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All I Can Take

A Sunday Story.

“Mom! Come on! Turn it freakin’ down!”

My daughter yells this to me. She yells so loudly and with such venom that I am startled. Then she reaches for the radio that I have just turned up. She pushes my hand away and turns the volume down.

My blood rushes. My heart thumps so fast. I am stunned and angry and sad. And I am scared too.

“Grace!” I yell back at her. “Who do you think you are?”

She does not even pause.

“I think I’m someone who thinks you’re embarrassing. Jesus Christ Mom. We’re pulling into practice. Everyone’s going to hear your stupid country music blaring like you think you’re so cool.”

The pain is very sudden then. Tears spring to my eyes. I become quiet and still and unable to figure out what to say to her, to my fifteen year old daughter. She’s worn me down over these last months, and this attack seems to be the final blow.

It is all I can take.

We pull into a parking spot and she doesn’t seem to notice that I am quiet and still and unable, that tears are trying to stream down my cheeks.

She gathers her bag and her jacket and she reaches for the door, gets out of the car and yells back over her shoulder that Cameron’s mom is going to give her a ride home.

And then she is gone. She is just gone. And I am left there looking at the empty space where she once was and wondering how this happened. How did that little bundle of six week old cells the doctor told me were the size of a sweet-pea, turn into this girl who yells at me and walks away from me and does not know anything about my love for her?

Then suddenly, I hate her. I hate her for breaking my heart and I hate myself for letting it happen and I wonder if I will ever love her again. I wonder if I will ever be filled with the kind of awe I used to find in her all the time, in her warm and heavy baby body sprawled across my heart, the smell of milk still on her breath. I wonder if her beauty will ever again stop me in my tracks, like those days when she first started reading and I’d come up behind her, a book nestled in her lap, a little girl’s spaghetti strap resting against her round, sun-tanned shoulder.

She took my breath away.

But now? Now she wears black eyeliner that I ask her not to wear so dark and she challenges me to hold her down and wash it off her face.

“Seriously Mom,” she has said to me. “If you want it off so bad, hold me down and wipe it off yourself. Otherwise, this is how I look. Get used to it.”

I find her in my closet and in my wallet. She doesn’t come home when she’s supposed to. She doesn’t tell me the truth. We don’t go to movies together anymore and she won’t eat dinner with me either. She eats in her room and I eat at the dining room table. Alone.

Then suddenly I don’t know what I am doing but I’m getting out of the car. I’m walking toward the school and then I am entering the gym with my hands shoved into my pockets and my heart beating wildly. I hear someone say hello to me but I don’t look at her and I don’t reply. I just continue to scan the large space full of girls and coaches until finally I see my daughter. Grace. She was named for my grandmother but this child is nothing like my grandmother and I am so sad and angry and disappointed. I am just so fucking disappointed.

It is all I can take.

I stand frozen in a place near the bleachers and I watch her. She is laughing in a way that she never laughs in our house anymore and she is beautiful again and she is all the things I want her to be but that she will not be when I am around and I don’t understand. So I can only stare and I don’t know how long that goes on but finally Cameron sees me and I watch her tell Grace that I am there. My daughter looks up and spots me then, but I don’t move.

I am quiet and still and unable.

Suddenly Grace stands up. Her smile disappears into a look of disgust as she looks across the gym at me and raises her hands, palms up, as if to say, “What are you doing here? Why the fuck are you still in my life? Just leave.”

Several seconds go by, but I don’t react. Finally she puts her hands down and just waits for me, but I don’t know what she’s waiting for because I don't even know what I’m doing. This daughter of mine seems like a stranger who has stolen all of my thoughts, my words, my every move. She has stolen them all and twisted them into a big angry mass where everything comes out wrong. All of it.

And I have let her do this to me. I have let her.

Finally, she begins to walk toward me, but still I do not move or speak. Her look of disgust diminishes, turns into something less hateful and more curious, but I don’t trust it. Just last week I kissed her forehead when I thought she was asleep and she swatted me in the face, told me I was disgusting.

She raises her eyebrows as she approaches me. I notice the heavy eyeliner we fight about all the time. It calls to me, dares me to make a move.

“Mom?” she finally whispers between clenched teeth.

I stare at her and think about how they said motherhood would feel like the most sacred position on earth. They said that it would be everything, that it would fill me to overflowing. It doesn’t though. If it ever did, it doesn’t anymore. It drains me, washes all of my nerves down like muck in a sewer. I feel naked and brutalized, like only a shell of who once I thought I would be.

“I’m going away,” I tell her.

“What?” she replies, that too familiar disdain in her tone.

I go on. And it all just comes to me in exactly the moment I say it. I am as surprised as she is.

“I won’t be too long. A couple of weeks, maybe a little longer. I’m not sure. Have Cameron take you to Aunt Kara’s tonight, not home. I’ll be dead bolting the front door, changing the code on the garage. Aunt Kara will take you to get things later.”

“Mom, what the hell are you talking about?”

“Don’t talk to me like that,” I say evenly, and we are both stunned.

“Well why are you leaving and where are you going? Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” she asks me.

“I didn’t know sooner. And I don’t know where yet.”

“But why?” my daughter says softly, and I almost recognize her. I don't though. And I don’t recognize me either. I used to have a husband and I used to have a little girl who held my hand and cried out for me in the night. I used to have a mother who remembered my name and a father who called me his greatest love and I used to be twenty pounds lighter with less lines and more money and no lump in my breast.

“Because,” I begin, and then am startled when I say, “It is all I can take.”

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