by Michael Davidson
Whenever I’m lost, in need of help, direction. Whenever I forget where I’ve come from, who I am, where I need to be getting to. I resort to the same fix, the compact in my pocket. Always reliable. Pointing the way when the way isn’t obvious. At least to me. Ever since mom packed up her things and left, leaving only one of her belongings behind by accident in the most conspicuous of all places: the bathroom sink, at the bottom of the basin, her compact. Plastic and green.
When I came home from high school, tired, hungry. On that day many years ago and found the note that mom had written, smeared where a tear might or might not have fallen, the first place I traveled to, maybe to check and make sure my only mom really was gone, was their bathroom, mom’s and dad’s.
I opened the drawer, the one that used to be hers, crammed with mascara, bobby pins, brushes, rouges, cotton balls, and nail polishes, lipsticks and scrunchies. That is to say, messy with the paraphernalia that painted her, held her together before going out and dancing. Interacting with the world she called hers. I opened this drawer looking for a sign that contradicted her note, expecting this sign. But there was none. The drawer rattled on its railing in agreement with her words. Empty. Gone.
Devin wanted to cry on that day many years ago. I knew that he would’ve shed tears in the mirror above the sink, he would’ve turned red and puffy. He would’ve balled. Then I would’ve had trouble breathing afterwards. Had a headache to relieve with aspirin. But I made an effort to keep my face down, the fear too strong inside me, afraid of my new reality, afraid of the pimple on my forehead. Mom, I said. I said, Mom, did you really leave.
Part of me was happy for her. She’d be better off now, away from dad. That man who had grown distant, fallen out of love, went so far as to bring another woman, a brazen coquet, over for a dinner that mom had cooked. This, along with other instances of unfaithfulness, was recorded in mom’s note.
But that was no excuse to leave me, her only child, her only son. I said that then, and I say it now, when I’m reminded of the way she abandoned me. After all, I was still young – going on sixteen – still needed her, required maternal care. Dad wouldn’t have home-cooked food on the table, my favorite chicken, my favorite rice. Dad wouldn’t wash my clothes, keep the apartment respectable looking, fragrant smelling, everything more-or-less ordered and in its proper place. Dad was a man.
The note told me quite plainly that she loved me, that I meant the world to her. The world. But dad and his ways had stifled and hurt her, kept her from being happy, and her life only went on as she wilted alone in this apartment, unloved and aging. She had to do something for herself. She deserved more. I asked myself then, More than me. I asked, I wasn’t enough, the world wasn’t enough, mom.
Yes must’ve been her answer to my questions because she had already packed her bags, left. No consulting me beforehand, no arrangements to see her son in the future, in some foreign city far away from dad. No, she had left me in haste. Leaving only her compact behind. The last remnant of mom. Other than her note.