I was a hater. I didn’t want to be but that was kind of my thing.
I hated school. Well, what sixteen-year-old didn’t? I hated having to go and sit through classes when I could be outside smoking pot. I hated when teachers talked to me about my failing grades. I wanted to be a pot dealer when I grew up. How many pot dealers did you know who had a degree?
I hated the couple that lived in the next trailer van. They fucked so loud that their two-year-old baby could never sleep; neither could I, for that matter. I’d tried to steal it once, the baby I mean, so he could at least have a good night’s sleep. But they caught me and now they flipped me the bird every time they saw me. I did the same.
But most of all I hated that my mom fell in love so easily.
My mom groaned as she turned on the lumpy mattress, fell on her back, and grimaced. My muscles tensed, all ready to be her savior. I was lying next to her to keep an eye on her injuries. This was another thing I hated – my mom all beaten up by her latest boyfriend. Her face was pockmarked with angry, purple bruises. As always.
I knew it was Roy who’d done this, a man who “loved her more than life.” And when she had something like that in her head, no one could talk her out of it, not even me. Turned out he’d been cheating on her, and my mom was paying the price for calling him out on it. That evening she’d come home, crumbling and wobbly. I had no idea how she even made it back from the diner where she worked as a waitress. It usually took fifteen minutes on foot.
“Mom, you okay? Do you need anything?”
I was very well-practiced in the arts of nursing by now. Scraped a knee? You should come to me; I always carried Band-Aids in my backpack. Dislocated your shoulder? I could twist it right for you; I didn’t look it but my petite body was plenty strong.
“I…I need to pee,” she whimpered, licking her cracked lips.
The very first time she’d been beaten, I thought the man doing the deed was my dad. I even cried out, Daddy, please don’t kill Mommy! What a joke. My daddy had run off as soon as my mom got pregnant with me. I’d yet to see his face. In my defense, I was eight years old at the time; every man my mom went out with was my daddy then. Anyway, I’d gotten over that.
“Okay, hold on. I’m going to sit you up and then I’ll take you to the bathroom. Just let me do all the work, okay? Don’t move too much.”
I carried her over to the bathroom and pushed the chipped white door open. Our bathroom was barely big enough to fit two people, with a toilet jammed between the sink and scratched ceramic tub. The damn bulb was flickering again; we needed to replace it. I leaned my mom against the freestanding sink and put the toilet seat up before helping her sit down.
Mom lifted her eyes and threw me a distorted smile. “You’re such a…good girl, Maddy. What…would I do without you?”
Die, I wanted to answer, you’d die without me. But I shut my mouth because I loved her.
I hated how much I loved her. I hated her for doing this to herself. I hated her for being such a fucking romantic that she was blind to everything else, blind to how much I needed her to be the adult for once.
And anyone who had ever hated their mother knew that it was an exhausting thing. That kind of hate was always tainted by love. It wasn’t as satisfying. At least not for me.
So I chose to direct the undiluted hatred towards the men she went out with.
“Do you need me to lift your gown?” It was nothing I hadn’t done before but I always asked first. Mom’s dignity and all that.
“Will you? My fingers feel…dead,” Mom said, ducking her head, bashful.
“Yeah, of course.” I lifted her gown up until her white-now-yellowed underwear peeked out. Averting my eyes to the rusted faucet in the sink, I pushed my fingers up to her panties and lowered them over her thighs. She shifted and groaned with pain.
I stood up and turned around to give her some privacy, and stared at the yellow wallpaper. It was peeling off in places where I’d scratched it out of restlessness so I could expose the moldy metal underneath. It was tarred, ugly – so ugly that it could only be beautiful.
The sound of peeing filled the junky bathroom – the muffled whistle of the stream hitting the yellowed ceramic bowl. The stench of urine – sharp and tangy. Even if I died I wouldn’t be able to un-smell, un-hear it. When the force dropped to a trickle my fists unclenched. Didn’t know they’d been clenched in the first place.
I heard her quiet sniffles and my heart stopped for a second. Was it the pain? Should I run to the drug store to get more meds? I tried to remember if Mom got paid this Friday.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” I asked, kneeling down before her. The stench was worse from this angle but I didn’t care, not when my mom was crying and helpless.
