I sit next to my mother on the sofa, our feet propped up against the side of the coffee table. We are painting our toenails. Eggplant purple for her, hot pink for me.
Our feet are just alike–they are practically interchangeable. Exactly the same size, the same high arches, the same long toes, the bone on the top that makes certain sandals uncomfortable to wear.
Mom takes good care of her feet; they always look great. For most of my life she was a polished, stylish dresser, but she’s become much more casual in recent years (and loving every minute of it, by the way). She has been freed from the tyranny of femininity.
“I don’t see why you can’t find yourself a nice man,” Mom says, out of nowhere.
A person could wonder the same thing about you, I think, but I don’t look up.
“Lots of men like you. I see them looking at you when we go places,” she says. There is concern in her voice, confusion, urgency and some vague anxiety. I can feel the emotion, her line of thought: why…? what is going on with you…? Tell me. Speak to me. My mother is not unintelligent, but she does not communicate well with words. She does not–or cannot– explicitly express that she is worried about me, that something is wrong but she doesn’t know what it is, that my choice to live so far away feels like a rejection (and, to be fair, it was), that she questions if she could have done things differently with me. She wants answers, but she can’t ask the questions, much less broach them to me.
“I will when I’m ready, Mom,” I say, putting the brush back in the bottle and screwing down the top. Just like that, a smooth demurral.
I cannot remember a time when I was truly open with her. When I simply told her the whole truth about what I was experiencing, or how I was feeling. When I confided in her. I believe this behavior comes primarily from my father–active addicts make their children into liars. Children lie to cover up for their junkie parents. I covered up for him, protected him.
The Awful Truth is also that I withheld myself from her because I believed that she could not be trusted.
And because the truth was simply unacceptable. And unspeakable.
But now, now—
She is reaching for me. The past is gone; you can’t go back. The mother of my childhood and adolescence is gone. She is no longer the woman she used to be. The only mother that I have is the one who exists today. She is trying to keep me in her life. Her eldest child, her only daughter.
Underneath my clothes, I still have marks on my thighs from where the Attorney hit me. Fourteen days later. They are almost gone, but not quite. Not quite.