Autumn’s words rush like storm wind.
“She was so strong, focused, unstoppable, deeply
impressive to me, like a transformation into superdom.
For most of my life she’d just been, you know, Mom.
I mean, she was cool about doing the mom things,
reading stories to, then with me, teaching me how to do
those everyday rituals, you know, like washing, dressing,
brushing my hair, what to say to be polite, how to feel
better when plans go wrong. She was easy to be with
mostly, though often, you know, not quite there, mulling
over or tidying up thoughts I ought not see.
After she made that clear decision, after we ran off on a
sunny afternoon, out of the lives we knew, she was all
exactly there. She had a plan with layered contingencies,
always rewriting, pulling in data and strategies from the
other runners we would meet in the shelters and on the
streets. Alert to possible dangers, opportunities, she kept
us safe, moving, swift and sane, kept me calm and ready.
Changing places, changing our names, adapting to ever
different conditions, she was my hero. I was proud to believe
I could be as strong, as real, alive, magnificently resilient
now that I had learned the terror she had secretly endured
all those years I dismissed her as decorative and weak.
But now, now that we seem to have landed, leveled out,
taken long-term shelter, when I look at her she is
essentially gone. It’s like she was running on a hot-burning
fuel that’s been burned out.
I know she loves me. I feel that yearning anxiety flicker
through her when she looks at me, the unrequited desire
for the power of ability to give me more, to make it all better.
She talks to me, those times after her long horrible days,
when we’re home together, before she is too drunk to make
sense, as if we’re just typical mom and daughter enjoying our
normal life. I guess this is our normal, now.”
Autumn tumbles through her complex of feelings, confusions,
guilts, complaints, loyalty, love, her mom junk as she on occasion
dismisses, apologizes, tries to keep it from engulfing.
Kathy dissipates, from drink, from lack of thought to give
herself. Her desire is to be numb, to get through the litany of
doing without notice, to drift away leaving a programmed
automaton to do without her conscious consent. She wants
better for Autumn. Feeling lost and spent beyond redemption,
entrenched in failure, in revealed lies confronted too late, in
shambles overwhelming any possibility of reconstruction, she
feels no ability to give, to offer.
What does my understanding of, even empathy for, that
battered soul offer?
I hold shaking Autumn close to my cold exterior, feel her
cry, feel the fear she doesn’t speak.
There are so many ways life can go wrong.
Maybe there is no point in such calculation. Ideas,
valuations, are so subjective, based in ephemeral cultural
“Remember, Autumn, when she knew what had to be done she
was magnificent. Remember how that feels.”