“I…I really thought this was different.” A laugh choked out of her throat, scratchy, full of broken dreams. “I thought Roy loved me. I thought this one time, I’d be able to take you out of here, give you all the things you deserve. I’m so sorry…I keep letting you down. I don’t –”
I rubbed her back in circles. “It’s fine, Mom. It’s okay. It’s done. I have everything I need. I just want you to get better, okay? Just get better…please.” My voice broke at the end. Please lose hope, Mom. See me.
Mom wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Why’s love so hard, Maddy? What did I ever do wrong? Why can’t anyone ever love me?”
“I love you, Mom. I love you so much,” I whispered.
Mom lifted her face and looked at me with red-rimmed brown eyes. “I…I promise, Maddy. I won’t do this again. This won’t happen again. I…I wouldn’t fall for a jerk like that.”
Hope flared in my chest. Mom had said this numerous times before but never followed through. Maybe this time she would…
You know what, hope was the dumbest thing; it had rocks for brains.
“Don’t stress too much, Mom. Just try to get better soon, okay?”
She touched my cheek with wobbly fingers, but then her hand slipped and landed on her thigh with a thwack. Her strength was waning.
Thick drops of tears blinded me, not falling, but flooding the rims of my eyes. Tearing a portion off the toilet paper roll, I got ready for the most painful part. Reaching out, I wiped the piss off my own mom. The tissue crumpled between my fingers, wet and soggy. All the while, Mom slouched, her shoulders limp. If she fell on the floor I wouldn’t be able to pick her up, so we had to hurry before she clocked out. I finished up and flushed, cleaned both our hands, and trekked her back to the bed.
Just as I covered her with the threadbare blanket, she mumbled, “I’ll find someone…nice this time. Someone who’ll take care of us…”
So we were back to that, were we? Fucking fantastic. See, told ya. Hope was extremely dumb.
As I walked out of her bedroom, I shut the door with a big thud. What would a teenager be without some angst and tantrums, even though no one was awake to witness it?
The living room and kitchen combination held a makeshift wooden island, which was covered with empty boxes of ramen noodles. Usually mom brought food from the diner but tonight she couldn’t. So I made the watery, paper-thin noodles even our local three-legged dog Hansel wouldn’t eat. Well, he wouldn’t. I had tried it once. He gave it a sniff, then snorted and limped away. Fuck me for being kind. Since then we’d become archenemies. I glared at him and he snarled at me.
Just as I was putting the dishcloth away there was a knock on the door. I looked at the time on the wall clock in the living room, and saw it was close to 11 PM. Fear shot up my back as I imagined an enraged Roy at the door. Fuck! What do I do? Then I thought of a weapon. Yeah, but what?
I didn’t think I had a weapon unless you counted a few steel forks; some of them were missing a tine or two. The knife! I tried to open the utensil drawer next to the sink but it was stuck. Three tries later, I yanked it open and dug the knife out.
Knife at the ready, I stood, frozen and unmoving. The thick silence was broken with another knock, this one harsher, and I slowly advanced towards the door. With a slippery hand, I gripped the brass knob and snapped the door open.
A wide-eyed Lucy stood looking at me. “What the fuck? What’s with the fucking knife?”
I sagged with relief, lowering my stupid weapon. “Jesus! You scared the shit out of me. What’re you doing here?”
She eyed the knife with suspicion, then shrugged. “I came to get you. We’ve got a party to go to. So let’s go.”
That’s when I noticed her clothes: a black leather miniskirt and a thin leather jacket. “I can’t. My mom’s sick.” A rush of wind whipped up her skirt. “Aren’t you fucking cold?”
She shot her hip to the side, arched up her blonde eyebrow and then swirled a Popsicle with her tongue. She sucked on it furiously, and made smacking, kissing noises that irritated me and made me want to laugh at her.
“That move’s a total waste on me,” I murmured.
“Is it?” She flicked her tongue up and down, painting it cherry red.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not going. I can’t. And put some clothes on.”
Lucy leaned over and crashed her lips on mine, kissing the hell out of them, and making me stumble inside. She stepped in and shut the door behind her.
