13 years old…
My mom’s new boyfriend is screaming again, either yelling at her or simply yelling because he’s drunk. I want to leave my room and check on the situation, but I’m afraid of going on the other side of my door. As long as the door’s shut, I have a barrier from the madness. As long as my door is shut, I can pretend he’s playing a game and that the nonsense is out of excitement. Once I step foot out of my room, reality will smack me across the face. Hard. So, instead of going out there, I sit on my bed, hugging my legs against my chest and keeping my eyes on the door.
I’ve been down this road before with my mom’s many, many boyfriends. She’s accumulated so many over the years that I sometimes wonder if she likes to collect them like other moms collect figurines, books, or shoes.
She wasn’t always this way. Up until I was six years old, my life was normally decent. Sure, my mom had her ups and downs, but when my dad was still around, she didn’t seem as miserable. She was stable. She did stuff with me, like took me to the park and the movies when we could afford it. We didn’t have a ton of money, but I never felt like I was missing out on much. I was happy to have a mom and dad living with me under the same roof, unlike some of the other kids I went to school with.
But then my father decided he didn’t want to be a dad and husband anymore, and my life was dropkicked like a soccer ball, spinning out of control. Seven years later, that ball is still spinning, my dad is gone, and my mom spends more time at the bar or with her new boyfriends than she does me.
“Just leave her alone, Bill,” my mom’s voice flows from the other side of my bedroom door. “She’s not bothering anyone.”
The doorknob jiggles and the door rattles. “I don’t want her here, Paula,” Bill snaps with a slight slur. “Kids repeat everything they see and hear. Do you know what could happen if she goes to school and tells one of her friends I was over here? What if my daughter found out and told my wife?”
“She won’t tell,” my mom tries to reassure him. “Willow knows the rules.”
“I don’t give a shit if she knows the rules. Kids never obey the rules.”
A hard object slams against the door and I jump, pressing my back against the headboard, wishing I could vanish through the walls to the outside. Then I would run and run and run until I found my dad and begged him to come back and fix everything.
“Bill, just calm down,” my mom begs. “I’ll talk to her again and make sure she understands. I’ll do that right now.”
“I don’t want you to talk to her,” he slurs. “I want you to get her out of here for the next few days. That way, we can have some fun without worrying she’ll open her mouth. I don’t come over here to worry about kids. I come here to have fun. If I wanted to worry about shit, I’d be at home with my family.”
“I know, hon. And I’m so glad you’re here. I really am. I love you. You know that.”
“Well, if you love me, then get her out of here.”
I hold my breath, waiting for my mom’s answer. While she’s been a pretty crappy mother lately—drinking a lot and bringing home random guys from the bar—I don’t think she’d kick me out of the house.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
The house grows silent, and I start to wonder—hope—that perhaps they decided to take off and do whatever they do when they disappear for hours in the middle of the night. Then there’s a soft knock on my door.
“Willow, can you please open the door?” My mom uses her sweet, gentle tone to try to persuade me. “I need to talk to you.”
I hug my knees more tightly against my chest and don’t answer, worried she’s going to tell me to leave. Maybe if I pretend I’m invisible, she’ll forget I’m here and so will Bill. It’s actually happened before.
Once, when I was ten, my mom took off to a bar with some of her friends. She didn’t come back for three days. When she finally returned, she apologized for being gone so long, telling me that it wasn’t her fault. She said she found out her boyfriend was cheating on her and her friends talked her into going to Vegas to ease her broken heart. I felt bad for her, remembering how my dad had broken her heart, so I told her I was fine, that I knew how to take care of myself, which was true. I had been doing it for years.
She seemed relieved by my words and, after that, started staying out more. I was left wishing I never felt sorry for her to begin with.
“Willow, please just open the door, or I’m going to pick the lock. Then I’ll be upset, and I hate getting upset with you.” Her voice is calm but firm, carrying a warning.
Sucking in a breath, I scoot away from the headboard and slide to the edge of the bed. The linoleum floor is ice cold against my bare feet as I stand up and walk to the door, probably because my mom turned down the heat to save money.
“Is Bill out there?” I ask quietly as I reach the door.
“No, he went to my room,” she says. “But he might come out soon, so hurry up.”
My fingers tremble as I place my hand on the doorknob and crack open the door.
My mom immediately shoves her way in, shuts the door, and turns to face me, her glassy eyes scanning my organized desk, my made bed, and the alphabetized books on the corner shelf.
“You’re always so organized,” she remarks, completely getting sidetracked, something she’s good at. “You definitely get that from your father.”
I don’t like when she compares me to my father, partly because I don’t like him and partly because she doesn’t like him, so the comparison isn’t a compliment.
“Mom, I don’t have to leave the house, do I?” I ask, chewing on my thumbnail.
She doesn’t make eye contact as she ambles over to the window and draws back the curtains to stare outside at the night sky. “Remember when your dad left, how sad I was?”
I start to answer, but she talks over me.
“I was really upset. He didn’t just break my heart; he smashed it to pieces.” She releases the curtain and twists around. “He bailed on you, too, you know.”
“Yeah, I know that.” I frown, unsure why she’s bringing the painful subject up. I hate thinking of my dad, how he bailed on me and destroyed my fun, loving mom.