“I’m Kathy…your daughter. Do you remember me Mom?”
I have children but they are nowhere near as old as this woman. Her face is only vaguely familiar, like someone you notice in the grocery store a couple of times, nothing more. I look around trying to get some clues as to the when of where I am.
This sparse, depressing room that reeks of old piss and menthol can not be my home. Oh no, she’s getting upset, I’d better say something.
“Oh yes, Kathy of course I remember you. How are you doing Honey?”
Someone once told me that if you have no idea who someone is, just get them talking about themselves.
“I’m great Mom. Greg is good too. The kids are as…”
She goes on but I’m not going to listen too hard, I can feel that in a couple seconds I’ll be back in an old timeline. One I want to be in.
This time is so disturbing that it makes me spitting angry. Everyone’s face is sad and they look at me like I’m a wilting flower on the hot sidewalk. The feel of this body is the worst part, I’m just a skeleton with skin and a bit of fat draped over; utterly used up.
Before I slid into whatever hell this is, I was young and thin, galloping my pinto pony named Suzie through the tall grass and letting the wind tangle my long blonde hair. Suzie’s fuzzy winter coat felt so warm and soft against my bare feet that it made me smile. There were birds chirping happily and when I dropped my head back, I could see nothing but the vast blue sky that always looked close enough to run my fingers through. I was content and the world was quiet. It is one of my favorite “Whens” to visit.
I try to travel to only the good times, the best moments of my life, but sometimes I fall into a bad one. Experiencing childhood traumas without the resiliency and naivety of a child is quite horrifying.
My absolute worst experience is from when I was six and my father was beaten to death in front of me. I just stood and watched, too frightened and powerless to do anything about it.
John, someone he trusted and I called Uncle J, turned on him one night while they were drinking. I saw it all from the kitchen when I’d gotten up for a glass of water.
Revisiting the scene a few times, I now realize that John was in love with my mother and in his drunken stupor thought that killing my father would make her free to take as a wife, like she was a toy with no thoughts or say in the matter.
Sadly, that’s how most women were viewed then but I suppose John never realized that my beautiful, strong mother was not most women.
She rushed half naked from the bedroom with a baseball bat held high and beat John unconscious then rolled his body off of my Dad.
I cried so hard when she checked his pulse and whispered “I was too late…He’s gone.”
She blamed herself, but never once did she blame me, the one who could have screamed and alerted her sooner, maybe saving him. I suppose I blamed myself enough for the both of us and I still do.
Once John recovered from what my mother had done to him, he was put to death by the great state of North Dakota.
As you can imagine, I try to avoid these times as hard as I can. It’s just that sometimes, like right now, I can’t help but get sucked into a moment.
The woman claiming to be my daughter and that moment, have gone.
I’m playing with my baby on a blanket spread over the cool floorboards while sunshine pours through the windows and warms our tiny home. Kathy gives a giggle as I tickle her neck.
Good gracious, she is so pretty, with her wispy blond curls and pudgy little cheeks. Nothing better than babies to revive your soul and make you feel like you’ve found your place in the world. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around how in tarnation a child could possibly come to be.
“Magic” is the closest I can come to explaining it. It sure feels like magic when they flutter inside you for the first time.
“Ma…Ma…” Kathy says.
I clap and smile at her first word, she has a proud look that immediately reminds me of her father. Sadness blankets the moment and I wipe a stray tear that manages to escape. I can’t show Theo what his little girl has done or how bright and stubborn she is already. I mourn that he will have missed all the milestones of her childhood by the time he comes back from the war.
I know it’s a sacrifice that everyone is making, we all do our part and give up things to support the efforts of our sons and husbands, but still.. It’s hard.
I hug my precious Kathy to my chest and close my eyes, just smelling her lovely baby smell.
I’m just inhaling and humming a slow lullaby, but the scent changes and I open my eyes. I’m back to the bad time. The now time.
“Hi Mom. I wanted to introduce you to someone new.”
It’s a man now. Claiming to be my Greggy boy. He looks like a brother to my husband. What was his name?… ah, yes. Howard.
“Hello Howard.” I say smartly.
“No, I’m Greg. Your son.” He says.
“Mmhmm.” I don’t believe him, but I don’t want to anger him, so I’ll go along with it.
“I brought your newest grandbaby to visit.”
Howard takes a bundle from a pretty woman standing behind him, she reminds me of Greta Garbo.
He holds up the wad of blankets to show me a sweet pudgy face, one I’d know anywhere.
“My baby girl!” I reach out for her.
“No Mom, this is Sarah. She’s my daughter.” Howard is speaking to me like I’m a child and I can’t imagine what he is getting out of trying to trick me, but it’s not going to work. I know my baby Kathy when I see her.
With sharp jabs of pain and a lot of energy, I sit up in the bed.
“Alright. Can I hold her?” I ask.
Howard looks worried and glances to the woman behind him once more. She nods “yes”.
The pretty woman must be looking after my little girl while I’m sick and traveling. I’m glad and it looks like she’s doing a fine job. Kathy is healthy and beautiful. I am so glad.
Howard places her into my arms and I feel my wrinkled face pulling into a smile. It’s been a long time since this face smiled.
“Stay close,” I tell him. “I don’t trust these old arms.”
He answers, “Don’t worry Mom, I know you won’t drop her.” But he moves nearer just the same.
She smiles up at me with those perfect rosy lips and reaches for my face. I lean in close, so she can feel the strange texture of my skin. I am like a stranger to her, how I look right now, but deep down she knows me and doesn’t cry.
She coos and smiles, and I decide that maybe this time isn’t the worst place to be.
Oh, I can feel it though, I’ll be going soon.
“Take her Howard. I’m going traveling and I don’t want anything to happen to her.”
He lifts Kathy from my arms and I turn to the Greta Garbo woman behind him.
“Take good care of my baby. She likes her neck tickled and please… tell her I love her every day. Will you?”
She nods and wipes the tears from her eyes.
This was a good moment.
But I’m on to visit another.
I can’t stay.
Photo is “Young and Old” by Mojaa Neddo