Loving my creative writing course at Scottsdale Community College. It is never too late to learn and today I share my first writing homework assignment.
Ain’t it Fun
As I eased my car away from the curb, I glanced back at the American curb-side check in to see my daughter swing her Little Mermaid backpack over her shoulder. Her long Poison Ivy red hair, a wave of man-made color down her back, complemented her Disney bag. The juxtaposition between child and woman was a statement that went over my head in that exact moment but one which would be pulled out and examined later. She walked without glancing back, through the automatic doors to the Phoenix airport.
I waited for her to turn around and smile, wave, blow a kiss, holler out her love or even shout the lyrics to Ain’t it Fun by Paramore; but nothing. She just walked away, through the door and out of my life.
My right foot hovered over the gas pedal and I slowly pressed it down to pull into oncoming traffic when I realized that the driver of the Yellow cab was honking his horn.
“Fuck off,” I thought because women of a certain age don’t swear out loud.
Feelings of anger, hurt and sadness were at war in my mind as I tried to read the traffic signs and point my car in the direction of 202 West. Or was it East? My brain temporarily abandoned emotion while desperately picturing a map of the United States.
“Ohio is East. I need 202 East. Or wait, is there even a West option?” I couldn’t remember but thankfully a sign appeared overhead, pointing me in the correct direction, a path that would take me back to Fountain Hills and my own mother.
I would have turned to wave goodbye to my mother, I thought.
My car safely heading in the right direction, my brain released its need to be practical and dived off the cliff into drama-land. Where was I, my emotions asked?
Oh yes, anger, hurt and sadness. But wait; was I really feeling sadness? No, not yet. Sadness was still the fruit at the bottom of a strawberry Yoplait, my spoon still in my hand, as yet undescended into the white flavored gelatinous mass. In fact, I didn’t even want the yogurt yet. No, I was firmly in the grips of anger.
The movie Inside Out crossed my mind as I allowed my foot to press more weightily onto the gas pedal, increasing the speed of my car to match those travelers around me. The animated movie created characters for each emotion inside the mind of a pre-teen girl; Joy and Depression taking center stage.
I hated that movie.
Anger was a squatty animated character drawn too small to represent my current level of outrage. The intensity was frightening.
Emotions are too hard to hang onto, even in the best of times. Like soap bubbles floating on a summer day, they moved in front of my eyes, too elusive to grasp because if I did capture one, it would pop. It was easier, safer to feel numb. Comfortably numb. Was that the Stones?
How can a mother be this angry at her child? If I really loved her, I wouldn’t be able to be this angry. Angry at her decision, at the opportunity she was throwing away, at her reasons or lack thereof and mostly at her inability to see how her decisions cut the heart of her loved ones.
Didn’t she see how upset I was? Didn’t she care? I gave up everything.
Yes, I know every mother says that. “I gave up everything for you. I suffered through 31 hours of painful labor to bring you into this world…” Actually, she was a scheduled c-section; it was her older brother that caused the most pain; coming and going.
I felt the vibration of my cellphone indicating a text. I don’t text and drive but I may read; she was safely at the gate.
I sent up a brief prayer of thanks before going back to my righteous indignation.
“It is for that boy,” I spit into the cooled air of my Hyundai. I remember thinking it was ironic that I’d bought a used Tucson just a few months before deciding to move to Phoenix.
It was around the same time that Emily applied to the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe. A high school senior with a firm desire to right the wrongs of the world and work for the FBI; their Technology Forensics degree program seemed divinely made for her. One semester in and the FBI had already tagged her for an internship.
“A boy who isn’t really interested. Didn’t she get it? He called to say goodbye the night before we moved from Ohio. He couldn’t even manage a ride over to the house. He called and said ‘stay golden.’ Anyone would have known that he was offering a final goodbye.
“Shit, Johnny lay dying when he told Ponyboy to stay golden. You don’t get any more final then that,” I yelled to no one.
“It just isn’t a good fit, Mom”
Was it just five days ago that she’d called to tell me she was dropping out of college after just one semester? And now she was probably already sitting in her window seat, row 26, looking out over the wing. Flying back to her father in Ohio. To crappy weather. To no job, no car, no school, no plans and a boy who has already bid her ado.
