Not My Steps
A Sunday Story.
”What. The. Fuck,” my mother screams from downstairs. “What the ever-loving fuck!”
I hear her from my bedroom, the room I grew up in and left twelve years ago when I got married, when I was twenty-two.
She screams again. She is so mad. She always has been, since I lived here the first time.
“Andrea!” she yells to me. “Andrea get fuckin’ down here!”
I get up from the bed, tuck my children in more tightly before I go to the door. My son stirs, but my daughter is so still. It’s hard to even tell that she is breathing. She sleeps like her father.
But I don’t know where he is sleeping tonight.
I go to the top of the stairs and I can see into the kitchen where my mother is on the floor cleaning something. I already know what it must be and I know what she’s going to say before she says it.
“That dog has to go,” she yells up to me. “Do you hear me Andrea?”
I take the first step and it creaks. They all do. Every single step is tired and old and they groan with any pressure and I hate the sound. I wince. Just like I did as a child. I wince even as I take the steps two at a time so I hear it less and move quickly so I won’t have to feel so much.
Still I wince all the way to the bottom.
When finally I reach the kitchen I kneel down beside my mother and reach out for the cloth and the spray, open my mouth to tell her that I will finish cleaning it up, but she pulls away and tells me that she can’t take anymore of this, that I need to find a place and that with all of my fucking money she has no idea why I would need to live with her anyway.
I need to find a place, but it’s only been four days. Three nights and four days and that shouldn’t be too much to ask of a mother, but from her it is too much. It is more than that.
All of my money? It turns out it was never mine. It was only David’s and he apparently lost everything. And I lost him. And our house and our cars too. There is just an eighteen dollar balance in our checking account and no more room on our credit cards and I’m on the floor of my mother’s kitchen trying to clean dog piss.
I look at my rings. David paid fifteen thousand dollars for these when we got engaged. I remember when I found the receipt. It was in his wallet next to hundreds of dollars, more cash than I’d ever seen. I wonder what they are worth now. I wonder what I’m going to do and I wonder how long a nursing license lasts. I don't remember. Is it forever? I thought our marriage was. I thought he was telling me the truth too.
There is warm breath on my arm now and I look to see Macey staring at me with so much uncertainty and I know that she peed because she is so confused and because I haven’t been paying enough attention. I haven’t been paying enough attention to anything. For years. For my entire life.
I pull my scared pup in close to me and I stand up as my mother tells me again that this is the dog’s last night in her house and it’s like Macey knows what she said so she begins to whimper and push closer to me and I know that I will not let her be afraid.
“We’re all leaving in the morning Mom,” I tell her.
“Oh yeah? Where are you going? You’ve done nothing but huddle in that room with the kids since you got here. What the fuck plan could you possibly have made?”
What the fuck plan have I made? To trust a man to support me while I pretended that what I was doing was raising kids, while really I shopped all day and booked vacations and hosted parties and organized girls’ nights and acted like there was nothing else so important in the world as how big my kitchen was or the layout of the pool house. I believed that the money would just never stop flowing as long as I was beautiful and funny and acted like I gave a fucking shit about anyone outside of my neighborhood, a place I’d wanted to be my whole life.
But where I had never belonged. Not ever.
“Andrea?” my mother interrupts.
I turn with Macey in my arms and I look at my mother, at who I have not wanted to be and who I was becoming, even with all of the wealth. It turns out that money cannot heal shame and lies. It simply cannot heal.
“We’ll be in a hotel for a while Mom. I applied for a new credit card this morning and for some reason they gave it to me so I booked a room at The Anthony downtown. I don't know what after that.”
“You can’t have a dog there.”
And then I snap. In that very moment I realize everything I’ve lost that I never really had and I understand what a waste of time all of this has always been and I snap. But why this I wonder. Why would this be the breaking point?
“I’ll have my dog there mom?” I scream at her. “And my two children who you don’t give any more fucks about than you ever gave about me or Nick before he killed himself because he learned what you taught us.”
I pause for a moment to catch my breath and I realize that my mother is suddenly standing in a kind of quiet and stillness that I have never seen before and I know that I should just stop. She knows everything I’m about to say and saying it will only be cruel because she is as damaged as she has made me.
But I have to say it. All at once I have to say it.
“You know what that is right? What you taught us? You taught us that we were worthless, that we were fucking nothing. I just denied it all these years. Nick never did. Nick was more brave than me.”
We stand and stare at each other then, and still she does not move or speak and I almost feel sorry for her but I know how much work is ahead of me now and I know what is gone and I’m not ready to forgive. Forgiveness is just more than I have room for. It is so much.
So I turn around. With my dog still in my arms I take the first step and it creaks. I know that every single step will sound tired and old and groan with any pressure, but for the first time I don’t wince.
I simply don’t wince.
I let it be what it is and I take the steps one at a time, slowly. I hear and feel every single one.
And I realize that they are not mine. These are not my steps. These are hers.