"get in the car." then, "your life is about to change."
"why?" racing thoughts. honest shock. my mind been dealt such an abrupt, paralyzing blow that it's suddenly as empty and barren as the parking lot in which i stand.
"you know why."
there is so much that goes on in between those lines that i just cannot explain. there is an entirely eternity's worth of pain and terror on my part, a bloodcurdling, insatiable rage on hers. she does not vocalize, "you know why. don't try to place innocent you deceitful little...(insert blank because, as she's told me before in a spurt of anger, her religious principles do not allow her to say any words bad enough for what i am)" because she is keeping her anger beneath a tight lid until the moment for its explosive release comes. there is probably betrayal in her, as well, and maybe i'm unfair to say it, but also tangible self righteousness. because the image is a much needed distraction from the fear that surrounds me, i picture myself slipping onto the leather seat next to my mom's and pulling the car door shut decisively with my lower leg still outside. watching with a detached fascination as the blood gushes uncontrollably around the last fragile thread that still binds my foot to the rest of me. if only i could exchange what is happening, to make that gory accident the focus of today, to replace the psychological agony i'm just beginning to endure with much easier to bear physical pain. but there is no trace of a reason for hope in my mom's eyes; they have frozen into a icy green-blue steel. and they are looking out, far beyond the rows of grey asphalt parking spaces, or the shrubbery that is visibly yellowing beneath the perpetually glare of the sun. those eyes do not see me, but they see my sin. try as i might, i cannot invent a drastic, violent scenario that can possibly forestall the doom headed my way.
i have scarcely shut the door with all of my body parts safely inside before my mom continues, "your oldest sister called me this morning. want to guess what she had to say? she told me you went to a drinking party after prom. apparently you've been super proud and excited to inform everyone but me that you got hammered. after i spent all of that money to make sure you had a good time. when we get home, i'm taking back my prom dress and anything else in the room you're using that i don't think you should keep."
first, a white hot, indescribable spreads through me, erasing any thoughts that might otherwise intrude upon this one feeling. over and over again, i see a vision of myself, moving through the events of prom night and the days that have passed between that fateful evening and this moment. i almost believe that if i could only stretch out my hand and snatch up the girl acting my part in the scenes flashing before my eyes, then all of this would because no more than a bad dream. but no matter how hard i struggle, my whole body is paralyzed. because the truth is that there is not a me to whom i can appeal for reason. all i see is a dumb animal, operating on instinct, speeding down a path toward annihilation that i began walking as far back as that dusty old memory in which i first tried to tell my mom i was depressed. "i'm sad and i don't know why." that little girl already knew this was coming for her, could feel it hovering over her small, plump frame, and yet could not repress her inner turmoil well enough to play the part of the person she was expected to be.
seconds blur into one another. my mind escapes my body for a while, breaking the connection between physical and physic being. the thought echoes around me that i have entered eternity; i will never get out of this car, which has closed around me like a prison. i cannot make my hand raise itself to pop open the door, then throw myself out. i want to do it but i cannot because i am a coward, so i sit passively and wait for the lash of my mom's tongue to continue peeling up chunks of my flesh.
suddenly, i remember the one thing that is immediately within my reach, which i can utilize to anchor myself inside my matter. jimmy and i have begun speaking, or at least text messaging, regularly again. i cradle my phone in my lap, my fingers woodenly enormous as those of a corpse that's bloated with water. i cannot feel the buttons as i push them, only the inner layer of my skin that is still connected to nerve endings which is strangely hyper aware of the lose, wrinkled, dead epidermis beyond. a muscle of my upper back contracts, bringing my two shoulders up and together as though they could shield me. "jimmy," i type, and then i pause. what can i possibly say? i know that my mom has noticed my activity; i can feel her eyes scorching my the flimsy cotton of the school uniform that sheathes me. "my mom found out about the party." delete that last part; substitute, "i got drunk" because it leaves less up to interpretation. "she's taking my cell phone. i'm so stupid. goodbye."
