The summer is about over and we’ve left Grammy’s house for a good while to come. Our little family is together again in South Carolina. What is life like there? Feedback and criticism are welcome!
Way back when we were living in North Augusta, South Carolina (it always sounded like an oxymoron, or contradiction, to me), my mom held down a part time job working in the produce department at a Publix supermarket. My dad was coming up on his 7th year working as a bakery manager for the same store, so getting her the position was fairly easy. I guess that companies weren’t as weird about hiring other family members to work at the same store back then. Although my mom only worked the job for a short amount of time, the extra income helped our family, and I can still remember what it was like when she left our home at night.
I was nearing my fifth birthday and because of it falling in September, I wasn’t allowed to start kindergarten until the following year, so to make the time go by and out of necessity, my brother and I hung out with mom all day while dad was at work. We spent a lot of time outside during the earlier part of fall, enjoying the last few rays of summer sunshine and taking turns squirting each other with the water hose. There was an older teenaged girl next door that seemed to be our friend and she’d come over to our house sometimes to watch cartoons and eat Popsicles. I was outside by myself one afternoon, climbing the front tree in our yard, wearing a pair of denim shorts and a pink t-shirt with a cactus on the front of it. I had gotten myself up into the tree and was about four feet off of the ground, reaching for the limb above my head when it happened: a bee stung me in the face! I felt an incredibly penetrating stinging sensation on my cheek and, before I could realize what was happening, I had lost my grip on the branch above me and fell out of the tree, hitting the ground, hard, and bruising my leg.
We rode in the car with mom to the library pretty often and liked to rent a couple of the most recently shelved 90’s exercise videos. When we arrived home, we would plop one of the videos into our VHS player and it occupied us, literally, for hours. We were vigorous and devoted in our workouts. We put all of our effort and energy into the squats, lunges, arm circles and shoulder rolls the peppy work-out instructor told us to do. I would run into the kitchen during the middle of one of our workouts and pull our red-capped gallon of milk out from the refrigerator, touching it straight to my lips as I gulped down multiple swallows of smooth, white liquid. I would then return to the living room with my heart racing and blood and calcium surging through my body, and I would find Bobby was still going at it: determined. Invincible. We would continue our workouts until we were thoroughly exhausted.
Meanwhile, mom would be sitting on the couch, wearing sweatpants, with a magazine in her lap, flipping through its pages, reading its gossip and taking its goofy, pointless quizzes. She loved looking at the pictures of cosmetics and of all the pretty people. She circled the faces of the women who she thought were the prettiest, and later on in the day, she would ask me to come and sit with her. She’d hand me the magazine and we would go over every page together, me deciding who was prettier: her or the photo-shopped woman she had circled.
After Bobby and I’s workouts and shortly before we had finished our dinner, dad would arrive home from work, tired and ready for a game of internet chess. Basically, it was this: at the same time that he entered the door coming in, mom passed through the same door going out. They rarely saw each other, with the exception of weekends and holidays.
“I’ll be home later tonight,” she’d call from the doorway. “Don’t stay up too late, Rose, and make sure that Bobby gets into bed.” It’s true that I was the youngest, but she seemed to think that I was more responsible somehow. So I nodded. “I just might have a surprise for you guys when you wake up tomorrow.” She’d smile and chirp an “I love you” as the door closed behind her. I would walk over to the couch and hang myself across the top of it as I watched her through the window, walking briskly to the yellow Chevy in the driveway. She’d open the door, sit, close the door and cautiously back out of the driveway; then she turned to the left, and then, she was gone. I really didn’t need to watch, though; when it was turned on, the car squealed constantly; as soon as the squealing stopped, I would know that she was gone and out of sight.
Bobby slept away from me in the bedroom those nights and I fell asleep by myself. I usually camped out in the living room, sleeping inside pf a sleeping bag that sat on top of a pillow bed that I had made (I preferred using my bedroom strictly as the playroom).
I still swear to this day that what I saw happening in the dark those nights before she got home actually happened. It seemed so real. I would be lying on the floor, trying to keep my eyes shut, but I would begin to sense some sort of presence in the room, and it threatened me to open my eyes and find it. When I did open my eyes, it was always the same: I would watch in horror as my mother’s dresses and shirts mysteriously floated from the open closet in our living room to and out the front door. There is no other way of putting it: they simply floated, one by one, slowly and in front of my eyes. I hated watching it happen, but as much as I hated it, I couldn’t look away.
I was too paralyzed by fear to get up and stop the clothes from leaving. I wish someone had been there to turn the lights on; to show me that her clothes were still hanging in the closet — to tell me that a ghost wasn’t actually moving them around the room.
Someone bigger and older and braver than me.
Looking back on it now, it makes sense that, despite my active imagination, these visions were just the mental projection of a deep, characteristically child-like fear that my mom might not come home that night; that she might never return from Publix. I imagined her getting lost in its rows of lettuce, orchards of apples, clusters of grapes and heads of cabbage, all of them crowded together and over her like a dense, enchanted forest…and I worried that she would never come home to me. I feared that I would wake up every day for the rest of my life and never again have a Taco Bell bean-and-cheese burrito waiting in the fridge for my breakfast.
But it always ended up being there. She did, too. I’d wake up, either late at night when the fridge creaked a little as my mom slipped the brown, paper bag onto the top shelf after she had gotten home, or early in the morning, when I slipped quietly into the kitchen while she was still sleeping, and I would find that my mom had been thinking of me the night before. I slipped quietly into the kitchen. Yeah right.
“I brought you home a surprise last night!” She’d smile and say as I jumped out of bed and galloped into the kitchen, a train of Toy Story and Barbie sheets falling behind me. I’d open the refrigerator door and unwrap my present, asking the usual:
“You told them no onions, right mom?”
“Yes ma’m,” she nodded.
Sometimes I still tasted those awful onions, and I’d try to either spit them out or pick them out without her noticing. But I never questioned if my mother had forgotten to tell the Taco Bell lady to “hold the onions” after her shift had ended at eleven thirty the night before; I just automatically knew that the Taco Bell lady hadn’t been listening when she said it.