“Mathew! Oh, why do I even say it?” Clang! went the frying pan on the burner. Just like that the room got tense.
I got serious then, contemplating her over the rim of my glass of 5% real orange juice. Her hair had escaped her hasty bun, chestnut tendrils of it stuck to her damp forehead and the nape of her neck as she whipped the eggs around in the pan, a fury of clangs and bangs. Her face was grim and coated in her special shade of reddish pink, a sign of change of her capricious mood.
It’s become a habit after that incident last year, looking at her for the warning signs. That’s what Matt and I refer to it as, mental breakdown has become an unsavoury term in the house. Thinking now about it I immediately felt guilty about ticking her off, for putting her in the way of more stress. He caught my eye just then glancing as mom and back to me, a barely noticeable movement, and I nodded. Our thoughts traveled the same path, this was nothing new after the events of the past eighteen months the grief brought us closer together, we’d become each other’s best friends.
“Sorry mom,” Matt said, and pinned me down with a brown eyed stare.
“Yes mom, we’re sorry. You see we got so accustomed to it, it’s kinda hard to stop once we got going. A bad habit,” I apologized straight away.
Ah, that was a little flinch there, a tightening of the corners of her eyes. It didn’t escape us. Something was up with her and I had a hunch but I didn’t share it with Matt, the boy worries more than Mrs. Weasely on Christmas.
“Well you better stop it. Fast too if the two of you don’t want to end up with more than a sore bum!” Abruptly, she laughed.
Then we laughed, a sweet sound and feeling our relief swamped me. The hazy layer of tension dissipated. We exchanged looks again and this time we gave a mental phew!
“Which one of you got the groceries last night?” she asked.
“I did and we need to get the exhaust replaced on the old bucket. Honestly it’s embarrassing to be the center of attention when the darned thing keeps backfiring,” I replied with a huff.
“I need the bill, Maya. Where did you leave it? I swore I saw it somewhere …”
“I left it in my room I think, I’ll go get it,” I said, and this time I remembered to walk and not glide.
I couldn’t find it in here, I nearly trashed my room looking for the damn thing. I stood there racking my brains while staring at a pile of clothes which I strongly suspected Matt had been snooping through, it was slightly moving … What the … ? Then I heard a screech and followed by a feint thump. With the weird clothes forgotten, I peeked out only to see the cat sprinting in a black streak out of mom’s bedroom down the hall. I wonder what he shredded now so I went over.
She always kept it closed but now it was ajar, the curtains were drawn on one window and the one right next to it had none at all so only half of the room was bathed in light. It was like I remembered it the last time I was in here, last year. Everything was in place, the bed was neatly made, books stood proudly upright on their shelves and not a speck of dust to be seen. I always said I got OCD from her, I knew it.
I looked around for whatever it was that fell. My eyes snagged on the old leather box, that housed dad’s gun cleaning tools, lying on the floor just next to the wooden chair that was tucked squarely into the desk and next to it was a scrap of paper … Ah-ha! I did a little victory dance and bent to pick it up.The grocery list was merely a rumpled pathetic mess. Alright then. I straightened and placed the box on the table which clumsy me made it knock over an uncapped bottle of Advil, spilling a few.
Then I froze, and so did the blood in my veins. Advil wasn’t the only drugs there. Vicodin, becoactin, valium and names I couldn’t begin to pronounce. What I did know was that these weren’t her prescribed meds. I’d know, I memorized them. Some I realized were dad’s and they were supposed to be almost full because he – oh God, it always hurts to remember– he hadn’t lived long enough for them to save him, but they were near finished. Old tears sprung fresh now. This didn’t make any sense unless …
Deep breaths. Deep breaths. In. Out. Slowly. My hands clenched as I brought up the memory of the family dinner a week ago. I’d gone to get the ice cream when I saw her, mom, by the back door shoving something in her mouth, a quick expert flick of the wrist. I remembered hearing a rattling sound but I didn’t realize what it was until this very moment. Then she’d turned to me, surprised that I was there and pretended that nothing had happened, simply there to get some fresh night air. Yeah, right.
I dragged the chair out and spilled myself onto it, hands bracing the sides of by head, elbows surrounded by drops of rainbow poison.
In. Out. Breathe. Slowly. Fear wasn’t the only thing that took me over, not by a long shot, hell no. I was angry. I was hurt. She … she was taking these things when she wasn’t supposed to. I knew it now, the reasons behind her red eyes, her pale face and nervous jerky movements that would take her over increasingly frequently. But she always said she was fine, just side affect of her meds. Exactly that.
The start of the engine and the sputtering exhaust startled me out of my reverie and out of my skin. I turned to see my brother reversing out of the driveway. Should I call him back? I needed to face her head on, this woman. But he was already down the street and maybe it was for the best, I need to be alone with her now. I will tell him though, there were no such secrets between us. I heard her muffled footsteps on the carpet, and heard her voice before I saw her enter.
“Maya? What’s taking you so long? Where …,” she trailed off. I knew she stood behind me, at the door.
Anger was a living thing now, heating me up over an internal inferno that threatened consume me. But my voice came out calm, very calm, deadly so.
“Ma, what are these? Mama? Can you tell me?”
“Answer me!” I yelled at her, forcing myself to stay still but my hands, they shook. My eyes, they began to cry hot heavy tears, but I held them back as best as I could.
“Honey I can explain … I … I,” she stuttered.
“But that’s just it. You can’t. You can’t without killing us, now can you?” I rounded on her.
She saw my face then, I didn’t know what I looked like but I knew it mustn’t have been pretty because she blanched.
“I’m sorry, Maya. I couldn’t stop it. The pills … they helped the pain and the things I felt … I’m sorry!” she crumpled to the floor, bracing herself on the door frame.
I didn’t move to her. I stood my ground.
“You thought we couldn’t help you through this? After all Matt and I have gone through with you, you turned to this crap! It is killing you. Ma you must realize that.”
She only sobbed but still I kept my distance, the anger pushing me higher.
“You are a selfish woman. You don’t care about us, you don’t love us – ”
“No! I do, sweetheart – ”
“Or,” I continued, “you wouldn’t have done this. Dad is dead. He died because of you,” I know I was being cold for the sake of it but oh damn did it help.
She flinched once more.
“He couldn’t live to see you suffering like you had and his heart couldn’t have taken it much longer. Now you’re downing this poison and when you go and die – which mightn’t be too long from now – who will we have then?”
She said nothing but began to cry harder.
I can’t believe this, couldn’t she think? But then again she wasn’t still fine in the head, said a voice in my head and it was right. She wasn’t stable but she still needed us, her trust was misplaced. Deep breaths again. I kneeled down to her and held her head in my hands, turning her face to mine. I closed my eyes for a moment. Why did this had to be so hard? Have we not gone through enough already? I opened my eyes again and exhaled.
“Ma, promise me, promise me that you’ll get help.”
“Okay. I will but Matt – ”
“He. Will. Have. To. Know. Trust us, remember?” I said.
“Alright, I promise,” she sobbed out and that was the last thing said between us for a while was we hugged each other until we both cried ourselves out.