I glared at her and she said, “What? You didn’t even invite me in. And you know I don’t wear clothes, it’s constricting. Anyway, what’s wrong with your mom?”
Love, I thought, she’s in love, or at least she wants to be. But I just shrugged, not saying anything. Lucy took the knife from my hands and threw it on the scratched coffee table where it landed with a clatter. She tugged me closer and kissed me again. I smelled winter on her, winter and snowy night. Her hands were everywhere on my body at once, and I pulled her hair in an angry and lustful fist. It was always like this with us – angry and fast and loud with teeth knocking against each other. She stopped as abruptly as she had started. “Now you have to go. Unless you want to do it here, on the couch.”
“You’re fucking crazy.”
She blew me a kiss. “You know it, baby.”
She whirled around and walked to our yellowed fridge, looking for food. Taking out a lumpy apple with a small-discolored patch, she asked, “What the fuck is that?”
“Something that supposedly keeps the doctor away.” At her dubious look I explained, “You know, an apple a day keeps the doctor away or something. Anyway, there’s a box of ramen noodles for you on the counter.”
I saved food for her every night; her dad was the local pot dealer, and by that I mean he smoked more than he dealt. And I had a strong suspicion that he didn’t know what food was and that it was needed so people could live.
“Well then, apple it is. Though I’m not sure if I want to keep the handsome doctor away.” She shut the door of the fridge with a thud and took a bite out of it, alternating between that and her Popsicle.
No one would eat the fucking noodles. Why did I even try?
“So…Connor will be there.” She waggled her eyebrows.
“So as I said, you have to go.”
“I’m not interested in Connor.”
She sauntered up to me and pecked me on the lips. “Aww, are you going gaga over me? It’s okay, I’ll still let you fuck me. I bet Connor would like that.”
Lucy and me weren’t an item or anything. She came to me when she was bored with her boyfriend David. And I went to her when my life became too hard. She was the only soft and cuddly thing in my harsh and pokey world. And maybe what we were doing was wrong, morally wrong or whatever, what with Lucy cheating on her boyfriend with me. But I didn’t see it that way; it isn’t really cheating if you do it with a girl, right? It was for fun and giggles. Besides, after losing my virginity a few months before, on my sixteenth birthday, to Connor, I realized that sex with a guy wasn’t all that great. It was messy, bloody and painful. Breaking their hearts, however, was so much more fun.
Here’s the deal: breaking Connor’s heart before he could break my heart or my bones – whichever came first – was a smart move. I wasn’t like my mom.
“I’m not interested in Connor. I’m not interested in any guy.” My fingers snaked inside her jacket, and flicked the flimsy string of her cami.
At my words, I felt a lurch in my heart. Sometimes, and it was extremely rare, I imagined how it would feel to have sex now that the pain of virginity was gone. Would it be magic and rainbows and roses like my mom seemed to believe? Would I fall in pathetic, selfish love? Or would it be needles and stabs and hard grinds?
Lucy pushed back my hair and trailed her fingers over my neck. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Just come with us. Come to the party.” Her voice turned husky on the word “come.”
“Well, if you put it that way…” I chuckled.
“Come on, let’s go.” She slapped my ass. “Wear something slutty for Connor.”
“Not for you?”
“Nope. I like you naked. Now, get the fuck going.” She waved me away with her hand, plopping down on the torn leather couch with the foam peeking through the slits like popcorn.
To be honest, I wanted to go. More for Connor than for anyone else. I wanted to break his heart tonight the way Mom broke mine every night. It made me feel powerful. It made me want to say, Look Mom, men aren’t that special or smart.
Did that make me a bad person? Maybe. But it was better to be bad than to be good and stepped over.
Ten minutes later we were ready to go. I wore a tight t-shirt that read “I was snow white but then I drifted,” a black checkered skirt – fuck the cold — and a long black coat over it.
Before I left, I went inside my mom’s room and found her sleeping on her side; the bed looked bow-legged under her weight. I placed the pain pills on the night stand – the last two we had – with a glass of water. Without thinking much of it, I bent down and kissed her forehead. Her warm breath puffed against my cheek and I chose to believe she was kissing me goodnight. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?
Men were fucking animals.