prompt: …the impact of separation in an individual’s life.
“She’s caught the traveling disease.” That’s what Dad would say as we sat at the dining table alone for the fifth night in a row.
I was seven when it started: her disappearances. At first, it was the weekends — business meetings, she said. But Mom didn’t work. I was too young to think about that when she would take her coat and kiss my forehead goodbye; Dad went on trips, Mom must’ve needed to as well. This rationalization only lasted for a month.
She began to extend her trips; sometimes, I wouldn’t find her at home when I got back from school, other times she didn’t make an appearance until Tuesday night. On those nights, she would be standing in the kitchen while Dad poured himself another drink. Neither of them said a word.
But I was young, and all that it took to make up for missing my recital, was a trip to the river. It was at the river I saw Mom happiest. She taught me how to skip stones there: choose the right stone, angle your wrist slightly, and throw. One day, I asked why the rocks fell into the river while the leaves floated on the surface. “Their desire to vanish is stronger than the desire to appear,” she replied twisting a small stone in her hand before sending it into the river.
I was eleven when her time at home was shorter than her time away. Dad started leaving less and spent more time with me, though that time was spent in silence. He would never drink when it was just the two of us, but I could see his eyes darting towards the liquor cabinet more often than usual. When Mom was home, he would make several trips to the cabinet filling up his glass up to the brim before setting it down on the table, rings of condensation forming underneath. Those rings often stayed longer than Mom did.
The house was always silent until it wasn’t. One night, I had gone upstairs to get ready for bed while my parents lingered downstairs; it was then that the words that sat on the tips of their tongues took position and fought like soldiers on a battlefield. I sat quietly on the steps as I waited to hear the voices I never seemed to hear anymore.
“When will you grow up?” Dad started with exasperation.
“I am grown,” Mom replied after a period of silence.
“Does growing up mean changing your loved ones into strangers?”
“I am just exploring the world — freedom, I’m exploring what it means to be free!”
“Then keep exploring and don’t come back at all,” he stated as his footsteps brought him to the stairs and I hurried back to my room.
Mom didn’t come upstairs that night.
In the morning, I found Mom packing a suitcase far bigger than any she had taken before. I met her silence with my own as I sat on the bed watching her pack scarves and mittens into the bag. It was July, but I didn’t question it. Once she had finished, she lifted her eyes from her clothing and looked at me. With a smile that I could not distinguish as true or not, she asked if I wanted to go to the river. I said nothing and grabbed her hand.
There, the only sounds came were from the skipping rocks. But those sounds only came from mine, Mom’s stones seemed to plop into the river as though no effort went into trying to resurface them at all. I turned to her and asked why she couldn’t skip them anymore. She echoed her words from before:
“Their desire to vanish is stronger than the desire to appear.”
That was our last trip to the river; in fact, that was the last time I ever saw her. She vanished like the stones she threw into the river, no longer making appearances out of courtesy for her husband or child. With her departure, Dad’s words became even scarcer and mine followed. Most nights, we sat on the couch staring at the television waiting for the words we never got to hear.
My behaviour at home was mirrored at school: I talked to no one and no one talked to me. In silence, I would arrive, learn, and leave. Some people did try to talk to me. Oliver tried the hardest. He was a handsome boy with curly blond hair who sat in front of me in math. Constantly, he would try to talk to me and ask me how to complete one problem or another — he was the smartest boy in class and I would merely reply with “I don’t know” and set my eyes back on my paper. He stopped trying on day 12. I counted.
I was eighteen when I got a letter from her. Mom. It came with coffee stains on the envelope and a lipstick mark from where she signed her name. I only read the word “congratulations” before I placed it among the ads that Dad would shred. I had graduated without her, what right did she have to say anything about something she had no role in. I made it to this point without her, I didn’t need her words.
I was twenty-six when I received a phone call from Dad. I had moved out after high school for university and started working at a pharmacy near the campus once I got my degree. This was the first time he had called me since my graduation. It was about Mom. She had died. His voice didn’t falter as he told me the news, and my eyes didn’t shed a tear as I listened to the facts of her death: found dead on June 12, 2016, died at age 51, drowning.
I tried to cry, I really did. I tried to convince myself that crying was the normal response, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t cry for the woman who forgot to pick me up from school, I couldn’t cry for the woman who broke our family, I couldn’t cry for the woman who made me the person I am today: broken. The girl who didn’t go to prom because she didn’t have a date. The girl who only talked to her classmates for projects. The girl who forgot how to love because it was far easier to not have something than to lose it.
I tried to remember our times together — the times when I was happiest. I even drove two hours to that same river she took me to. Nothing. I found nothing there. I couldn’t see her gentle hands guiding mine or hear the laughter that would dominate our conversations. I couldn’t even get myself to skip the stones that once flew out of my hands. They just fell out of my loose grip back onto the rocky shore. That was where they were safe.
When Mom disappeared like the stones she once skipped in the river, parts of me disappeared alongside her. Sunk to the bottom of the river, never to resurface again.