That was the day I decided, enough was enough and we had to leave. “Mama? Get up, we need to clean you up.” Her nightgown pasted to her round buttocks, tears streaming down her face as she staggered her way to the bathroom. It finally became clear we were in serious danger.
My mother was not allowed to drive by herself but thankfully she did have her own car. I packed two bags as quickly as I could and loaded them into the forest green Ford Tempo that had been rusting out in our back garage. I prayed it would start, as I turned the key it let out a cry then turned right over, I bent down to kiss the steering wheel before I remembered my mother.
Walking back through those doors was like being hit in the head with a brick, the smell, and the darkness I had never seen before. She was on the floor still in her dirty clothes desperately mopping at the floor with a wet rag.
“Common Ma, we can’t stay!”
“He is so mad at me!” she trembled
“He isn’t here mama, we need to go.”
“I promised him, and he will be so disappointed. He’s going to walk in here, and he’s going to see… I am so embarrassed” She mopped harder, sloshing the mess around frantically.
“Leave this” I seized her shoulder and she turned to look me in the eye, her gaze haunting and fear filled, like a small child just told Santa is a myth. In that moment I found a strength I never knew I had “Mama, you have to get dressed, we are leaving here. Now.”
“What?” her face filled with horror “He’s going to be home any minute, and he will be expecting us. And where do you think you are going?”
“Away mama, and you’re coming with me.”
“Oh no! I need to clean this up; it’s a mess, such a mess. I just need to get it all cleaned that all, it was my mistake, he told me he wasn’t coming home. I’m just get really dizzy sometimes and forget, I just forgot.”
“Mama, daddy isn’t here we can go, we don’t have a lot of time.” I leaned over to help her up off her knees. “We need to get you cleaned up”
“Get your hands off me!” I had never seen her angry before. “I don’t know you, running out on your family, how dare you!” She raised her hand to slap me, today was going to be a day of firsts, it just lingered unfading.
“Go ahead mama. I will be so proud of you.” Tears filled both of our eyes; she collapsed in my arms sobbing. “You need to hurry!” I held her tight “ You are strong enough, I need you to hurry.” And with that I carried her to the bathroom and stripped her nightgown into the bathtub. I remember seeing her naked, so frightened and helpless, I was not embarrassed as I feel I should have been, but pitiful and repentant for not saving her. She showered quickly and I choose a long blue dress from her closet, one with yellow flowers and a tie at the waist, I thought it might help for her to feel ladylike. I was right. She dressed cleanly behind the bedroom door and matched her dress to a pair of high heeled shoes she only wore to church “I might need these for Christmas” I hadn’t even thought to pack that far in advance.
“Good job Mama! Now lets go.” I rushed the door, my mother in toe, sprinting to the backyard and into the car. She didn’t miss a step; it almost frightened me how easily the end had been. I was to learn her mind was never far from home, but for now we were on the road. With $80 between us and a quarter tank of gas in a car I wasn’t sure was going to take us anywhere I pulled out of the alley and onto the side street heading out of town. Sometimes I wish I had let the flames take the place down, something for the rearview mirror, but I never looked back.