Where was her brain?
I brushed the tears aside as I clicked on the turn signal in anticipation of exiting at Country Club.
Oh great, I thought, the homeless guy. As I slowed to a stop, one car back from the intersection I purposefully kept my eyes on the traffic light. I would not make eye contact. I would not roll down my window. I would not give him money. I’d already flushed all my money down the academic toilet of abandoned dreams. I had nothing left to give.
All of a sudden I felt weary; almost too weary to turn the wheel in the direction of my mother’s home.
“I don’t even have a home anymore,” the tears started again in earnest. “I’m a 58 year old failure living with her Mommy.” Did I mention that I was voted Most Dramatic, Class of 75? It is an important point of reference.
I’d given up everything to move to Arizona so that Emily could realize her dream of going to the number one technology college in the United States; the primary school that supplied interns to every alphabet organization in the government.
“I have nothing.”
The past year had been an exercise of loss. Each day I’d made a decision to part with a trinket, a collection, an object, a memory so that my baby could realize her dreams. I couldn’t afford tuition and a mortgage. But that was okay as long as Emily had the opportunity of a life time. Over fifty years of memories had been distributed among friends, neighbors, strangers, Goodwill, Easter Seals and the trash man. I kept five mugs, an apple corer and my chicken scissors.
“They are just things,” my mother had said. “I don’t have room for your junk, Debbie.”
For months I had sat in front of open cupboards, drawers and closets looking at the menagerie of my life, trying to find the perfect home for each item.
“Just pitch them,” she’d said. “They’ve served a purpose.”
But I wasn’t done, I thought to myself. They weren’t done. Someone could benefit from my bowls and baskets, my blankets and living room furniture. In the end, although many benefited from my hording, most was crushed by the steel jaws of the trash truck.
And no one sent a thank you note, unless you count the bill from the trash company for $450 for the extra-large pick up as an acknowledgement of my generosity.
With the weariness came the hurt. Right on time. Just as I pass the poop fire at the corner of Gilbert and the Beeline, my nostrils are filled with the stench of betrayal and disappointment.
“She never even said thank you.”
When my first born dropped out of college it was expected. It’s hard to justify spending $14000 a year for beer, sex and Fs. I was disappointed, I was fearful of what his next steps would be but I didn’t lose my house. I still had my salt and pepper shaker collection. My children were still within easy lunch driving distance. When his band played a gig, I was only thirty minutes from screaming from the audience.
I’d driven more than 2,000 miles with my computer, five mugs, an apple corer, chicken scissors and my cat. There was no going back.
Turning left onto Shea I made the quick decision to visit Target. There’s nothing like a needless shopping excursion to help tuck those pesky emotions back into the folds of fat choking my heart. Parking, I switched off the ignition and suddenly realized I had no one to shop for.
The numbness began in my eyes, swollen from crying, tired from a lack of sleep; I allowed my head to fall back on the seat and felt my lids fall unbidden.
No. I sat up straight, shaking off the sadness, slapping the steering wheel with the palm of my hand. “It was Pink Floyd, not the Stones who sang Comfortably Numb.”
How could I have been so wrong?
Did I force her to go to this school, to choose this career path, to leave her friends and father? I didn’t think so. In fact, I even asked her as we drove to the airport just a few short heart beats ago. She assured me it had been her decision. Her decision to go and her decision to leave.
But I can be forceful. Just ask my ex-husbands.
I walked slowly into the big box retailer, turning left toward the customer service desk and the electric carts. Even my legs had abandoned me. No longer would my body allow me to meander through the aisles of Target. The pain would begin in my lower back, radiating down my right leg and into my lungs. I pulled the electric cart into oncoming shopper traffic, whizzing past eighty year old women pushing their carts unaided.
Abandonment; yes, that was a good word. I could taste the self-pity and it reminded me of winter; chapped lips, runny noses, and gray skies. This was familiar. My husbands had left. My father had died. The love of my life had rejected me and now my children were gone.
It was just me. Well, I don’t need anything, I think. Just these chicken scissors and my cat. I’m reminded of Steve Martin and his crazy exit speech in the Jerk. Was it telling that I would connect with that movie?
