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We were driving recklessly. The black sky hung above us, its darkness interrupted by the lights that dotted the side of the highway. We were driving away from everything I knew, everything I understood.
The roof was down, and my mothers turquoise scarf danced in the wind with her long, red hair. It looked like magic, the way they wrapped around each other, blurs of magnificent colour. The results of a spell she was casting on those she passed. I felt small and insignificant sitting there next to her, my own straggly brown hair flapping in the wind, whipping my eyes. Not dancing with anything.
I watched as her lips moved gracefully along with the foreign music that spilled from the speakers, filling the space between us.
I shrank a little more.
It seemed as though my mother had better communication with the woman who sang so smoothly of love and other things I couldn’t quite catch, than with me.
I thought of asking where we were heading, but knew I wouldn’t be granted a reply. I thought of asking for the roof to be put back up, but knew I wouldn’t be heard. So instead, I listened to the wind rush past, held myself tightly, and reassured myself that this was just another one of her episodes.
I remember dancing in the falling snow.
My mother wrapped tightly in her vibrant scarf, her feet tucked warmly into boots, our gloved hands clasped firmly together. Our tongues eagerly stretched out; an attempt at catching the tumbling sparkles.
“Where do you think they’d fall, mom, if we weren’t here to catch them?”
“We’re meant to be here, Josie, this is where they’re meant to fall.”
“I just want to know, though, where they’d fall if it wasn’t for us.”
“On the ground, I suppose,” she stopped and held her hands above her head, palms facing the sky. “Or maybe on the cars, or in the trees. Or if your tongue was in your face, then possibly on your head!”
I squealed in delight as she lunged forward, tackling me into the snow. Her fingers running themselves along my sides, white puffs of laughter escaping from our chapped lips.
Our house was eerily lit when we returned; the sun was waking up and its rays shone lazily through the shutters, casting shadows; illuminating the dust that floated in the air, finding those hidden rainbows. The tiled flooring was cold against my bare feet. I slipped into my bedroom, the temperature dropping several degrees, goose bumps popping up along my forearms.
I collapsed on my bed, grateful for the comfort, the familiarity. I pulled several pillows close to my chest, breathed in the scent of my unwashed linens.
“Knock, knock,” my mother said as she rapped on the door.
“Come in,” I replied, but she had already made herself comfortable on an adjacent chair, her knees pulled up against her chest. She wrapped an afghan around her shoulders, placed her hair into a bun atop her head, and looked around.
“This house feels hollow,” she whispered more to herself than to me. But I knew what she meant; I could feel the coldness, the absence of something.
I buried under my covers.
I can still remember prying the gun from her fingers.
The way they felt, wrapped around the barrel so tightly that they had turned blue. The way her eyes looked through me, as if she was already gone. It was as if she didn’t even need the bullet in her brain to make her die.
I could always predict when it was going to happen. Her manic episode would be coming to an end; we would stop driving everywhere. Slowly, she would retreat back into her bedroom. More and more hours each and every day, and I could only wait for the day that she wouldn’t come out.
But I would be waiting, ready. I knew what she wanted; she always needed more Chai – two sugars, no milk –, a back rub. She always wanted me to comb her hair, and tell her stories of happy people, only stories with happy endings.
She would cry, and cry, and cry and ask me when her happy ending would come. She would look at me, her face a blotchy mess, her nose a swollen bump, her neon eyes ablaze; searching, expecting me to know. How was I supposed to know the right words, the right answer? My throat closed, my lips sewed shut. I didn’t know.
But I wanted to save us both.
And on the days when she locked herself in her bathroom and wouldn’t reply to my banging, kicking and screaming, I felt guilty for wanting to run away; for wanting to give up on her. To blind myself to her pain and run away, innocent as a child should be.
“Fine! You want to kill yourself? Go ahead! I’m so sick of your s---, mom, this isn’t fair! You aren’t being fair!” I would scream, and bang on the bathroom door until my fists were swollen and bleeding, my knuckles split and bruised.
But then I could hear her whimpering, and my heart would rupture. I could picture her sitting in the empty bathtub, her naked body slumped awkwardly, cold water seeping between her legs. That look in her eyes that I hate, watching the razorblade; blood seeping from crisscrossed wounds snaking across her left wrist.
“Mom?” my voice would quiver, and my knees would give in. I would lay, ear pressed to the crack beneath the door, listening, barely breathing. “Please, mom. Talk to me. Mommy, I love you.”
And then I would wait. My heart beating heavily against the ground, my breathing shallow so I could hear everything; and she would eventually emerge. Sometimes within a few agonizing hours, sometimes within a few harrowing days. But without fail, I would be there ready to wrap her up, knowing that it would be my fault if she died.
“I’m sorry, Josie,” she would whisper, pressing my head firmly against her chest. “I’m so sorry, Josie. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” she would repeat, over and over again as she stroked my hair; her fingernails scratching against my scalp.
Once we had run out of tears, exhausted and emotionally depleted, we would crawl into her bed together. We would sleep the next few days away, we would try to forgive and forget.