indeed, after making a scornful remark about my obsession with jimmy, my mom holds out her hand for the small electronic device. we have pulled into a gas station. if she got out to swipe her card for gas or to insert the nozzle into her tank, i did not notice. all i know is that we are stopped, momentarily but not permanently, and that she has my cell phone in her hands and is fumbling with it. her movements are sharp and violent. if only it were a flip phone, tearing it in half would be easy; however, i recently upgraded to my very first touch screen, not a smartphone but a cheaper model because my mom does not allow us phones that connect to the internet. finally, she succeeds in ripping it open at the seam, where the screen is designed to slide upward and expose a normal keypad with physical buttons for the less technologically advanced. from my vantage point, it appears that the sheer force of her mental powers bends the car's window to her will, scrolling it open. a jerk of her wrist sends the pieces of my cell phone into open space, where they appear to hesitate for a moment as though the wind resistance is attempting to shove them back in my mom's face. i do not hear the clatter as they eventually find their resting place on the asphalt.
the next day, i had to get up and go to school. i did not speak. i tried not to raise my eyes above the ground. it was all so unreal. we arrived early because somebody, i suppose it must have been my brother, was taking a zero period class that extended before the main school bell at eight am. i remember walking into one of the school buildings, the one mainly set apart for english and social studies (cabrini hall?) hearing the faint echo of the soles of my slippers whisper over the smooth, reflective tiles. i remember hearing the loud, cheerful, animated voice of the younger of the two girls with whom my family carpools before i see either of them. i pressed on more out of curiosity than anything else, a desire to confirm to myself that the owner of the laugher peeling down the hallway was in fact who i suspected. the two girls were surrounded by a pack of their friends, all of whom were laughing and smiling, leaning forward, engaged in the story. the older one suddenly assumed the reigns, picking up where her younger sister left off; "and then, she took the cell phone in her hands and, pop! just snapped it in half like this." she acted out the scene with gestures, speaking rapidly, with an accent that was not normally so thick.
it is different for them. they cannot know. in their world, kids screw up and it's a normal part of life. mothers are not terrible. this is not a turning point that will divide the rest of my existence into before and after. they have told me so many stories of their own exploits, just like this. the ominous climax of the tale coming when they are caught, a sequence of falling action in which their cell phones are taken away but they overcome this difficulty by secretly buying new ones that their mother doesn't know about. i used to listen to these stories with a kind of disbelieving admiration. there is no way that i can explain to them so that they'll believe i'm dead serious rather than exaggerating for effect, but any one of those wild adventures they describe to me, the boyfriends they hid in their closet, the used condoms one sister discovered in the other's wastebasket, would spell the end of life as i knew it the moment my mother found out. for them, what is for me a spiritual death is nothing more than an interesting tale with which to entertain friends.
the two girls saw me just as the words fell from their lips. i knew that they thought very little of me, despite being pleasant and friendly when nobody cooler than me was around as a witness. my younger sister had repeated to me what one of them confided in her, that they were embarrassed to be seen with me at school. it was clear that none of their friends had any idea that i was the subject of the tale they'd just been told. nevertheless, their faces told me plainly that they definitely hadn't intended for me to overhear them gossip about such a painful moment. i ran past them, to the girl's bathroom, and locked myself into a stall, leaned back against the sea foam green tiles and numbly set to work carving scarlet lines of blood across my wrists with a razor blade i'm freed by snapping apart an exceptionally cheep plastic women's shaving tool. i knew i needed the practice, because it wasn't easy to get the pressure right with thin, blunt, rusty, strips of metal that lacked even a good hand-hold. after a few minutes i became aware that they were speaking to me, entreating me to come out, apologizing. "i'm sorry we told our mom on you, but she said she heard from you mom that you told her bad things about us."
this, at last, penetrates. "i'm sorry. i get so jealous, the way my mom is always telling us to be more like you two, pretty and skinny and polite. i never told her anything specific, i just told her she doesn't know everything about you guys when she was saying how perfect you are." my response seemed to satisfy them, and though there wasn't a chance in the world that i'd ever consider them friends, they seemed relieved and rushed to assure me that their mom also compared them to my siblings, asking why they couldn't be as smart as us and earn straight a's like we always did. they said something about us hanging out together, once i stopped being in trouble, and i held my piece. because it wouldn't do any good to try to explain to them they were were talking about the future with a person who was already dead.
