Mom

The floor and walls of my bedroom above the garage shuddered as she slammed the door. I held my breath. It was 2am and I had high school in the morning, but I wasn’t in bed. I couldn’t be. I had ceased being a teenager, stopped being a son, hours ago. I was now clocked in as a night watchman. The dull thud of the car door closing preceded the sharp crack of the engine awakening. Then the music began, its muffled timbre rising through the floor and adding to the cacophony. If the big, aluminium garage door started to open, it would be terrible; if it stayed close, it would be worse.

Brrrrnnnnggggg-nnnggg-nnnggg-nnnggg!

Even as it slammed angrily against the rev limiter, that car’s 3.4 litre flat-6 engine made my favorite noise in the whole world. I could listen to it forever. It brought to mind top-down country drives with my father, the cool spring air mixing with the smell of fine leather and burnt rubber; or prom night with my then-girlfriend, and the night sky above us that felt as limitless as our futures. It made me think of the first time I ever heard it, in the dealership’s showroom the day the whole family went and picked it up. At one time that noise had lulled me into believing that all of our problems had been solved.

Brrrrnnnnggggg-nnnggg-nnnggg-nnnggg!

I shut my eyes tight and clenched my jaw, leapt out of my chair and ran downstairs. Steeling myself, I opened the interior door and was hit by a familiar sensory assault. I slammed my hand down on the garage door opener and made my way towards her. The soupy, acrid atmosphere stung my eyes and lungs, the cigarettes, vodka, and car exhaust mixing with her furious breath, creating a pall of misery that blanketed us both.

She looked at me, or rather at my direction, her head lolling about. I knew that somewhere behind those eyes and their thousand-yard stare was my mother, but that didn’t matter. My mother was too far away to think about. There was only this woman in front of me. She screamed incoherently, unable to comprehend in her drunken misery why I wouldn’t leave her alone, why I couldn’t leave her alone. I shouted back, desperate for her to hear me over the lovely, hateful sound of the engine, over the sound of her diseased mind. That was the plot of each episode of this tiresome saga: create a deafening roar in hopes of attaining a moment of peace and quiet. If the attempt ended in death, well, that would be a welcome byproduct. I pleaded with her to stop because I had to wake up for school in a few hours.

Brrrrnnnnggggg-nnnggg-nnnggg-nnnggg!

I didn’t really give a shit about missing school. I was already in danger of not graduating due to poor attendance; one more absence would be immaterial. What I wanted to do, if only she had been lucid enough to understand me, was tell her how much I resented her pathetic, pantomimed suicide attempt. To damn her for taking something I loved and polluting it. I wanted to tell her that I hated her for causing this perverse inversion, turning child into parent and parent into child.

Brrrrnnnnggggg-nnnggg-nnnggg-nnnggg!

I reached for the keys in the ignition, mercifully placed to the left of the steering column in this left-hand drive car. The manufacturer had persisted in this design quirk, one of their calling cards, for decades. It was a throwback to the days when the 24 Hours of LeMans began with the drivers sprinting to their cars, jumping in, starting the engine, and driving off. The engineers reckoned their drivers could save precious fractions of a second by starting the car with one hand and putting it into gear with the other, as their rivals had to use one hand for both tasks. None of them ever thought it would someday help a teenage boy save his mother from herself.

She grabbed my wrist, the shiny acrylic nails once used to lovingly scratch my back now digging hard into my flesh. She was always such a glamorous woman; tall, well-dressed, with a stylish mass of vivid blonde hair. As a child I would sit and watch her put her makeup on, reveling in the transformation she could undergo. She commanded every room she walked into, and was the intellectual equal, or better, of any man she met. My mother was so strong, even when so weak, that it took all I had to shut the engine off and wrest the key from her.

I walked back upstairs and somehow went to sleep. When I woke in the morning to go to school, I went into the garage and found my mother passed out in the driver’s seat, the cigarette in her hand burned down to the filter; dried vomit down the side of the car contrasted against the pretty black paint. I shook her awake and she trudged wordlessly into the house to continue sleeping it off. I looked over the car, the sound of the engine still echoing in my mind. All of my happy memories felt a little more faint.

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