By David Karp
It’s easy for me to go back to that page in my life. That scene, when I wander there on my own accord: it plays perfectly well. In my mind, I don’t think it ever stops playing. Probably in some old drive-in at midnight somewhere deep in my subconscious, and I’m the only car there and it’s raining a lonely summer rain. And though it may be a permanent fixture in my subconscious, it isn’t a scene I necessarily see constantly in the forefront of my often unquiet mind, but a feeling. A feeling that, for the rest of my days, will always linger, I think.
But I give it permission, because I never want to forget, even in the happiest times, as it’s the most vivid thing I have of her right now.
I was nine, flirting with ten. A little over three months away from the big 1-0, in fact.
Nightfall was closer and closer to washing over our humble street. The dark blue of the night sky and it’s chandelier of a moon was just an hour away, if that.
After walking into the house with my mother, I turned right as she walked upstairs and I walked into the dark dining room and put my bookbag down on one of the chairs that surrounded our dining room table. The trek from school to home always felt like a longer adventure than it actually was, but that’s what happens when you’re a kid. Everything is more grand and epic, like in the movies. And going one or two blocks means going into worlds you’ve never even dreamed of, especially when you live down the way from a major road.
Suddenly, from the darkness of the top of the stairs, the hall light came on, and I was surprised to see my father standing at the top when I went over to investigate.
From there, I peeked into the living room from my poriffrial and I could see my grandmother getting up from the wooden rocking chair she would always sit in, reading a book or watching the news on CNN, her favorite channel from my memory.
My father walked down the stairs to greet me. I asked him why he wasn’t at work like he always was and he informed me that he was driving my mother to the doctor’s for a check-up. Routine stuff. Nothing wrong. She would be home for dinner, and my grandmother would be here with me while they were at her appointment.
And then my mother came down the stairs behind him, in her purple Mickey Mouse shirt and black pants. It was a darker purple, with Mickey in the middle. A fanny pack was around her waist as well. It was the 90s.
Her blonde hair was combed back and curly, and her eyes were tired, but never worried. And whenever she looked at me, I could see and feel all the love in her heart she had for me. Brighter than a winter moon and snow in the sunlight. Brighter than heaven itself.
I stepped into the living room a little to give them space to leave.
“I’ll be back soon, David.” she said, with a hug and a kiss. At least, something like that. I can’t remember the exact words.
But what I do remember exactly…
As they left and walked to the car, I walked over and rubbed some of the frost off of the storm door so I could get a better look at them as the light shined down on me from our small front hallway.
I watched as they both got into the beach-sand colored Toyota Camry, a very summer-like color to see in the front yard that was still melting away the last snow storm.
A few seconds later, the headlights turned on and the car started pulling out of the driveway and onto Sheridan Avenue, which was close to becoming fully encased in another winter night.
As the car started it’s way down the road and towards the main street, I could see my mother, who was mostly a silhouette, waving at me from the passengers’ side window.
I may have mouthed the word “Bye.”
I watched the car make its way down the street. I watched until the red tail lights had disappeared from my view.
This is a small moment in the time I have been alive, but it is also one of the most vivid. Simple but slow. And, as it turned out, defining. Just me waving to my mom in the shadows of the hallway in a dark house on a winter night.
I’m not going to go into details of the next few days that ensued after this particular moment, or the last two phone calls that I had with her, or how that moment has become more permanent than any tattoo I could ever get.
But, if you could not guess by now, after they drove away that night, I never saw her again. The night took her. And then, about a week later, the cancer took her for good. I never saw it coming. I never even knew she was sick, not that I would understand the science behind cancer if I did. I found out later in life that she was in remission, until she wasn’t.
A chapter ended that night, along with any kind of innocence I may have had. Things would never be the same, and in a way they still aren’t now. Maybe in some alternate reality where she watches me grow up, helps me through heartbreaks and homework, and reads the stories I have worked on up until now. But that’s not the reality I live in.
And this has been my “new normal” long before the here and now.
Noah looked into his mother’s eyes as the stretcher went past him and out the front door, with two paramedics at her side.
Through the blots of blood, they seemed lifeless and uninterested. Lost. Hopeless.
It was as if she was looking right through him. Right through the house and it’s white walls, hoping there was something like a better life in the distance, but finding nothing but her own harsh reality, dripping with blood and shouting questions that had no answers; only nightmares.
It made Noah uneasy as he stood there in the shadows of the hallway that illuminated the flashes of the ambulance again and again and again and…
He heard his father thanking the last paramedic for coming to the house so quickly as he tiptoed over the broken glass of the smashed bottle.
He could hear his father’s voice, repeating: “I found her here, sir” and “I think she slipped on the bottle” and “This can’t fucking be happening” and his cries of worry and his other lies.
Lies. Lies she would keep because he was fucking crazy. Living in a town that must also be crazy. To give his father the authority he had here in his town when he abused it just as much as he did to the ones he promised to love: it was pure insanity.
And no one could do anything about it. And he made sure of it, especially from her.
And Noah was smart enough to know it. His father’s darker side, as much as he thought he was hiding it, was hiding there in the glint of his eye or the smile he had when he got angry: wolf-like and menacing. Unapologetic and uncaring.
And then, when his mother’s untouched eyes passed his own and the stretcher made its way further out onto the lawn-
-The world became silent.
No talking, no breathing, no footsteps or winter wind: just nothing.
The last paramedic to leave pushed Noah aside ever so gently but it seemed not to register in his head as he stared at his mother being put inside the red and silver box.
Another cage. His mother didn’t need another cage.
He was too young to understand his own question: How did my family get to this?
The answer was just as far away. To him, it just started with screaming and then loud noises in the other room. And then the crashes and the sobbing. Sometimes broken glass, sometimes broken skin. And then, occasionally, there was silence after it all.
This was the worst of the silence. Tonight, when Noah saw his mother lying at the bottom of the stairs. The broken glass, the blood. And his father, pacing in the kitchen like an animal on the verge of madness.
The flashing red and white lights and the siren all turned on at the same time, startling Noah back into the moment.
A few seconds later, the ambulance started to pull away. It gained speed as it went down the road towards the hospital across town. He recognized some of his neighbors on each side of the house, watching from their front yards or from their windows, holding back curtains. Some watched the ambulance and some watched him.
Even in the distance, he could still make out some of the flashing lights illuminating in the night sky. He watched them, wondering what was to happen next.
Suddenly, he saw the world outside pull back quickly. It took him a few seconds to realize his dad had yanked him back into the hallway by his shirt.
And stepping past him, his father looked out, waved at a few neighbors and gave them the “one second” finger, closed the door in front of Noah and turned to face him.
He swore he could see a flame burning in his father’s eyes.
Writing Exercise: “A Map To Anywhere” by Paul Lisicky