but i've gotten ahead of myself.
back in the car, my mom has pulled out of the gas station and driven us to the top of our driveway. she orders my brother and the two girls with whom we carpool to get out and walk down the steep driveway to the house. once they've obeyed, shooting glances at me with the expression of bystanders examining the wreckage of a brutal car accident, my mom circles the car a few feet back up the incline that leads away from my natal home, before she is too angry to hold her words in any longer.
i will always remember being called my mom mother a "horrible, mean, insane, vane selfish witch." i will probably always be able to step right back into the moment of hearing her confess, "of course i love all my children, but that doesn't mean i have to like them." but somehow, i cannot hold in my mind even for an instant any exact phrase she used in her tirades during what i've come to know as "hell week." i do remember that in some form or another she announced that i'd torn a hole in her heart worse than any of my adopted brothers, and that she hoped she didn't even have to see me at family gatherings such as christmas at my grandparents' house because it would hurt too much. i was told that she could not have me around her younger children, who were still innocent and needed to be taught proper values. thank god, some of her babies had not yet been corrupted, and she was going to fight hard to keep them that way. sometimes she imagined running away and leaving my dad and the teenagers to self destruct, taking the golden child and the little ones and starting over some place more sheltered than this. she'd put up with so much from me already, but i'd crossed a line that was somehow distinct from my elder biological brother's transgression; shortly before this incident, the maid discovered pornography in his sock drawer, hidden in the very same room where my younger biological brother also slept. on thursday, she informed me in calm tones that she just wanted to make sure i knew she hadn't said the things she did out of anger. she really meant them, and she wasn't going to relent in time so i shouldn't think i could just wait for her to forget and go back on her word. my actions had consequences. what if i had gotten in a car with a drunk friend as the driver and we had been in a car accident that killed a mother and her three little kids? it was just luck that this hadn't happened to me, so in effect i was guilty of this sin just by virtue of deciding to be stupid and drink. i repeated to her over and over again that we had a designated driver who had stayed sober the whole night precisely for the purpose of taking us back to her home where we were sleeping safely and responsibly. she still hadn't yet decided if she should call the principal of the catholic high school i'd attended and tell him what i and my friends had done. why should i be exempt from that when other people got expelled for what i'd done? though she drilled it into me that i didn't deserve to graduate, my mom did not, in the end, take it upon herself to turn this threat into reality. she did call the parents of the girl at whose home i spent the night. they were probably mildly offended by her belligerent attitude, but otherwise unfazed because they allowed their daughter to drink as a normal part of a teen's social life, because they spent a good deal of their time in europe where the legal drinking age was much lower, and because they weren't buying the totally unfounded accusation of my mother that their daughter had driven while under the influence.
but most of that was piled on me while i stood, barefoot, on the cool linoleum panels of of my bedroom's floor. in the car, she told me that i would be spending the summer with grandma, who would be very depressed to have me around because she would want to trust me and treat me like an adult, but i'd shown that i was a deceitful baby. if i did not agree to do this, i could get out of the car right now and start walking. she wasn't going to pay my tuition to the one university that was now my one and only choice because it was the most strict, conservative, cut off campus to be found, where i at least wouldn't easily be able to turn into a drunken slob, unless i went to grandma's house. because i could no longer live at home, and she didn't want me going off to stay with some friend who would reinforce my bad decisions. she told me that i would be allowed to stay at her house only long enough to finish out my final two week of school, and that during that time i should start packing. but first she was going to go through my room and decide what i could and could not keep, because everything i "owned" was really hers. somehow, she ended up using her omnipotent influence to work out a deal with the catholic high school so that i was exempted from exams and graduated a week early, without attending my own graduation ceremony, just so that she could send me away sooner.
she told me just before we arrived in the garage and she marched into the house that she was going to go through my computer. she'd always tried to let me have my privacy and not insisted on seeing what i was going when i quickly minimized the documents i wrote whenever anyone walked by, but now she was going to find out everything i'd tried to hide. and i was not to dare trying to wipe the history before she got to it.
