It was the first time I had lived with my mother in over twenty years. My brother’s room was empty, but my mother kept his clothes hung in the closet and his bed made as if she expected him home soon. I strung Christmas lights around the window that looked out onto the yard, folded up the old quilt and lay out my comforter, hung my clothes in the closet next to his.
At the time Mama was living in a cabin behind a house off of Hwy 119 in Guyton, GA. A little dirt road with grass sprouting up in the middle led around behind the big (unoccupied) house out front. There was a little bridge over a small (empty) creek that led to the cabin. It looked like someplace you would go for a weekend in the mountains—like the picture on a bottle of Maple syrup. Out back was a cornfield which at the time I moved in, it was the summer of 1995, had been plowed into submission by the owner and his John Deer tractor.
I would sleep in till noon most every day, which didn’t suit Mother one bit. I would get high most days as well, which she also openly disapproved of, even as she held in a toke and passed the pipe to me, wheezing as she let out a hit. We would stay up late watching movies on cable. She would tell stories about when she was a girl, or when I was a girl, and we would cry. Mama would nag me about taking out the garbage and helping with the bills. And I would talk to the boy I had left behind up North.
One weekend, the boy came to visit. We will call him Harry. I was madly in love with Harry and my mother knew this since I’d been writing letters to her for the last two years about him.
“He’ll sleep on the couch of course,” She said, emptying one of her ashtrays into the garbage. She was still smoking those Benson and Hedges menthols and I had pilfered a few since I’d moved in.
“Mom I’m twenty-five years old,” I told her, smiling. She knew very well I’d already been sleeping with Harry.
“This is my house, my rules,” she said, lighting another cigarette. “You want one?” She held out the package.
“You’re kidding, right?” I stood up, crossing kitchen to face her.
“No. You’re not married it wouldn’t be right,” she said with an almost theatrical bent, like she was reciting lines in a bad movie of the week. “And you’re going to have to start buying your own cigarettes or give me some money.”
“How the hell can you say that? You slept with Daddy before you were married.”
“Not under my Mama’s roof I didn’t,” she said, one hand on her hip, cigarette crammed between her lips, the other hand shaking a delicate finger at me.
“Mom, this is not the nineteen fifties, and he’s coming all the way from Philly, and it’s not as if you’ve respected the sanctity of marriage for crying out loud."
“What’s that supposed to mean?” She turned, billowing smoke as she went and flicked her ashes into the ashtray on the kitchen counter.
My mother knew very well that I was referring to her ongoing affair with a married man who lived across town.
“Forget it. Fine. We’ll go get a hotel.”
When the boy arrived he finally met the mother he had been so scared of he had missed my graduation ceremony. She was not so bad, he said. He was cute, she said. That night Mama cooked us dinner and we smoked a joint Harry had brought with him and it all seemed to be going okay. We were all sitting on the couch with our faces washed in the blue light of the television when I said something to piss her off. I can't for the life of me remember what that was. It's convenient isn't it, that I don't remember my own barbed words? Her response was to take out a letter I had written to her in my frustration with Harry.
“I bet you’d like to see this,” she said, waving the letter above her head.
“Mom!” I took it from her, seething, knowing how my angry words would hurt him.
I felt my whole body flush as if all of the blood were rushing to the surface. As I clutched the letter in my hand, the room inverted like a photograph drained of color so that we all became outlines of our former selves. I walked to my door and put my hand on the knob. I could see my hand shaking as I watched it pull the door open and shut it behind me.
Harry followed me.
I couldn’t look at his face. I sat on the bed with my arms wrapped around myself. Mama always had the a/c on so high it was glacial.
“I can’t believe she did that,” I said, trying to hide the tears that burned my face.
“I can,” He said, “after everything you’ve told me about her. Why would you expect anything different?”
“She just has no idea what is right or wrong," I said. I could still smell the pot roast she had cooked on my breath.
Harry sat down beside me and held me.
“She’s never going to be the mother you want her to be,” He said.
In the morning mama half-apologized for "climbing my ass" and said I should see a therapist. Harry and I drove into Savannah and got a hotel room for the night and when he left I started looking for an apartment in town.
EXERCISE: First, think of a period of time you remember well and can write about with authority. the memory could have to do with an occupation (summer job, internship, summer school), an activity (music lessons, sports practice, play rehearsal), a routine (what you always did after school, family traditions, what you and a certain boyfriend always did on Sunday mornings), or a condition (pregnancy, illness, addiction). Now, write a summary of a typical day during this period. Your summary should be generalized and habitual, yet specific and detailed. Finally, move to a specific moment. "One time..." Select this moment with care. It should be significant, introducing a conflict or representing a turning point. Create the scene. Use dialogue, significant details.