I’ve been holding on to this one. Not sure when it is the right time to present. I do consider this a vital part of my story. My soul is healed through writing, and the past is no longer my gate-keeper. I am free now. Happy. Content in who I am.
I chickened out at the start of the night and posted a poem, instead. One I wasn’t very pleased with. And thus, I return to my original intention, to share this bit of truth.
Warning: This is mature content.
The Missing Hours
On a Sunday morning in mid-December, I awoke, still dressed in yesterday’s clothes, and walked out onto our backyard deck. All the neighboring yards on our hilltop street were fenceless, so the frosted winter grasses each combined together into a continual line of speckled white. All except for one yard, where a high wooden fence wrapped around the entire property like a barrier to a prison. This yard belonged to Tom.
As I searched out, I remembered the day before, trying to recall when I’d finally arrived home. The events of the last hours of the previous night were so very blurred in my mind, that it was difficult to distinguish between when I’d fallen asleep and when I’d been awake.
I remembered standing on the curbside with a plastic bag, preparing to cross the parking lot and begin the long trek home. It was cold. I could see my breath and had to wrap my hands beneath my sweater. But it wasn’t snowing. The evening sky was clear. It was the mildest winter in years for Connecticut; while in California they were experiencing the worst rainstorms in over a decade.
My Sony Walkman was on and the headphones warmed my ears. John Cougar’s tape was playing It Hurts So Good. I had five dollars left in my pocket from babysitting money, and a new shirt. Nana had written again. She was sending money for Christmas and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t making any friends. I missed her. For a moment I thought I could smell her, a soapy-floral-scent like the blue-flowered balls she kept in a white dish on the edge of her bathroom sink.
There were dozens of cars in the parking lot, their tailpipes puffing smoke. A car honked. My heart leapt in my chest, and then, after seeing the familiar burgundy car, I’d sighed.
“Come on in,” Tom had said, pulling over and waving me inside. “It’s too cold to walk home.”
Without much thought, I had left the cold and accepted the warmth of the car, easing my way across the leather bench seat. My bottom squeaking.
“Hey, Sam, I’m glad I ran into you,” Tom had said, while turning the steering wheel and pulling his car out of the parking lot. “You think you can sit for us next weekend?”
I stopped. Found myself back in the present time, still standing on my outdoor deck shaking in the winter breeze. I backtracked. That wasn’t the way Tom had sounded. Things had been different.
I walked back indoors and down the stairs, ignoring Ben’s snoring from the couch.
Downstairs in my bedroom, beneath the covers, I remembered again, and as I did, it seemed I was rewinding a movie, trying to dissect the lines. I recalled Tom had fumbled with his words.
He had said, “Hey, Sam, I’m glad I ran into you. Do you think you might be able to watch…I mean I understand and all if you’ve got plans…with your friends. It must be great to be in high school again. Well. Not again.” He stopped to chuckle, covering his tan mustache with the hand that housed his gold wedding ring. “I mean… it must be fun to be in high school.”
Tom gave me a glance, and I responded with an insecure nod, unsure if Tom had even asked me a question. Turning the car onto a quieter stretch of road, Tom asked, “So you can sit the kids? We’re good then?”
I ran one finger down the moist glass of the side window, searching my eyes outward to the sky. “Yes, that should be fine.”
I supposed then, as my thoughts wondered about, I could have offered more to Tom. Told him how school wasn’t great at all; that the place was horrible, the people were horrible, and I would have been better off having never gone.
Further down the road, I sensed Tom was worried. He gave me those signals—fidgeting fingers and the smile that could not find a home.
“What’s in the bag?” Tom asked.
“It’s just a blouse.”
Tom cleared his throat. “Can I see it? I bet it’s pretty.”
In the way Tom’s voice dipped, I felt as if Tom had called me pretty.
I held up my purple blouse. “Here it is.”
There was a long pause. I was angry with myself. Tom must have informed me of our destination and I had blacked out into my own fantasy land, thinking on someone else’s husband’s handsome green eyes, when I should have been counting the blocks home. I drew the warm air in through my nostrils and held it there, not wanting to breathe out. I wished to stop thinking, to get the drive over with. I forced myself to speak. “Where are we going again?”
Tom put one hand on my shoulder.
