As I write this, I am trying to think of a way to tell you that I will not be coming home this summer. I will most likely say it is because of money. You will believe it, because this is the same girl who hoarded her allowance but never spent it on things she needed. This is the girl who wore her jeans, shoes, and purses until they had holes. This is the girl whose first thought about college was how she could go for free. When I tell you it is about money, you will believe it. You will even offer to help me pay for it. But when that girl tells you it is about money, she will be half lying.
I am sorry but lying comes so much easier to me. I grew up in a world where “Don’t let them see you sweat,”was stitched into the lining of our clothes and boys weren’t the only ones told not to cry. It wasn’t intentional. I don’t want to paint a picture of emotional neglect. No, so often it arose from a need to protect, a need to persevere. In the wake of Daddy’s death, what could be said to make things okay? What little circle of shared tears would have drawn him back to life standing in our kitchen in his apron, smile on his face, cake in his hands? So we said no black at the funeral, wear something colorful, celebrate his life. When I saw him in his powder blue casket, a part of me climbed in beside him. Instead of telling you the truth, I smile. Instead of telling you about the morning he died, I tell you about the time when he was playing video games and broke part of the ceiling. I save these stories to memory so I never forget them. At his funeral, I stand in front of everyone. I know how to be a rock, cold and smooth as stone.
My friends say I have a special voice when I talk to you. It is one octave higher than my normal speaking voice and sweeter. It is nothing intentional but I have to admit it true. I want to be sweet, I want to be your little girl. I want to protect that image. I didn’t tell you I was depressed for all those years. I sat alone in the dark, burying my head in books to escape. I pushed myself in school, I was in the top 5 all throughout high school. When you bowed your heads to pray over dinner, I watched your faces and wondered what I lacked. I wondered what part of a person made them so capable of faith. I’m sorry but I don’t believe in your God. I haven’t for some time, you say I’m mad at God for taking Daddy. I let you believe it, it is easier to admit. It is something you can swallow. You believe I need time. You believe all things just need time.
The things I say aloud are scripted. Topics that are safe, topics that are not safe. For years you ask me about driving. I don’t have my license. I pretend to be lazy, disinterested in driving. It is not until you thrust me behind the wheel of a car and see a panic attack that you realize the anxiety I am capable of. It is the first time I have ever reacted this way. You don’t bring up driving again. Instead, you move on to the next child: someone in this house will have a license. We don’t talk about things that sting. I imagine this is why you didn’t tell me when you found out Papa had cancer. It is one reason I am not as angry as I should be. How could I expect anything different when this has been how our family operates?
Home is a place of comfort and discomfort, I am trapped. Being unable to drive in our small suburb means I can go nowhere. I am trapped, waiting for someone to come home, waiting for someone to finish what they are doing, waiting for someone to pick me up. I imagine home now. I think about the couch where Papa sat, obviously shaken, obviously depressed, obviously mourning for years. I think about how often he felt outnumbered and ignored in a house full of women. I remember how everyone called him emotional, and wonder if he was just softer than all of us. If we should have followed his example and worn our hurt on the outside. I cannot imagine the couch without him sitting on it. In my eyes, the living room is now a vacant space, one wall a television. The memory of him getting up and pouring himself a cup of milk and placing it in the freezer every night replays itself. In my mind, the cup is still there. It would only be befitting that Papa would forget it, that it would continue to sit there until the end of time, until it was cold enough. I think about Ma, the outsider. So often absent from photos, graduations, proms, and backyard barbecues. Always at work, always at one job or the other, always finding a way to scrape by. Despite her always being absent, it is weird to think of her so far from home. She has always been in the background, making sure we are fed and dressed. Always finding ways to slip happiness into the budget. We’d often go out to dinner or to the mall and pretend everything was okay for a few hours. Shortly after her youngest turned eighteen, she packed up her things and moved south to be with the only family member of hers she talks to. I hope she is happy. For a long time, I’ve wanted my mom to be happy.
My decision to not come home was not easy. I would love to see you. I would love a moment to collapse into your arms and feel safe and small. I would love a plate of food set in front of me and a big, soft bed in a room so reminiscent of my childhood. I would love to sit in the comfort of my siblings, the way we can exist so close to each other without effort. But I don’t know if a month at home would bring me peace of mind or if in the prolonged silence, I would find old demons.