When shall I be dead and rid
Of the wrong my father did?
How long, how long, till spade and hearse
Put to sleep my mother’s curse?
There was a letter taped to the door of the bedroom I shared with my older sister. It took up one side of a whole page. We stood there, gazing up at it.
On one level we didn’t quite believe what we were reading. We’d been “kicked out” so many times. Hell, sitting on the stairs with my brother in the hallway outside our locked apartment door in Illinois is one of my earliest and most vivid memories.∗ Whenever this happened we just stayed outside until such time as our mother decided to unlock the door again. Then we would all go quietly into our rooms. The next day everyone acted as if nothing had happened.
On another level, this time it really was different. It was in writing. It was hanging on the door for all of us to see. What did that mean? It said something to the effect of:
The last day of school is June 23rd. I want you out by June 30th. I don’t care where you go. You can go live with your father for all I care. See what it’s like living with him. He couldn’t care less about any of you. Irregardless you have to go. I don’t want you here. You’re miserable without an ounce of love in you, and I’m sick of looking at you.∗∗
I remember feeling a mounting sense of panic as I stood there. I cried. I was usually the one who couldn’t keep it together. She knew it, too–knew I was easy prey.†
We decided without much discussion to handle this like any other unpleasant incident. We took the note down and went about acting as if it had never existed.
The next few weeks consisted of unending psychological punishment. One incident in particular sticks out. It happened a week or two after we’d found and removed the note.
We three were on our way to pick up the papers for our delivery route.‡ We had just left the apartment and were crossing Avenue A. Our mother was heading home after her shift, crossing in the opposite direction. I was both elated to see her and incredibly apprehensive.
“Hi! Hi, Mom! Mom! Hi!”
She curled her lip and kept her gaze on the horizon, refusing to acknowledge our existence.
That’s all I remember about that.
∗For those who don’t know, my siblings and I moved back to New Jersey –where we were all born– with our mother shortly after our parents’ divorce. I was three. I did not see my father again until I was 24.
∗∗Obviously this isn’t a direct quote, but the June 23rd date for the last day of school and June 30th deadline for leaving are, I’m pretty sure, accurate. Also, she really liked the non-word “irregardless” and often expressed the opinions that one or all of us were “miserable without an ounce of love in ya”, that she should send us all off to our father, that living with him would be a horrible sort of punishment, and that he couldn’t care less about any of us. This is the drumbeat of my youth.
†My mother often accused me of being just like her. It haunts me to this day, though I guess it explains a lot about why she especially liked to belittle and degrade me in particular. Every now and again I catch a glimpse of how strongly I resemble her, and I can feel an echo of that panic. I can’t stand to see my mother’s face in the mirror.
‡Technically it was my sister’s newspaper route since she was the only one old enough to have one, but we all delivered the papers. Any monies we earned went to our mother towards “the bills”.