I am seven the first time my mom sleeps on the couch. I remember being little and being afraid, so so afraid. I remember my Dad's big warm hands on my shoulders, guiding me down the hallway, I remember dirty rough carpet underneath my feet, and I remember our dimly lit hallway, my mom lying in her makeshift bed. She was smiling then, but all I saw was her face an hour before, twisted in anger, screaming into the air until she felt empty. Give your mother a kiss goodnight, my dad said (I didn’t want to, of course I didn’t want to). Kiss her goodnight, he urged, so I did. She’d laughed as I’d approached. God, look at you, you’re shaking like a leaf, she’d said. It’s like you’re scared of me or something.
For the next decade I hear her ill-timed laughter, watch a thousand iterations of the same scene. Once or twice a week, something minor and then a bomb; she shoots arsenic words blindly, not caring who she hits. The bigger I get, the easier a target I am. I eventually learn how to avoid her- did you know you can stay at Spence until 8:30 if you’re quiet? She eventually learns how to catch me- somehow my tutor can only meet right after school in our house. We evolve together, predator and prey.
“It’s not my fault, you know. Your sister and I have a good relationship, because she talks to me. You never talk to me.” My shaking hands become just a little more erratic, making my room temperature coffee shudder in its mug.
She hates that I don’t respond, everyone does, you think I don’t know that? But if my mouth opened, more than what she wants would come out. She doesn’t know, can’t know maybe, how little I have to say that she wants to hear.
“Case in point. You can blame me all you want, but the proof is in the pudding.” Or maybe she does know, knows if she teaches me silence then she can call herself innocent. Maybe she’s been playing long ball, making moves right under my nose.
From the corner of my eye her hands shake too.
We keep playing our game, ravenous for the end. I tell her she sometimes makes it hard for me to want to be alive. She tells me the same thing back, and somehow that’s where the line lies, because for the first time other people get involved. I continue to run, to hide, but it starts to become easier. I don’t realize why until summer, when it's “over”, when I stop hiding. When I approach her she runs, she hides. She only talks to me reluctantly, with nervous hands. One day, I think it, and it makes my stomach hurt. I think God, look at her, she’s shaking like a leaf.
It’s like she’s scared of me or something.