2020 haunted me in ways I didn’t know were possible. There was the obvious-
A poorly handled pandemic. The one I watched unfurl over my shoulder, as I was privledged enough to shelter myself and my family from the majority of the reality. There was my growing belly, and the loss of mobility and patience. And then I watched on, as my marriage deteriorated into something I knew couldn’t, and shouldn’t, be built again. But there was also time-
Endless amounts of time, and drinking in Scarlett as an only child. There was the sight of my new baby, Maddox, and the way he rested his head on my chest, close to my heart, catching his first few breaths. There was the connections I made with folks in my cooking community that inspired me to write an essay that was published in Greatist you can find here. I dug my heels in and forged ahead with my cottage bakery, Butter Moon Bake Co, despite the timing being shite, and I made (not as much as I hoped, I digress) progress in the food-adjacent memoir I am writing. It spans over the course of two decades of my lifetime, each essay revealing intimate parts of my childhood and beyond. Seeing my work published has reignited that writer’s itch to get back to work, which for me, oftentimes looks like more reading than writing, but that’s neither here nor there, and I reckon it’s time I get back to both to some capacity. Below, you can find a excerpt I have shared from my memoir.
I like mornings like these.
Mornings when it’s just the two of us, no men lingering in her bed, on her skin or in her robe. I can tell when it’s just us before I even open my eyes.
The sound of Katie Couric’s muffled voice escapes the speakers from our enormous floor unit television, the one you can change channels by clapping or jangling keys.
The light is soft, but there’s enough sunshine that it spills under my bedroom door and begins to crawl its way up the wall.
I hear her spoon knock-knocking on the side of her mug as she stirs in a teaspoon of sugar into her black coffee.
But it’s the smell. It’s always the smell that wakes me, and it’s always the same when we’re alone. Black coffee and smoke from her Marlboro Medium that brushes my hair from my face. It’s not the meaty smell of men and women together. It’s not the smell of her compact powder, Miller Lite, and something chemical.
It’s just us and her coffee and morning cigarette, and I will always prefer it this way.
I go to school.
I have a hard time.
I miss my mother.
Every morning I tug at my worn clothes, and my heartbeat quickens.
I ask her if I can go with her to her home healthcare job.
I need you in school, she tells me.
Tears sting the corner of my eyes while I board the bus, but I won’t cry in front of these kids.
I lash out at the other students, and I don’t like my teacher. She looks at me like other people have. The daughter of a young, single mother.
I’m that kid.
I choke on sadness that rises in the back of my throat during reading time.
What’s wrong?, the teacher asks me.
I tell her I don’t know because I really don’t.
What is wrong?
I’m sad. I want to go to work with my mother. But I don’t tell anyone that.
At recess, a group of girls make mooing sounds at me. I look down and realize I’m wearing a white t-shirt and black shorts. I am a cow.
I call the ringleader a bitch and she tells the teacher.
When I’m asked what I called her, I lie and say nothing, forcing the lump in my throat to go down.
I’m sad, okay?
I don’t know what’s wrong.
The next day, I bring a pack of candy cigarettes to school. I have colored on a tan filter, and made the tip appear to be lit, complete with red flecks and grey for the ash. I stand on top of the slide, dragging on the end of my candy cigarette, blowing smoke into the winter air.
When the same girl from yesterday shouts that she’s going to tell on me, I turn the cigarette towards her and threaten to burn her with it.
Hand them over, I hear over my shoulder.
That was rather convincing. Why did you do that?
I don’t know.
I think to myself, I’m sad, okay? I don’t know why.
My mother asks the same questions the teachers ask.
Why do you say those things? Why do you do that? What’s wrong?
I tell her, I don’t know.
And I really don’t.
My anxiety is worse than it’s ever been. I lie awake at night, wondering what is wrong.
I wish I knew.
I walked down the hill to the bus stop almost every morning.
It’s cold. I learned quickly that Minnesota winters are a different cold. They seep into your clothes and into your bones. Once it’s -20 degrees, it all feels the same. It sticks to you and smells like diesel fuel. It’s just cold.
