Another Sunday Story.
”You’re a fucking hypocrite Mom. You know that?”
Amy gasps then and there is silence for a moment as her daughter continues to gather books and folders into her backpack and Amy stands looking at her as though she is a stranger.
Finally she manages to speak but even before she says it, it seems like it is too late.
“How dare you talk to me like that Marissa.”
“Like what? The hypocrite part or the fucking part?”
Again Amy doesn’t have the agility to answer right away and suddenly she feels like prey, like her daughter is hunting her and she’s been found. Her hiding spot is exposed and she stands before her teenager shivering, swallowing back the heartache that springs from not knowing what to do.
Her daughter knows though. She knows what to do.
“So let me just get this straight,” Marissa begins, zipping her now full backpack and throwing it over one shoulder. “You won’t get me that prom dress because it’s not a ‘reasonable price’ and because you think I’m just ‘competing with the other girls.’ You think it’s…..what were your words? Oh right. ‘It’s not even you Rissa.’ That’s what you said. You said it’s not even me.”
“I did say that,” Amy begins. “I just want you to understand that you don’t have to have a six hundred dollar prom dress to be okay Marissa.”
Amy hears the fight in her daughter’s voice, but she tries anyway.
There is silence then and Marissa smirks and shakes her had back and forth, then pushes in a kitchen chair. She pushes it hard, like she is pushing her mother.
Amy tries to save herself. She says, “We are so lucky Marissa. There are people with nothing in this world. I just want you to appreciate the little things a bit more honey. Expensive prom dresses aren’t what matters most.”
Marissa laughs then. She laughs so loudly that it hurts Amy’s ears.
“So your Lexus doesn't matter that much then, right Mom. I mean . . . you’d be okay without it. Isn’t that what you said earlier? That I don’t need these expensive things to be okay?”
Amy starts to say something, but she doesn’t know which words to use and she’s becoming disoriented and scared. Her daughter doesn’t give her time to think though. She pounces again.
“And all those people in the world with nothing? Wouldn’t they have had more if maybe you didn’t buy a third Coach bag last week and maybe donated to them instead? Do you ever do that Mom? Do you ever do anything about all these people with nothing or are you too busy making plans for this thirty thousand dollar kitchen renovation because . . . . what did you tell Dad?”
“Stop it Marissa,” Amy manages.
There is a short pause then, just long enough for Amy to pull in air that she can’t seem to let out, that she’s choking on. Her daughter is relentless.
“Oh I know. You told Dad you’re not hosting another neighborhood Christmas with this twelve year old kitchen.”
Amy remembers saying that to her husband. She remembers that it felt real too, that it felt like the truth. Until now. Until she hears those words from her daughter’s angry lips.
“Twelve years, Mom. How much to you think those poor folks with nothing would love your twelve year old kitchen? You know this shitty one with two ovens and an island bigger than your car?”
Tears are rolling down Amy’s face now. She doesn’t really understand why, but she does see that they don’t evoke mercy from her daughter.
“You’re right Mom. I don’t need a six hundred dollar prom dress to be okay, but guess what? Guess fucking what?” Marisa screams.
Amy jerks upright and steps back. It is so quiet before her daughter yells again.
“I think I do because you taught me that!”
Amy struggles to find her voice. It is as if she is drowning and has to kick hard to get to the surface. The water is deep. It is so deep. And she is not just swimming through this, through this thing about the prom dress. She is swimming through years and years of relentless struggle for more and more and better and better. And she is swimming through being a mom to this girl who seems to know things that she herself does not.
She is the one trying to be okay.
“Your father and I work hard for what we have Marisssa, and we don’t need to be ashamed of that.”
“No you don’t, but you don’t need to glorify it either,” he daughter responds immediately, almost before Amy is done talking, as if she knew what her move would be. As if she was just waiting.
More heartache emerges in Amy then, more of that same stuff that springs from not knowing what to do, from being disoriented and scared. Not just now, but for as long as she can remember.
Again though, her daughter knows. How does she know?
“All this time we could have been giving something back instead of taking three trips a year and having a house on the lake. Or another coach bag and a new kitchen.”
“We give back Marissa. Do you not remember all the giving I’ve done all these years?”
“Really Mom. You mean raising money for a new library to replace the awesome library of our private school? That kind of giving back?”
Amy has to pull in air again, more air that she can’t seem to let out, that she’s choking on. Her daughter remains relentless.
“Or wait, do you mean all the work you’ve done over the years to get Jordan’s baseball team enough money to go on those stupid trips, like a bunch of rich baseball players need to go to Disney? Like you and Dad couldn’t have paid for that yourselves.”
She’s sinking now, the water getting deeper and deeper with every word her daughter says. And it feels like she is holding her under too, like her daughter is holding her under water and won’t let her up.
But all she can think to say, the only thing that comes to her in all of this, is that they are not rich. That’s what she says to her daughter. She says that they are not rich.
Marissa makes a sound then. It comes from her throat or maybe just her mouth, but either way it resonates with nothing but disapproval for her mother, disgust even.
“Whatever,” Marissa says as she heads for the door and a horn honks.
“Marissa?” Amy calls. “I’ll give you the money. Get the dress.”
Her daughter stops and spins around to face her mother again, eyes wide, mouth open.
“Are you kidding me Mom?”
“You don’t want the money?”
“Yeah, I want the money, but not for the dress anymore. I’ll wear a dress I already have, one of many that I’ve only worn once because you said it would be embarrassing to be seen in two different photos with the same dress on.”
“I’m sorry,” Amy replies. “That was stupid of me to say.”
“Yeah, it was stupid. So I’m going to give that money to someone who does’t have a closet full of dresses, some still with freakin' tags on them.”
“That’s a lovely idea,” Amy says. But there is nothing she can say that her daughter won’t attack. Nothing.
“Yeah it’s lovely and I don’t even know how I’m capable of thinking it since I’m being raised with everything I could ever want, with no indication at all that this fake-ass town isn’t all there is to the world.”
Amy swallows hard and it feels like she’s swallowing the pain she’s trying so hard to swim through.
“Maybe I’m doing something right after all,” she tries.
But Marissa just turns away from her mother again, heads toward the door. Amy calls her name. She doesn’t want her to go. She wants to tell her that she’s sorry and that she’s trying and that she wanted to be a better mother than this.
Instead she says, “You know I have to fly out this morning, but when I get back we’ll pick a place to give the money to. How about that?”
“Oh right. I have the biggest competition of my life so far, but you have to be gone for four days because your kids are so important to you.”
“Marissa, that’s not fair.”
“You know what would be better? Let me just figure out myself how to raise this money. I don’t want yours. I want to do it on my own.”
And then the horn honks again and Marissa turns from her mother and walks out the front door. She just walks out, and leaves the kitchen so quiet, too quite, a quiet that is alarming given all of the noise that just filled it, all of the accusations and misunderstandings.
Amy wants to make it right with her daughter, but she looks at the clock and realizes that she has to leave in not longer than a half hour and so she doesn’t have time to do more than get out her checkbook. She turns the pages and fills one out, adds her daughter’s name and the amount of six hundred dollars.
Then she turns and places it on the island, the one her daughter thinks is bigger than the car.
But it’s not, Amy thinks. Of course it’s not.