The Day I Killed My Mother
November 23, 1983
I'm in my mother's bedroom combing my boyish Dorothy Hamill. I see her reflection in the mirror as she creeps up behind me.
She's wearing an eggshell silk blouse and forest-green slacks. Dressed to the nines with perfect hair and makeup. A stark contrast to the awkward pre-teen standing next to her.
She approaches in a semi-crouched position, her fingers outstretched in a claw-like, grasping motion: "I'm gonna cover you with ten-thousand kisses!"
I'm confused by this gesture; the days of playful affection have long since passed. This is a phrase I heard many times before, but when I was still her daughter. These days, I'm merely the chain connecting to the lead ball who betrayed her.
I should tell her now.
But I can't. She demands perfection, and the news will destroy this rare moment. A rare moment of tenderness.
My heart races as I try to confess, but the words stick in my throat. They refuse to ruin everything.
Moments later, I hear the garage door close as she leaves for work.
The Beginning of an Unfortunate Chain of Events
Two days earlier, Joey and I decided that band practice during recess was BS. We decided to skip the practice and enjoy a much-needed break instead.
A fellow band member dutifully trotted outside to fetch us. We feigned forgetfulness.
We tried this once before, but this time it didn't work. As we entered the room, our quiet-tempered band teacher, Mrs. Brown-Merrill (or BM as she was known outside the band room) was angry.
"You both have detention on Wednesday."
What a great way to start the holiday weekend.
An Easy Fix to a Tough Situation
On the morning bus ride, life takes a turn for the better: Jen, my closest friend and neighbor, has drama practice after school. Her classmate's mother is taking her home afterward. If all goes according to plan, I'll catch a ride and sneak home before Mom gets out of work.
She'll never know of my indiscretion, and maybe I can be her daughter once again.
An otherwise-uneventful day continues. Classes are dismissed for the Thanksgiving weekend.
I make my way toward the band room, glancing through glass exit doors at yellow rectangles of freedom. Do I dare make an escape to the bus and deal with the consequences later?
The heavy wooden door shuts behind us with a slam as we enter the dim and musty chamber.
BM commands Joey and me to sit quietly in the corner of the room while she gives a private lesson. But today we're delinquents, so we make the most of it.
"Bang your head . . . metal health will drive you mad!" Joey performs a Quiet Riot number for his audience of one. He's thrusting his head back and forth, chestnut locks flailing.
Tears stream down my face. I'm dying of laughter.
And the consequences of my actions begin to unfold.
The Best-Laid Schemes . . . Oft Go Astray
A disappointed BM dismisses us from the detention-gone-wrong.
We barrel out the door like prisoners granted parole, saying quick goodbyes and heading in opposite directions. The school nurse approaches, scurrying down the hallway. One look at me and she stops as if she's met the edge of a cliff.
Fear drapes over her face. "Liz, what are you doing here?" Everyone knows each other in this small, backwoods New Hampshire town.
Her demeanor has me paralyzed. "I had detention. Why?"
"Your mother called and I told her you weren't here," Barbara Band-Aid's voice is trembling. "She's very worried . . . hurry up! Call her from my office."
I glance back at Joey, who is watching this anxious exchange. He knows the story. The fool-proof plan. He gives me a sympathetic look of "Oh. Shit."
"Good luck, Liz. See you Monday."
"Yeah. Unless I'm in the graveyard."
A Day at the Beach
Beat the Clock
I'm shaking as I dial the phone.
Now I've done it. She's going to kill me.
Mom's co-worker answers. Pat's cheerful greeting quickly transforms when she hears the caller's voice.
"Liz! Your mother is so worried! I'm hanging up--she's already left, but maybe I can catch her".
I dash through falling autumn leaves to the neighboring elementary school. I see parents and children talking and laughing--weightless beings, free of heartless band teachers and distraught mothers.
Let's go let's go let's go.
The Long, Two-Mile Drive Home
I study details of the car's beige interior as Kirstin's mother drives us home. Kirstin is in seventh grade, a year ahead of me. I know of her, but we're not friends. At this stage in life, I'm just a child in her eyes.
She turns around in the passenger seat to face Jen, wavy locks bouncing, braced teeth jabbering.
"So Jason is reading out loud and pronounces the word HYPER-bowl," She giggles hysterically and catches her breath, "I said, 'It's hyPER-bo-lee, you idiot'! Who doesn't know that?"
Note to self: look up hyperbole when I get home.
Jen offers a nervous laugh. We've been like sisters for years, and she's worried.
Undaunted, Kirstin continues to report on the day's events. Her energy a pleasant distraction.
Flashes of blue and red illuminate her face as the car slows down.
We all look over to the right: it's the scene of an accident. Emergency vehicles clutter the side of the road. And there's a car that I should recognize.
The End of the Innocence
But I don't.
We pass by my house. Mom's not home yet.
Kirstin's mother pulls into Jen's driveway. My father is standing next to his work truck, still in uniform.
Can things get any worse?
Jen's mother stays by the front door and orders her into the house.
Meanwhile, Dad remains motionless, his face fixed on me. He interrogates with restrained emotion:
"Where were you?"
"I had to stay after school."
"You're mother was in an accident."
"Was it the one on White Rock Hill Road?" I ask as if we're talking about a new ice-cream stand.
"You saw it?" Confusion joins the party of emotions brewing under the surface. "Get in the truck."
The Scene of the Crime
I watch the passing scenery on this clear fall evening as my father explains what has happened over the past hour.
Mom was on her way home. A man driving behind her--he was a ways behind her, too far to see exactly what happened--said she wasn't driving erratically. But all of a sudden she slammed on the brakes and careened off the road.
It was one of many quiet, rural back roads in our hometown. There were no other cars nearby. And no evidence of a deer or other creature darting out to cause a reaction.
She wasn't wearing her seat belt. She was thrown from the car.
Coincidentally, my father was on the same road, a mile or so behind the witness. Arriving at the scene soon after the accident, he knelt down to comfort her. She looked up at him and strained in agony to ask the question of the hour:
"Liz . . . where's Liz?"
We're in my dad's apartment where he lives with his girlfriend and her kids. It's later in the evening, and I'm in the bed I use during weekend visits.
I lie here in remorseful silence, tracing a dent in the wall with my finger. The weight of the situation has fully pressed into my psyche. The pleasant bliss of ignorance and denial has long since faded away.
Dad's girlfriend sits in silence on the edge of the bed. She's strokes my hair back behind an ear, the way my mother did to relax me.
She might as well be scraping my scalp with a red-hot poker.
The stillness is interrupted by a knock at the door that sends a chill upward to this second-floor apartment.
My father rushes down the stairs. The front door opens. Behind it is an unfamiliar voice. It's a man who asks for Martin. Only strangers call Dad by his first name. The man introduces himself as Officer Something-Or-Other. Dad walks outside and shuts the door behind him.
There's a brief, muffled conversation. Dad returns inside, gently shuts the door, and shuffles up the stairs. He mentally rehearses a dreaded scene.
This is The End
Dad takes me into his bedroom. He closes the door. He leaves the light off.
The darkness is so thick, it's like blindness.
"Dad, turn on the light." I move toward the switch.
"No. Leave the light off." He's holding my wrist.
My heart is pounding. The blackness. The fear of what happens next.
I cry in panic. "Why? Turn on the light!"
He gives in. "Ok. Go ahead. Turn it on."
But I'm frozen. The blackness remains.
"Dad, what is it?"
"Your mother. She's with Jesus now."