Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Scar Stories

The apartment was small, a lot of tight spaces that came with annoyingly common situations where everyone would meet at “mom’s house” for breakfasts or dinners or over the holidays. I never even considered it mom’s house anyway, after all, my older brother and I split the payments (despite the fact that he usually missed his and asked me if I could get it and he’d pay me back next week (which of course, never happened)). Now that my mom was so sick I stopped showing up to the house for celebrations when everyone else did. I tried to play it off as stress and depression (note that I used the word “tried”, indicating that, despite my attempt, my family didn’t believe me.
Soon, my mother stopped visiting my father at his nursing home. I figured if she was that sick, whatever her illness was would surely kill her.I now stopped once a week to check up on dad (eyes always closed, breath always heavy with a faint smell of cigar smoke (was it really possible that smell had stayed that long?), his oddly crooked left arm, and a faint stubble on his normally clean-shaven face). Such visits involved nothing I minded. I waved to the pretty nurse at the desk upon entering, went and sat on a couch (as far away from the cigar smoke breath as I could) and read a magazine, then left, waving to the nurse again. My dad never required any assistance (and if he did, he’d much prefer that pretty nurse do it over me).
 I used these weekly visits as an excuse not to help my brother and sister with mom. She would prefer her sons help over any nurse and would definitely require the aforementioned help. So, I had managed to not go into that little apartment (which I continued to pay for, despite the fact that my mom probably should’ve gone into a nursing home too) for almost a year. And I was happy with this routine. That is where the true story begins, me (happy with the routine mind you) entering that house for the first time in over a year (nearing two, I realized as I stepped in to see that Christmas decorations littered the house).
“Mom!” I called out. The close walls stopped my voice from carrying at all. Ii didn’t expect an answer. Instead I walked farther into the house until I heard the television running in her bedroom. As I entered she pulled her green eyes away from the television.
“Henry?” she asked, squinting at me and moving her hand around for her glasses. I decided to spare her the trouble of finding out they were on her head.
“No mom, Henry couldn’t make it, he’s going on a business trip with his family.”
“Why didn’t Vanessa come?” I tried to mask the fact that it bothered me mom would expect Vanessa to take Henry’s week before me, despite the fact that she was the one who called me and complained how it wasn’t her week so she wasn’t going and explained that since I had never went I should be the one to have to go.
“Vanessa couldn’t make it mom,” I lied.
“Well,” my mom put her head back on the pillow and her eyes back on the screen, “I’m glad you could stop by.” Then, there was silence. I couldn’t just sit and read a magazine like with dad, so I just stood awkwardly in the doorway until finally mom said,
“Come and sit Danny, I don’t bite,” without even taking her eyes off the television. I went and sat in the chair next to her bed. As opposed to my dad’s smell of cigar smoke my mom smelled like perfume. But not in a good way, in an overwhelming way, like she had taken several different perfumes and used the entire bottle on herself. Despite the smells strength I didn’t mind it, it was exactly what home had smelled like as a kid when she used to stand and walk, wafting the smell everywhere the went. Suddenly she turned the television off. I was surprised to see she’d gotten the remote and wondered if it had been in the bed with her. Then, she turned to face me.
“Speaking of bite, what’d you think of getting me to my favorite chair and making something for us to eat?”
Her favorite chair was one in the living room, one with a tacky old-school pillow with purple and red flowers on it. It was a dark wood that, at the top, curved into flowers themselves. She always took the pillow and used it under her head. In the kitchen I found almost nothing in the refrigerator and realized that both Henry and Vanessa were probably to “busy” to ever go shopping for her. Finally, I found some cheese and cut the mold off, then cut it into cubes. By the time I was done the cheese was hardened but I didn’t mind. On my way to bringing the plate back to my mom I popped a piece of cheese into my mouth. It was horrible. I set it into her hands anyway. As I sat down into the couch across from the chair I could tell she was turning her nose up at the cheese and then setting it on the table. Instead, when I was sat down, she was turning her nose up at me.
“Daniel, I’ve tried to be nice enough about this but clearly you don’t care,” she said as the wrinkles turned up around her eyes. I sat there, somewhat shocked. My mother had never been one to get mad, about anything. I didn’t think I had ever heard her call me Daniel, even when she was mad at me, I was Danny. But her look remained.
“You’ve never cared. You’ve always been the most ungrateful son I could ever ask for and now I am done!” she threw the plate to the ground. It shattered and the pieces of cheese bounced and stuck to the hard wood floor. “I need to tell you a story Daniel,” she wiped some of the tears and her wrinkles became smoother (or at least as smooth as they could get).
“Mom…” I began, trying to calm her down,
“No Daniel, just listen,” she interrupted. “When I met your father, he owned a bike. I thought he was amazing, the way his black hair blew in the wind, the stories he’d tell about him and his biker gang getting in fights and that’s where he got his black eye or his scar or this burn mark or whatever kind of injury he had that week.”
I rolled my eyes, I’d heard this story so many times.
“Well, soon I approached him one day, when he was outside the cafĂ© I was working out, leaning against his motorcycle. He was holding his left arm weird and rubbing it. I told him I liked his bike.
‘Thanks,’ he replied simply, more quiet than his normal, boastful self. I tried to get his attention again.
‘Did something happen to your arm?’ I asked.
‘Yeah,’ he said, again, quickly and quietly.
‘How’d you get that one?’ I asked, eager to get him telling one of his usual wild stories. Instead he turned to me and grabbed me with his right arm,
‘You wanna know what happened to my arm?!’ he shouted, pushing me against the wall, ‘my dad beats me, that’s where all of this comes from,’ he pulled his shirt sleeve down revealing bruise after bruise running up his arm. ‘My arm is broken!'”
I listened to every word. This was not the story my father and mother had told us as kids.
“I was scared, but, well you know your own mother Daniel. I looked your father in his watery eyes and said,
‘Let’s run away together.’ He released his grip on my arm, and pulled his shirt sleeve down.
‘Really?’ I nodded my head at him. Well, next thing I know we were on that motorcycle and leaving.”
I suddenly thought of my fathers left arm. It must’ve healed wrong from that. I thought of the way he never wore short sleeves. He must’ve never been a fan of showing off the unexplainable bruises that littered his arms. Suddenly, I came back to reality. I looked at my mother.
“What does this have to do with me?” I found myself asking in a way that sounded much more rude than I had intended. My mom laughed.
“Your father hit me Daniel. He hit me and it’s a miracle he didn’t hit you guys. I hid it. I tried to act happy and nice. As far as I’m concerned I’ve done pretty well. But I’m scared Daniel. I’m scared that you have to much of your father in you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I’m happy you’re not married yet,” my mother answered. It didn’t sound like my mom, who had done a good job of fooling us into believing she had always been nice.
“Do Henry and Vanessa know this?” I asked her.
“I’m not worried about Henry and Vanessa.”
Suddenly, without thought, I stood, stepping over the plate and cheese. She was right. I didn’t care. I didn’t and didn’t think I could learn how. I leaned, kissed her wrinkled, tear streaked cheek and walked out of the cramped apartment.

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