at the same time that she said these things, i felt the warm metal of my laptop searing into my side from where it was tucked into the book bag hung from my shoulder. she did not know. what's more, i had a black nylon purse hung angled across me chest, which held a single ten pound dumbbell that i used to work out early in the morning at school, since i'd been barred from using my dad's garage as a gym. i knew there was very little chance that item wouldn't end up in her grasp, but i took advantage of the few minutes i had alone to do exactly what i'd just been warned against attempting. i squatted down, my knees serving as a table to support my computer, and quickly deleted everything on it that i could not bare even contemplating her hard green eyes scanning. i saw her possibly even reading aloud the words of my stories or poems that she would see as nothing more than garbage, sneering them into the phone or the golden child's gleeful ear. i imagined her grim, horrified satisfaction as all of the soft core lesbian porn i'd been exploring recently confirmed for her just what i degenerate i really was and took away her last doubts that just maybe she'd been a smidgeon too harsh.
my mom burst back into the garage before i had a chance to stow my laptop safely away in my bag. "you're going to regret doing that." she jerked it way from me, though i did not make the tiniest effort to hold on, with a violence meant to communicate the pain she wished she could inflict on my body that instead she was sating on what i'd been delusional enough to consider my property.
i huddled against the wall of the laundry room that was adjacent to but not adjoining the garage. the dumbbell was a leaden weight dragging my chest to the floor, but i no longer held onto any illusions that i'd get away with keeping it; my mom simply hadn't gotten around to searching my purse yet, and when she eventually did, she wouldn't be surprised any long by what i'd hidden there. i don't think she would have been surprised even if she'd caught me red handed with the bleached skeleton of a human infant in my possession. i raised my head only to observe her poisonous glare that bored through my skull with every step she took toward her room, large white garbage bags piled high in her arms, overflowing with the accumulated clutter of an eighteen year old girl. an ipod home, speakers, other miscellaneous electronics. my favorite sun glasses. every stitch that i'd worn to prom, all of the other fancy dresses in my closet that i'd worn to various formal function or had planned on wearing as soon i lost enough weight to look nice in them, my white yet somehow gold bag that was one of the most beautiful, expensive things i'd ever had. i don't remember what else she took because only one thing stabbed into me in a way i wouldn't have thought possible only a moment previous. i'd considered myself inoculated against this kind of agony, but that was before i saw her with my paintings, including the last piece i'd completed for my advanced placement studio art, which i hadn't slept for four days straight in order to complete with such meticulous detail that the pattern of the hair of its main figure matched its counterpart in the photograph i'd copied so exactly that, had i been painting a fingerprint as opposed to the back of a human head, i'm confident my facsimile would have fooled a scanner. the wooden stretcher bars that i'd built for these paintings and personally stretched them over while they were still blank canvas stuck out of quilted white trash bags. a strangled sound emerged, unbidden, from my throat.
my mind painted pictures of myself, sneaking into her closet while she wasn't home, stealing the paintings that meant so much to me back and hiding them inside my mattress or calling jimmy and somehow convincing him to drive all the way to my house and take them way quickly and keep them safe. considering our track record of seeing each other outside of school only once in a blue moon, i found it doubtful that he'd come through for me in this matter; like my carpools, he also could never understand no matter what i told him the things that were happening to me. "i wasn't going to take these, but i told you there would be consequences if you tried to erase your history from your computer. did you really think i was going to spend the time to go through it, anyway? just you try to steal these back from me. i guarantee you, i'll find them if you do. i'll burn them, if i have to, because you've lost them and you're not getting them back."
later, when i was packing, i realized in a limpid, disinterested surprise that some how she'd managed to overlook a few items i'd have thought for certain she was going to confiscate. for some reason, i kept one of a few of these articles, comprising the gold jewelry i wore on prom night, in a wooden box along with the ebony rosary with the saint anthony medallion that my mom gave to me way back when i used to say prayers aloud for misplaced plush beagles, for a long time after this incident, even though i've traveled so much and moved so many times that i've lost track of most of the items with which i started my journeys.