I rode through the aisles safe in the knowledge that I was a stranger; that I could waste an hour without being recognized. In the town I’d moved from I would inevitably run into an acquaintance; someone from work, church, scouts, the chamber or any number of audience members from speaking engagements, book signings or concerts. But I was too new to the community to have met anyone that would recognize me trolling the aisles of Target in my little electric cart. I was safe to allow a tear to roll unchecked, to add unnecessary items into my basket in one aisle only to tuck them away on a shelf in another department.
The juice ran out of the cart in the far back corner of the store, leaving me stranded amongst discounted Christmas ornaments and wrapping paper. I pulled off to the side like a driver being flagged down for driving too fast. I sat starring at the boxes of Christmas cards that were at eye level and was drawn in by the illustration of an angel. I didn’t bother to examine the box of cards further as I’d just sent out my annual holiday letter.
“Emily starts her college classes: Tech Forensics, Network Security, Tech & Society, Sustainability and English Comp. Emily and her new gang of friends climb South Mountain practically every day! Emily turns 19. Emily finished first semester of college and prepares to begin an internship with the FBI.”
What will people think, I wonder. They’ve just received a letter where I have bragged about my daughter and her college success. I’ve told everyone she wants to be a white hat hacker and save the world. How will I explain her decision when I don’t understand it myself? How do I wrap my mind around the fact that I’ve just watched my youngest walked into her future and I won’t be along to see the show?
The last thing I asked her, as we pulled off the highway and motored toward Terminal four, was if she expected me to move back as well. After all, we’d moved out together, did she expect me to go back with her? It had just been the two of us for the past six years, two chicks hanging out, watching movies, doing homework, painting our nails, learning to be vegetarian together.
“I don’t care where you live,” she’d said.
And with the memory of that definitive statement, the air left Target; sucked into my lungs in one gulp. Before I could exhale out the pain, spewing it over the discounted Christmas supplies, a long, slow burning lava of sadness took its place.
Closing my eyes I watched as the spoon descended, cutting first through the white pudding-like texture to hit bottom among the strawberries. The spoon twisted and scraped, rising to the top carrying with it the red fruit. I couldn’t bear to bring the spoon to my lips as I knew I wouldn’t be able to swallow whatever it brought forth.
“Can I help you?”
A young man with a red Target shirt looked concerned as he bent near me. Blinking, I tried to form a smile and nod. “Yes, actually, I think my cart has died.”
“What can I do?” he asked. I looked around and realized that there were two other shoppers standing behind him, their chorus of concerned looks connected me to the fact that I was crying. The tears raced to my chin, just barely passing the snot that slipped toward my lip. I quickly brushed them all aside with the hem of my shirt. One quick snuff and I forced a quick laugh.
“Ah, yes, sorry. Guess I’ve run out of gas. Could you bring me a cart – I can just use that to walk back to the front of the store.”
“Of course,” he said, quickly turning and heading in the direction of the front door. I tried to smile at the other shoppers, who nodded and turned to leave the aisle. Awkward, I thought.
Pushing down the feelings of sadness, I gathered my purse from the bottom of the cart and carefully stood. Leaving the cart and the items I’d snagged, I moved in the direction of the front of the store. I made it as far as the Pharmacy department before the pain forced me to sit in the waiting area.
It will never be the same, I realized. My son had been gone for six years, living and working on his own, making life choices without my opinion or direction, paying his bills without my help, creating a life in which I’d become a minor player. It happened slowly. He’d left but then he’d come back and like a yoyo we endured that dance a few more times before he settled into his adulthood. I was proud of him and the man he’d become. I was grateful for the opportunity to be part of the journey.
However, this time the Band-Aid had been ripped off before a scab had formed. The wound was fresh, the blood flowed freely and I didn’t even have a tissue. Her decision was bigger than what school she’d go to or what career path she would choose. She’d decided to grow up without me. She didn’t need a net or a shoulder or a sounding board and I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared. Five days weren’t enough time to absorb the fact that she believed herself to be grown and capable. Ain’t it Fun? No, Hayley, it ain’t.
So what are you gonna do
When the world don’t orbit around you
Ain’t it fun
Living in the real world
Ain’t it good
Being all alone