Forgetting who I am, I rub my face and reply, "I dunno." Immediately I know I've just committed a double crime of moving and speaking without Mother's permission. Before I can stop myself, I commit another offense by looking right at her and shaking my head. "I don't understand . . . what's happening to me?"
"You're fine," Mother states. I lean forward to catch what she said. I'm not sure, but I think Mother just spoke to me in a soft tone. "Listen. Listen up. Tell 'em . . . uhm, tell them that you were . . ." I strain to pay attention to Mother's instructions, but her words seem mumbled and confusing. Mother snaps her fingers, indicating a breakthrough for her latest cover story. "If those nosy teachers ask, you tell them that you were wrestling and you got out of control . . . so your brothers had to put you in your place. Do you understand?"
I'm trying to digest Mother's new set of instructions.
"Do you understand?" Mother probes, fighting to keep her anger under control.
"Ah, yes," I chuckle. I cannot believe how easily Mother can come up with her off-the-wall lies every single day of school. I'm also amazed that I no longer care about masking my emotions in front of her. "Tell 'em I was wrong. I was bad."
"And . . . ?" Mother whines, trying to draw me out further.
"Tell them . . . I was . . . I was playing, I mean wrestling! I was wrestling and . . . I got out of control. Yes, I understand," I stammer.
Mother tilts her head to one side as she inspects her latest damage. She holds her gaze for a few moments before losing her balance, stumbling toward me. In a jerking motion I flinch backward. "Shh . . . no, it's okay. Relax," Mother calmly says with an outstretched hand as she keeps her distance, acting as if I were a stray dog. "No one's going to hurt you. Shh . . ." Mother circles around me before backing into her kitchen chair. Bending her head down, she stares into space.
My head begins to slump forward when Mother's hacking cough makes me snap upright. "It wasn't always like this, you know," she whimpers in a scratchy voice. "If you knew . . . if you only understood. I wish I could somehow make you, make them understand. . . ." Mother stops in mid-sentence to collect herself. I can feel her eyes scan my body. "Things just got outta control, that's all. I never meant to . . . to live like this. No one does. I tried, God knows I did--to be the good wife, the perfect mother. I did everything: den mother this, PTA that, hosting the perfect parties. I really did try.
"You, you're the only one who knows, who really knows. You're the only one I can really talk to," Mother whispers. "I can't trust them. But you, you're the perfect outlet, the perfect audience, anytime it damn well pleases me. You don't talk, so no one will hear your pain. You don't have any friends, and you never go outside, so you know what it's like to be all alone inside. Hell, besides school, no one knows you. It's as if you were never . . .
"No. You'll never tell anyone . . . never!" Mother brags as she nods her head up and down to reinforce her warning.
Without stealing a glance, I can hear Mother sniffle as she struggles not to let down her guard. I realize she's only using me to talk to herself. She always has. When I was younger, Mother would drag me out of bed in the middle of the night, have me stand in front of her as she poured herself glass after glass and raved on for hours. But now as I stand in front of her, I'm too numb to understand her ramblings. What in the hell does she want? Can she be totally smashed so early in the morning, or is she still under the effects from last night's stupor? Maybe she's testing my reaction? I hate not knowing what Mother expects of me.
From A Man Named Dave : A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness, by David J. Pelzer, Dave Pelzer. © October 1999 , David J. Pelzer, Dave Pelzer used by permission of the publisher, E.P. Dutton.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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