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The next morning, I finally went back home just to see if anything at all would be different. Maybe also to cause a scene, but that would just be a bonus.
I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I pulled up to our suburban house, identical to every single other one that lined the street; Bile-yellow, squat and pompous, with every window a perfect square, every rooftop measured proportionally, every garden trimmed. It was imposing in an overripe, complacent sort of way. I’ve always hated this neighborhood. The sky is overcast gray, clouds pregnant with upcoming rain to sizzle on the over-baked sidewalks and thicken the air. My feet squelch on the perfect evenly mown crabgrass as I cut through the front yard, leaving messy footprints and I take a bit of perverse pleasure in thoroughly dirtying the tired converse sneakers I wear; tiny flecks of mud across the smiley face drawn on the toe-caps. I know Mom probably threw up on the welcome mat anyway.
I let myself in and sure enough, there is a splatter of dried vomit on the pristine white tile. There is also Mom sitting at the glass-topped table, looking distinctly worse for wear with the sleeve of her dress slipping from her shoulder, and there is a half empty bottle of vodka and a glass in her manicured hands. I sigh.
“Darling!” *Hiccup* “You’re finally *hic* home!” She is so jovial it’s sickening; the air around her smells sour with alcohol fume. She says it like I didn’t run away screaming from our last conversation, like I haven’t been gone for a week, like her liver isn’t failing, like we aren’t just pretending to be a family here in this stifling house.
I paste a smile on my face. “Good morning Mother. Did you miss me?”
(Say yes. Just say yes.)
Mom, the silly, oblivious alcoholic that she is, notices my hat instead. I see her eyes flick to it, and the straggles of hair that barely wisp out from underneath the brim. Her siren-red lipstick mouth falls open a little; her sunken blood-shot eyes flutter under the weight of her clumping mascara. I drink in the look of stupefied, drunken shock that works its way over her features like a slow-motion video. I try not to smile, but a little smirk curls my lips. It’s always fun to cause these little heart-attacks.
“You…*hic* you cut your hair!” She says this with so much horror that I am almost startled. Jolted off-center by the sincere sadness in her face, the way her powdered cheeks droop and the lines on her face rearrange themselves into something new, something almost maternal.
Blindsided, I scrub off the hat and touch the edges of my pixie cut, the ends silky in my fingertips. I move a little closer. “Do you like it?”
She drains her glass, sets it back down on the table with a crystalline clink, and reaches out long, delicate fingers to card my hair back from my forehead, gaze unfocused. “You always had such beautiful hair Sweetie, so long, so blonde.”
It’s not what I expected. There was a little girl once who knew what the skin on her mothers face looked like, who traced crows-feet and laugh lines with baby fingers and let her mother comb her hair every day, golden and smooth all the way down her back.
I close my eyes, curve into my mothers touch, and will my nose to not sting from the bitter tang—Vodka cranberry now, and beer before that, and red wine before that— that puffs from her mouth, her clothes, her pores.
“Did you miss me Mom?” Softly, a whisper against her ear.
(Say yes. That’s all.)
Her fingers leave my hair, her eyes move to her empty glass sitting innocuously on the table. The lines I used to know on her face shift and hide back behind the heavy paint she slops over herself every day. Her voice trills high and flippant.
“Tsk. Oh, Darling Fill my *hic* glass for me again *hic* will you?”
I am very still.
I remember sitting in the faux leather chair at the seedy hair salon, remember wincing as scissors flashed and the first lock of long blonde hair my mother once brushed fell to the dusty, cracked-tile ground. It was joined by a hundred others and then swept away into a grimy dustpan, put in a grimy garbage bag and left on a curb with a hundred other locks of abandoned hair that will all sit there next to the fish head garbage bag from the Japanese restaurant next door and the splattered ink paper and pencil shavings garbage bag from the filing office upstairs until a big truck comes along one day and takes them all to a grimy garbage dump to mix with all the other abandoned things until they are nothing. Nothing at all.
I shove my hat back on my head, turn around and walk away, past the vomit still crusted on the floor and out the door.
“Pour it yourself Mother.”
My Mom’s face is sleepily surprised and strangely offended as she clumsily stands to watch me go, blinking, two bright spots of color high in her cheeks and her head shaking blurrily like an ox in a yoke.
Outside the sky is still a burnt-out gray, waiting to thunder in the distance. As I trek across our perfect lawn in front of our perfect house the new-mown crabgrass squelches satisfactorily under my feet.