“When you’re ready to be civil, then we can talk.” I took a deep breath–slow, calm, measured. “Until then, I’m not going to have this conversation.” For once, she was silent. Hands shaking and light-headed with anxiety, I tapped the “End Call” button. I stared at my reflection in its dark glass a few moments longer, daring it to buzz in my hand again. For her to refuse my terms.
* * *
It was never my parents’ fault I turned out like this. They tried their best to raise a strong, respectful, obedient, Christian girl with strong moral values. So what are you supposed to do when she turns out sporting only one, maybe two out of the five?
It started when I was a child, as most things do. A trip to the grocery store was never complete without an attempt to push myself down the aisle in the cart.
“IIIIIIIIII do it!” I’d declare, sitting in the child’s seat, wearing nothing but a diaper and glaring at my father’s blithely inattentive face as he perused the aisle for tapioca pudding.
“IIIIIIII do it!” I’d repeat, and get to work on freeing myself from his tyrannical grasp. Many an hour was spent in Albertson’s carefully prying each adult-sized finger off of the cart handles, only to be met with my near apoplectic fury as finger number one returned to its place as I started work on finger number two. One time–just once–my father let go of the cart, staring at me with a “well, what now?” look on his face. Elation! Independence! Now was my chance! I threw myself backwards, holding on to the cart with both hands and attempting to figure out how to avoid cancelling the momentum I gained while throwing myself back as I leaned forward for another push. No, that’s not my daughter having a violent grand mal seizure, she’s trying to push herself down the aisle. Yes, I know walking would be easier. That’s beside the point.
They must have appreciated having a child that was so eager to be independent–so full of passion to free herself of the norms of society and spread God’s word with her righteous indignation and Tweety-bird head.
* * *
“Well, you’re eighteen now, and capable of making your own decisions,” my mother said over the phone, her anger carefully veiled behind a delicate facade of maternal concern. “I just think you’re making the wrong one.” Her only daughter, spending the weekends with her “Army boyfriend”. The words were always spat out of her mouth as if they burned her tongue. I had so much potential, she would say, and now I was throwing all that away! But, as she had said before, I was now–legally–an adult, and there wasn’t much she could do to try and corral her daughter who would surely “drop out of college, marry young, have a couple of kids, get a divorce and struggle for the rest of your life like we are now.” That is, nothing short of kicking her out. Which she did a few weeks later.
The reasoning behind it, I believe, was to make me appreciate–really appreciate–having a home to live in. However, when her gracious invitation to welcome me back into her home a month later was (somewhat smugly) refused, I can’t imagine what went through her head. Wait, yes I can. “Foiled again!” perhaps, or maybe “Wait, what?” She had triggered a level of self-sufficiency in me that even she had not seen before. Most unfortunate, for her sake.
All she wanted to do was keep me safe. She only meant to ensure that I grew up a Good Christian Woman. Poor, hapless creature that she was–she was cursed with me from the start.
* * *
I’ll always blame Bubba. Every day on the bus ride home–every. Single. Day. He would taunt me. I was in the 4th grade, he was in 8th. I was short, quiet, and owned a near-prodigal acid tongue. He was tall, gangly, bespectacled and foul. A fellow student at Emerald Christian Academy (go Roadrunners!), he was not a Good Christian Boy. He was the kind of kid who would wear those “Big Dog” t-shirts and pretend to hump his backpack, laughing maniacally at his own comedic ingenuity. Lascivious jokes, cruel remarks, pulling the pretty girls’ hair–nothing was off-limits for Mr. Jeremy “Bubba” Anderson. He was the reason I got in trouble at school for the very first time, and–being the pernicious thing that I am–I never regretted my transgression. I was sick of Bubba’s shit, you see. Sick of his games at my expense (give me back my backpack, you fucking dick), sick of his stupid jokes (no, you’re not making out with someone, just wrapping your arms around yourself and wiggling in the corner), and sick of the bus driver’s refusal to a) move him, or b) stop him. Today, it ended.
After almost twenty minutes of his taunting on the ride home, I had decided it was time. He was ready. I glared deeply into Bubba’s eyes, carefully pressing the creases out of my blue velvet jumper, the meanest thing I could think of already locked and loaded.
“You know,” I smiled, my mid-90’s bob nicely framing the righteous anger on my face, “when God made you, he didn’t care about you, so he put your head between your legs so you could kiss your own butt!”
Bubba cried. I was banned from the school bus for two weeks. And it was completely worth it.
* * *
The phone stayed dark. That was good, I think. The tears slowed, my heart rate returned to normal. The adrenaline dissipated.
Being concerned for your grandmother’s health didn’t make you a bad
daughter–just like cutting off contact with her wouldn’t make you a good one.
Years later, I’m still waiting for her civility to show up. To be meant, and not just temporarily surface for appearance’s sake. Every now and again, a text comes through.
“Don’t let him win. God bless you daughter.”
“As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands. Psalm 119:143.”
She’s still trying to save me. Bless her.
I never reply. It took me a long time to get what I have, to get out from under my parents’ grasp. Nothing is going to get me to let go of that freedom. The ability to fall as far from grace as I could possibly hope. I’ll dig myself back out, if I have to.
IIII do it.