. Then a bus boy or server will come over and ask if everything is alright. She will act inconvenienced and hand him the cup. He will look surprised and confused then walk away. “You’re disgusting.” I say, dropping my fork loudly to my plate and begin walking away.
Without a moment to lose she wipes the corners of her mouth and the waterworks begin. “Nicki you know I can’t help it!” She slams her palms on the table causing an even bigger scene. Her dipshit husband yells something in my direction. Their litany continues, and I continue walking away.
“Yes you can.” I say as I walk back into the mall, out the front doors, onto the blacktop, and head for home. It’s only 5 miles to the other side of town, and the sun is setting. This might actually be good for me. You see the thing is she knows exactly what she’s doing. This whole restaurant thing is a gimmick. She recovered from that surgery months ago, and she knows how much she can eat. She chooses to make a scene because now she gets to argue with the manager.
“But it made me sick, I’m not going to pay a dime for this.”
“Yes ma’am, but you did eat the whole thing.”
“Well I just didn’t want to be rude. This place used to be my favorite restaurant in town, but after today I’m not so sure I’ll be coming back.”
I’ve seen her do this so many times that it’s practically scripted out. Like literally, every time we go to a restaurant she asks for that cup and napkin, and all I can think about is how people who dip do that same thing, and how disgusting that is, and how embarrassed I am to be a part of her scheme. At least this time she didn’t forget the cup and just puke on her plate. More than once she did that and just ate around it. How do you expect someone to sit through that? Unfucking believable. Anyways, the manager will play his role and before you know it the entire meal is free. I’ve sat through that conversation too many times already, and I don’t think I can handle it again today. A guy I go to school with, his mom owns that place, and I don’t need any more help being an outcast. People call me a freak for having such a crazy mom, and what’s really sad is that I know they’re right.
* * *
I remember the day you came home from the hospital and declared to the world that you had cancer. The living room suddenly became full of people and mourning and crying and woe. The mirrored partition doubled our images and our guests. Perhaps even their wailing was multiplied. And in the middle of it all was you. You were the centerpiece; the focal point. Through the mirror I saw a peculiar look in your eyes. It was the look of joy. You had wanted the spotlight for so long and now you had it. Heidi Schoenberger: a cancer exhibition. Our eyes met, and you saw that I saw you, and you changed your mask to one more fitting for the evening. I came up and hugged you and said nothing. Just pushed past all of the people, and all of their reflections, and headed downstairs to my bedroom.
* * *
The floor is cold and there is frost on the windows. Cruel winds are howling and the sky outside is scared and alone, crying snowflakes till morning. The lilies on the coffee table are all dried and withered. Their pedals wilt and fall and brown away to dust. They say nothing because all the rainbows are gone.
* * *
I am 18 and my mother is dead. Although I am the middle child of the family she asks me to write her eulogy, and so I write it. I’m standing stage left, just opposite from where we used to sing, in front of a naive congregation. They don’t know all the things I know. They only know half. The half she told them. A reflection of the truth. The truth that she was a liar and a thief and neglectful to her children. The truth that I was the one who got Spencer ready in the mornings, and that I was there to pick him up from the bus in afternoons. They don’t know how she lied to me and Nathaniel, telling us that dad had beaten and molested us, subjecting us to years of therapy and medication for events that never took place. They don’t know how she hadn’t worked a job in ten years because if the household income went up, she would lose her benefits. They don’t know how she sent her oldest to mental institutions for months at a time because she didn’t know to raise him, and because she could get money and pity by twisting the story to her liking. They don’t know how she used child support to support herself. How she once cut holes in the lining of my jacket so she could hide her filched goods. How she tried the same thing with Spencer’s diapers and got caught, or how the state had investigated her multiple times on suspicions of child neglect. How because of all these things I have to question if she ever really loved me, or if I was all just a ruse. So many terrible things, yet the room still mourns her.
My speech is over and I step back from the lectern. They all shake my hand and tell me what a great speech I gave, how much she will be missed, what a great duet we had done, and if only she could see me now. Funerals are for the living, so I spare them the details of the dead.
* * *
I need you to understand this. All of the things I have said, and all the things I have not. I need you to see it, and to feel it, and to own it, because you got away with all your bad deeds, and because you owe me. I need you to understand how your actions were selfish, and how they affected me and everyone else. How I’ve been carrying around this weight for almost 30 years, and how I am tired of doing it. You know somebody told me once that when you go into the forest you should take a piece of trash with you when you leave, that way you know you made the world a better place. Do you know who told me that? Your father. My grandpa. I wonder what he would think of you if he ever read this?
I have said so many things, and used so many words to say them, and I could say so many more. But the truth is mom; you’re not worth it. I have wasted enough energy on you already, and any successes I have had are in spite of you, not because of you. So let me be blunt, I have just one favor to ask: I need you to go away.
I am tired and I deserve better, and that part of my life starts now. So goodbye. I hope you are resting easy wherever you are, and that you quietly slip from my memory, because I deserve the rainbows.
The Best Part of You,
Non-fiction piece by Nicholas Druecke