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The Empty Promise
“Mommy, I miss Jig. He’s my best friend. Why did he leave me? I thought he loved me.”
“Sweetie, he’s just a dog. I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt you. He doesn’t know any better. I miss him too. Don’t worry. He’ll come home soon.”
“He’ll come home soon.” The day Jig ran away introduced me to that phrase for the first time. That was nine years ago. I could probably pay my tuition all the way through college for 6 years at an Ivy League school if I had a penny for every time my mom told me, “He’ll come home soon.”
After my dad skipped out on us four years ago to leave us for some chick he met at a gas station, it’s just been me and my mom around here.
It didn’t always used to be this screwed up. My family was pretty tight at one point. We used to go on family trips together and we used to have “family nights”. We played board games and we watched movies and shared a bowl of popcorn; just the three of us. My dad taught me how to play guitar and how to change a tire. But, then I guess he got bored with all that family stuff, because he started spending lots of time “working late”. I was only 12, but I knew something was up. My mom would leave his plate of dinner in the fridge in case he got home and hadn’t had anything to eat.
I spent a lot of time alone with my mom because of this. But, I never minded. My mom and I have always gotten along really well. I did, however, miss saying goodnight to my dad before I went to sleep at night. I would wake up for school in the morning and he’d be gone already. Sometimes, I would go Monday through Friday without seeing him at all.
Mom just kept telling me, “He’ll come home soon. Go on to bed, honey, you have school in the morning. He’ll come home soon.”
Every time my mom said those words, I could see in her eyes that even she wasn’t buying it. And, I was sick of seeing my mom that way.
One day in the 7th grade, after I came home from school, I decided to call my dad. I hadn’t talked to him in three days, and we hadn’t seen each other since the week before.
His phone rang five times, and then went to voicemail. I started to leave a message, but was interrupted by a woman picking up the phone. “Your daddy is busy right now. He’ll have to call you back.” Then she hung up on me.
At that moment, I could finally see what had been right in front of me; I could finally put all the pieces together. I felt like kicking myself for being so naive through all my dad’s “late nights at work”. I felt like I had let my mom down, by not understanding sooner, what had been going on. I threw the phone at the wall and let myself fall to the floor. I stayed there, crying, for two hours until my mom got home from work.
After finding me in the state I was in, and hearing what had happened, my mom picked up the phone and called my dad herself. She told him she wanted a divorce. Just like that. She had had it. Then, she hung up on him and threw a frozen pizza in the oven, trying to keep busy as she was breaking down. I walked over to her and gave her a hug, because I had no idea what to say.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry,” my mom kept repeating over and over. She was holding me so tight, and I could feel her trembling.
“It’s not your fault,” I had said, my voice cracking a little from my own crying.
We stood there for a while, just holding onto each other.
“Why didn’t you tell me before? Why did you let it go on for so long?” I had asked, burying my head into my mom’s shoulder.
“I…I didn’t want to talk about it, because I felt like if I pretended nothing was going on with your dad, that it would all be okay again. I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. I just couldn’t, honey. And, I didn’t want you to have to either,” my mom had said, crying so hard, her tears started soaking through my shirt sleeve.
“It’s all over now. We’re going to be fine. You don’t have to pretend anymore,” I had said, looking into my mom’s bloodshot eyes, trying to sound brave for the both of us.
But, bravery alone was not enough to get me through the next speed bump in my life.
My mom was a mess after the divorce. She was always blaming herself for every ridiculous thing she could think of. She even blamed herself for dad’s leaving us. She said she was not pretty enough for dad to stay interested enough to stick around. She took the blame for everything, when none of it was her fault.
One day, I guess she got sick of feeling bad about herself, so she got a little “help”.
I came home from school and found her lying on the couch, unconscious. I couldn’t wake her up. I had never been so scared in all my life. I called 911 as fast as I could.
The ambulance came and took me and my mom to the hospital where I slept in a chair beside her bed for six hours until she was able to wake up.
“How could you do this, mom? Don’t you know how lucky you are? You have a great life, and you almost threw it all away. This is not you. This is not who you are. I’m sick of you blaming yourself for the divorce. It’s not your fault, mom, can’t you understand that?”
“But, you don’t understand. If I was a better wife…maybe I could have…”
“Stop it. Stop it right now. This is not your fault. None of this was your fault. You were the perfect wife to dad, but he screwed up big time. It’s his mistake and I’m not going to watch you take the blame for it.”
“But, she must have something I didn’t. She must have treated him better than I did. Why would he leave me? I thought he loved me.”
I just stared at my mom for a minute. She had the same look in her eyes that I had had when I was seven, the day Jig ran away. She looked so tired, so vulnerable, so innocent.
“Mom. Listen to me. You’re an amazing person. You put all your effort into our family, and you gave dad all your love. You gave us all you had, and you never asked us to sacrifice anything for you. But, doing this…drinking and hurting yourself? That’s not going to help anything. You need to be strong and have faith in yourself. I know how strong you are. You can handle anything.”
“Look at me. Obviously, I can’t handle anything. I’m pathetic.”
“The only thing pathetic is that you thought you had to drink to punish yourself for something that was not your fault at all. Please, mom.”
“Why do you have so much faith in me? I’ve let you down so many times already. I’m worthless.”
“Mom, you have never let me down. You’ve given me everything. It’s my turn to give you something now. I’m going to give you the chance to see what I see in you every day,” I had said, pulling a compact mirror from my purse and handing it to my mom.
“You want me to see if I have a zit or something?” My mom asked, confused. Clearly, she still had a few drinks in her system.
“I want you to look into the mirror and tell me what you see,” I had said.
“All I see is one drunk old woman who could use some concealer.”
“No, mom. Look past that. What do you see inside?”
“I don’t know. I can’t look past it. I don’t have my glasses on,” my mom had said with a laugh. Man, her breath was nasty.
“Mom, I’m serious. I’ll tell you what I see. I see a strong-willed, smart, beautiful woman who deserves far better than what she gives herself credit for.”
“You see that, huh?”
My mom laid there for at least ten minutes, just staring at herself in my compact mirror. She didn’t say a word.
“Well, how could I have been so blind? I found her!” My mom finally exclaimed.
“Mom, I just want you to be happy…happy with your life, and with who you are. And, who you are is so far above drinking and blaming yourself for something that was out of your hands. Can you see that now?”
“I think I can, thanks to a wonderful little girl. You know she’s really smart, you should meet her. I think you’d be as proud of her as I am,” my mom said with a wink.
I leaned in to give her a hug, and I never had to hear the empty promise in the words, “He’ll come home soon”, ever again.
I had my mom back, and we were finally moving on.