My spine quivered.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? I’m sorry. I must have forgotten,” he apologized, his voice speeding up with each word. “We’re just headed up the road a bit. I forgot about this errand—a real quick thing for a friend. I think you met him. You know my pal with the red beard?”
I did not remember, but nodded anyway.
“Sorry, it’s taking so long. It’s right around this corner and down this alley. There. That’s the house up ahead.”
The alley was absent of light. I could barely make out the shape of anything.
Tom stopped the car. “What was the name of your boyfriend again? You still have the same boyfriend? You’re seeing him still. Aren’t you?”
My ears burned red. I pulled strands of my hair across the side of my face. “Jeff is his name. Can we go home now?”
Tom repeated the name Jeff.
I focused on the plastic bag between my knees. “Can we please go home?”
Tom leaned into me, inching his pressed slacks across the seat, squeaking his bottom like I had done earlier, only he didn’t care, didn’t care at all about the noise he made. “Sweetheart,” he said softly, “Jeff is a lucky man.”
I rolled over in the covers, swaddling myself like an infant. The water of the mattress rippled below me. I thought back to Renny, to her bed, to her cats, to the fleas, and then I saw Tom’s face again.
I screamed. I remembered that. But that’s all I remembered. It was a loud scream. The type where the words take on a life of their own as if magically stretching across from one mountain peak to another to form a bridge—a long continuous echo from deep within the soul. “Stop!” I yelled. “Please, STOP!”
Ben’s footsteps creaked above my bedroom ceiling. I pictured the layers between Ben and me, the ceiling plaster, the floorboard and padding, the thick dirty carpet, and I imagined firing a gun into his large ass.
With a gush of cold air Mother entered my bedroom by way of the garage door and with a kind smile she stuffed a stack of bills into her brown briefcase. “Hi, can I have a hug?” she asked.
Startled, I looked up at Mother, a part of me wishing she would leave and another part ready to cast myself into her arms and weep. Mother drew me near. The loneliness of the last days descended upon me and I burrowed into her.
Mother released quickly. “I sure missed you. Did you get my postcard? The one with the fountain? Oh, what am I saying? You’ll get it in a few days.”
Mother had a conversation with herself, answering and filling in the blanks. And the emptiness came again, the emptiness of not really being seen. Still smelling her stale breath, I whispered, “Mom?”
Mother opened her eyes wide and stopped looking for the lighter in her purse. “What?”
“I need a sick note for school tomorrow. I don’t feel so good.”
Mother flattened down the bottom corner of the old blue comforter. She could not keep still. I struggled to control my need to cry. I only wanted a simple yes. There was nothing more Mother could offer me. Her voice sounded baffled and overly concerned. She tried to compensate in tone and mannerism for her absence the last couple of days. “Oh, poor baby, Ben didn’t tell me you were sick. Do you have a fever? Have you eaten anything at all? You look pale.” I did not answer, certain Mother was about to speak again. She moistened her lips. “Have you seen my cigarettes? I think I left my pack in the car. Shit. It’s cold in the garage. What were you saying?”
Again the emptiness.
I rolled over in bed pressing my face into the pillow.
Mother shook her head. “Baby, you were sick? Why didn’t Ben tell me?”
I coughed in my hand, feigning a cold, hoping for a break, for Mother to mount the stairs and rummage through the near-empty kitchen cupboards for some expired medicine. She wiped her wide forehead and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. My breath was sinking. If Mother asked how I was, if she even looked at me with tenderness, I knew I would break apart.
Mother, finding her cigarettes, spilt out everything all at once to me: her trip, her new friends and even her favorite airline stewardess.
I cringed and breathed into the pillowcase. I felt her touch my arm. She was surveying me. I remained motionless like an opossum playing dead. I was no longer competing with my feelings of emptiness. Mother has stepped up ahead of everything.
She sucked in air through her nostrils. I sensed her scowl. She could not help but spit her words out. “So, I think this was meant to be, this trip, the whole thing.” Clearing her throat, Mom reloaded.
Even without her invitation, I would speak. I would open my mouth if only to get her to shut her own. I swallowed, lifted my head and blurt out: “I didn’t tell Ben. But I’m fine now. I just need a shower.”
Mother huffed and lifted her eyes to the ceiling.
And that was the end of it. The last time I would contemplate the missing hours. The last time I would ever come close to telling Mother.