We stood there, shivering, my brother and I, hopping from one foot to the other in the slushy snow mix, tears seared to our faces in the ten-degree wind. She flipped the lights out after a minute, so we’d be unseen in the dark by any neighbors chancing to plow their driveways that night. We huddled together and sat in the corner on the old park bench, and flinched at the sounds of the bolt being driven on the garage door, our last hope at getting back in. She’d been kind, she’d sneered, and left us with more than we’d come in with. In this respect, I’d fared better than my brother, who was turning blue in his Scooby-Doo Underoos; I’d been allowed the little girls’ undershirt that matched my rosebud panties, but it hid little of the shame, and protected from none of the cold, so we wept. Two tiny figures in a fucked up snowglobe scene.
When he came home later that week, and I told him all about it, it was the first time I’d hear the words, and the last time I’d be young: “You’ve got to give her a break, she’s going through a tough time right now….”
It was there, in that instant, that I grew up, that I understood: the only safety I’d know would be that of my own creation. From that point on, it was my responsibility to maintain the delicate balance of her moods. To clean just-so and speak just-so and look just-so; limping along after an ever-wavering ideal.
Over the years, I’d bear the brunt of her rages. They’d burst out of nowhere and manifest in physical furies and verbal harangues. Each time, he would listen patiently and ask that I extend more grace. And I would. The inside of my head was a cruel joke; a jaded, scarred adult with a child’s measureless capacity to forgive. I took it all inside of me and made it mine. I strove each day for that perfect dive that created no splash. Looked in the mirror with her eyes and appraised all the ways I was wanting, inferior. Who wouldn’t feel rage when faced with the disappointing rag of a girl destined to be a fat and inadequate hook to hang dreams on?
These days, it’s all Old Hat. I’ve been an adult for so long, that I have trouble remembering the child. She pokes her head out every so often and giggles, a bubbly release of tension and pressure. But mostly I apprehend and plan and scrutinize and suffer a vague anxiety for the demise of the whole house of cards. Still worried that my efforts fall short, that they’ll never earn kind words and love from her lips. An adult in responsibility and a foolish child for recognition.