A couple summers ago, my sister and I walked in our mother about to hoover a line up her nose with some scrawny 18-year-old kid she met 12 months ago. She told me in an email that he had ‘saved her life’.
My mom is 47-years-old. She got together with my father when she was 17, after my grandmother had sent her packing with a one-way bus ticket out west. She was a middle child of five, and my grandmother just couldn’t deal with her shit anymore. So off she went. Shortly thereafter, she met my dad (the details on how they met are unclear). She then got pregnant, gave birth to me (boy was I fucking cute), and got hitched in someone’s backyard. My grandmother flew out for the wedding with my aunts. I’m sure it was a gas.
Fifteen months later, my sister was born. A few months after that, my mom’s oldest sister flew across the country to help my mom ‘escape’ from my father in the middle of the night. She flew back out east, my sister and I (both too young to remember) in tow. My mom said my dad threw her down the stairs. In theory, they were married for 11 months, but she waited more than 20 years to actually file the divorce papers.
I don’t remember much from my childhood. What I do recall comes in bits and pieces and is probably fabricated from stories I heard growing up. Like how my sister once painted the kitchen with yellow oil paint while she was sleepwalking, or me spitting McDonald’s ‘orange drink’ in my aunt’s face when I was two. That sort of thing. I don’t remember thinking that it was strange that I only had one parent around. My sister and I first flew out west to visit my father when I was five years old. I don’t remember that trip, but we went out for two to three weeks every summer after that. We didn’t know much about our father growing up; we’d get our Christmas presents in April, and I’d get my birthday presents in October (I was born in August). Every once in awhile – two or three times a year – the phone would ring long distance and, begrudgingly, my mother would let us have a few minutes with him. What was constant, however, was the mom-hates-dad tirade and vice-versa. Key memories from dad-visits include his girlfriend’s Pomeranian biting through my sister’s top lip when she was five and, the following year, having a beer poured on my head by his new girlfriend. She said it was good for my hair. Crazy fucking bitch.
Most of my memories from childhood revolve around the small, white-sided bungalow that we spent six years in (the longest period we’d ever spent in one house). During that time, my mom had this young, Portuguese boyfriend named Terry. He was six years younger than my mom and quite thin, with long, curly, black hair. He could eat five Filet o’ Fish and five Big Macs in one sitting. I remember my sister and I liked him a lot. He bought me an Etch-a-Sketch once; I was pretty happy. One day, I came home and my mom was curled up on the sofa, her face swollen with tears. He had left her for some 19-year-old (my mom was about 27 at the time). My sister and I were heartbroken, not only because we never saw Terry again, but also because we became invisible behind this heavy veil of my mother’s heartbreak. She cried for days, weeks, months. We thought it would never end.
When my mother did finally stop crying, she also stopped coming home. I remember cooking dinner for my sister and I with increasing frequency. There was also a never-ending stream of new faces hanging around the house. I would often spy on my mom when she had people visiting. If I looked outside my bedroom window, I could see directly into the kitchen. One night, I looked out and saw my mom and her new friends sitting around the table. I can’t remember exactly what I saw, but it prompted me to peel open my door and belly-crawl across the living room so I could sneak my head around the sofa for a better look. I saw my mother holding a lighter under a spoon and I felt the threadbare childhood I was desperately holding on to evaporate in those fumes.
That was my most vivid childhood memory. I was eight.
By Amanda Gowland