I wake up 16 hours later when I hear the conductor announcing, “Harrisburg! Harrisburg, Pennsylvania!”
Drowsy and dazed….I can’t believe I slept the entire way between Chicago and good old Central Pennsylvania. My contacts are have fused themselves to my eyeballs. I wipe the dried drool off of my cheek.
I trudge up the stairs–no escalator in this station–with my suitcase, wishing I had time to put on some makeup or comb my hair. I’m sure my mother is running late, so I will probably have an opportunity to freshen up.
But to my surprise–my mom and stepdad are waiting at the top of the stairs. This must be a dire situation.
Whenever I came home from college, I would bound up the stairs expecting my mom’s outstretched arms, but no one was ever there. Inevitably I had no change for the pay phone, so I would wait around for an hour or so, hoping that one of my parents would remember that I was visiting. Eventually someone would show up, mumbling something about errands or tiredness or an extended cocktail hour.
My mom tries to hide a vague look of horror when she sees me. I’m sure I look pretty amazing with my face covered with bruises and blotches. Add in a pair of yellowish eyes (jaundice) and some untied shoes…it’s a look sure to impress any parent.
No one says very much on the car ride home. As soon as we walk into the house, my mom starts flitting around, showing me a carton of soy milk and a new blanket and even a large selection of pillows in the spare room. She suggests a shower. “I bought a loofah just for you. And this new soap.” How do I feel? Am I hungry? Did I sleep on the train?
And on and on.
I am accustomed to a more blasé attitude during my visits. “How long are you here?” and “Please try to not to make a mess in the bathroom.”
I’m wondering how much Nate told her on the phone. Was the S word dropped? Were drugs mentioned? Was blame assigned to Ryan?
I force myself to eat some soup because it’s clearly so important to my mother. I try to cheerfully answer basic questions. “So how’s Nate?” and “How is work?” I feign smiles, hoping that the dim lighting of the dining room will lend me an air of health and actual happiness.
I spend an hour in the bathtub, trying to read comics. But my head hurts too much.
I wake up some time in the middle of the night–maybe like 3 am–and I suddenly just feel really, really sad. I guess Ryan and I are done. Everyone in Wicker Park thinks I’m crazy. And oh yeah, I guess I am crazy. I can’t eat and my face looks awful and I’m turning yellow.
This would probably be a good time to start crying, but I just can’t. I feel dry.
I’m lying there imagining that my life is over/ruined, when I hear my mom at the door.
“Are you okay,” she whispers.
“Yes, yes. I’m fine.”
“You would tell me if you weren’t okay, right?”
I nod my head.
“Listen, do you want some tea? I can’t sleep either.”
We spend the next few hours on the porch, drinking tea and talking. Eventually the sun is rising.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a real conversation with my mom. Sure, she’s filled my head with all sorts of dogma and propaganda over the years…from “there’s no Santa” to “there’s no God” to “All men lie.” But it’s not like we actually discussed these ideas. They were just basic facts to her, like “2 +2 = 4.” And honestly, most details of my life have been better left unshared.
It’s not that we have had a bad relationship. When I started high school, we knew that we had little time left together. I made it no secret that I was investing all of my time in good grades and extracurricular activities so I could get a scholarship to a college far, far away from Harrisburg, PA. I knew it was my only means of escape from a life of certain disappointment in my hometown. We both knew that I would never be back for more than short visits. So while my other friends were getting into a daily battle royale with their parents, my mom and I maintained a silent peaceful existence. No one could do or say anything regretful. I did my best to hide my bad behavior and she dutifully looked the other way.
When my stepfather died, my mom lost her mind with grief. And since she was closer to me than anyone else–the burden of being the eldest child–I had to bear the brunt of her anger. The day of the funeral she told me she wished I had never been born. And two days later, I packed all of my belongings into two large suitcases and boarded a flight for Chicago. Needless to say, Brad was surprised to see me. “So you’re living here now?”
Nothing has been the same since.
But now I have this urge to tell her everything. Well, a particularly censored version of actual events. No drugs. Well, a few drugs. But not the hard, scary kind. I try to explain the feeling of losing my mind–the hopelessness, the inability to breathe, the feeling that the world is moving too fast for me and I might just go reeling into space–without saying “I’m actually losing my mind.”
And so I do. She asks no questions. I finish with, “And now I’m here and I’m almost afraid to go back o Chicago.” She puts her arm around me–we’re not an affectionate family–and says, “Everything will be okay.” I have to believe her.