School gets cancelled because of how cold it gets, not because of snowfall, and they call it by mid-morning.
My heart sinks into my stomach and then rises into my throat. I tell myself to do “The Count” that sometimes feels reassuring. The other kids around me are humming with excitement, but I can barely keep my panic to a low thrum inside my head. An early release means an unexpected surprise for my mother. My mother doesn’t like those kinds of surprises.
She’s different these days. She becomes outraged easily, snarling at me when the dishes in the sink aren’t soaking in hot enough water.
I found a long, glass tube under her mattress, next to several polaroids of her naked body in a place I don’t recognize.
Then I started noticing that she keeps steel wool tucked under some cloth on her nightstand, but I don’t understand why. I use it to wash dishes in the sink; it’s out of place in her room. I remember seeing an officer find one in a car on the show COPS, and he seemed upset about it. I asked my mother about it once, never mentioning the one in her room, but she shrugged it off. After that, the one in her room disappeared.
Her boyfriend is over a lot. I hear noises coming from her bedroom at all hours of the day and night. They make my stomach turn and the space between my legs burn. She doesn’t come out of her room often and when she does, she’s not as sparkly as she used to be. Sometimes she scares me and I make sure to stay out of her way.
So when I hear the voices announce that the buses will be taking us home early, all I can do is sink into myself and begin my counting. I stare down into my hotdish and pick around at the canned pears. I don’t want to eat. The anxiety has spread into my stomach and made me feel full, but I don’t want lunch to end.
Counting and going through the steps of my day isn’t helping me today. My seatmate on the bus keeps elbowing me, asking me what I’ll do with the rest of the day, and I tell her to leave me alone, I don’t want to talk. She rolls her eyes at me and asks what my problem is. I tell her to fuck off.
I step off the bus and head up the hill. It’s early afternoon, but the sun is so tucked up and away it seems almost suppertime.
I forgot my key, one of the worst offenses.
I knock on the door, from where I hear more than two voices coming. My stomach folds itself in half.
I wait, and when she appears at the door, with an eyebrow raised, keeping it barely cracked, she asks me where my key is.
I wiggle my toes in my shoes and look down, pretending I have x-ray vision.
I left it on my dresser by accident.
She’s not sparkly anymore.
Then I guess you can’t come in.
The door shuts and a minute later it reopens. I’m still standing there, staring at the rip in the screen.
Here, she says. Make sure he goes potty.
She sets Blue, my small, black mutt dog down on the stoop next to me. I set him in the snow and watch the yellow puddle steam and seep into the ground. I wish I would have worn gloves.
I listen to the music go up and the churn of my stomach. I should have eaten more of my hot dish. I keep saying tater tot in my head until it doesn’t sound like a real word anymore.
I press my ear up against the door, and I hear those noises again. I shouldn’t be listening to it. I know what sex is, and this seems different, but I don’t understand why.
My throat is slick with bile, and I scoop Blue up and set him inside my black, puffy coat.
I walk with Blue around the yard, making sure to stay close in case I hear the click of the lock. It helps keep my mind off the cold and brings feeling back into my feet.
I keep my mind busy and I try to read my new library book. My teacher tells me I’m an advanced reader for a ten-year-old and lets me pick out special books. It doesn’t matter because my fingers hurt too much to turn the pages. I bury them inside my coat and around Blue’s small belly.
I look at the neighborhood kids through the windows of their houses. I watch them carry plates to the table and arrange silverware around them, nice and neat.
The sun sinks lower, and the sky turns purple.
The latch finally clicks and several men pour out the front door, never looking at me.
I step inside and see the door to my mother’s bedroom is closed. She has lit a candle on the kitchen table.
I close and lock the door behind me but never take my coat off. I climb into my bed with all my clothes on and set Blue under the covers with me. I don’t know if I’m crying because I’m cold or because I’m lonely.
I decided I hate tater tot hotdish.
I never eat it again.
What have I done?
It’s because I talk too much in class, isn’t it?
I know I said I would start dinner before you came home. I’m sorry I didn’t.
Is that why you’re always upset with me?
I’ll be better.
If you could just be better, I promise I will.