By Tiff Holland
She made me stay with her that summer. That sounds ridiculous—my mother made
me, a grown woman, stay with her that summer, but she did. She’d signed me out of
the psych ward just in time to finish my final papers, graduate magna cum laude
among the cherry blossoms. Dad flew in from California and offered, wanted me,
even, but we both knew his dark efficiency would finish the job I had started. So, I
went with Mom, her name on the forms in-case-of-emergency, next-of-kin and,
finally, under-supervision of.
She gave me the bigger room, the queen sized bed that filled it, sideways, facing the
lake. She took the brass daybed in the other room, the only piece of furniture she
owned from before. We shared a bathroom with two doors, that might have been
called a Jack-n-Jill in a ranch house or a split level like the Brady’s but in that house
in that neighborhood that had started as cottages and shacks, weekend places back
when the lake was the center of a low-end amusement park that burned, every stick
of it, to the ground, it screamed “plumbing added post-construction.”
I didn’t want to be there, of course, but I didn’t want to be anywhere.
One of Mom’s customers sold her the house for twenty thousand even, including all
the furniture and appliances, dishes and linens, the manual lawnmower stored in
the shed in back, the size of an outhouse with a scythe hanging from a nail.
The lady was moving to a nursing home. She would never need any of those things
again, and she loved Mom in a way many of her customers, the Beauty Shop Ladies,
did. All those weekends in Mom’s chair, I guess, her teasing their hair, listening,
bringing them only slightly stale donuts and coffee in bone china cups that used to
be part of her special-occasion only collection before Dad left and she sold The
I was in the hospital when Mom asked me whether or not to do it, move from her
post-divorce apartment to Summit Lake, like I was in any shape to give advice.
I said, “Where else are you going to find a house for twenty grand?” Reminded her of
the young man’s voice overheard from her apartment screaming: help me, help me,
please, God, help me! Just the week before.
So she closed. There were no closets in the bedrooms. Mom kept her outfits on a
clothesline in the abnormally damp basement. I kept underwear in a plastic bin
under the bed, my folded jeans and t-shirts on the bookshelves on the sunporch
downstairs among my philosophy texts: Kant and Kierkegaard, Hume, Nietzche and
Heidegger. Mom wanted to throw them away.
“These books. These books are what did this to you,” she said more than once,
although she had other opinions, too, what was wrong with me, molestation, vitamin
deficiencies, the time she, oh my god, dropped me on my head, forceps, genetics from
my father’s side of course, opinions she had shared with me almost nightly by
telephone before my admission.
When she was at work I would open my books, which smelled like me, me before,
the pot mom didn’t know about, my brand of laundry soap, crumbs from my peanut
butter sandwiches. I’d scour my own high-lighting for clues to how my brain
functioned before the lithium. When my eyes got tired, I sat on the old-lady furniture
and watched the console television. I ate cold leftovers from original-model pieces of
Tupperware, with no burp left, and took long baths. Some days, I sat on the bed in
my temporary room and watched the lake through the windows. Once or twice I
saw someone pull himself up on a surfboard, yank at a rope attached to a sail before
taking a jumping fall into the water.
I left the bathroom doors open when I bathed. While Mom was at work I walked
downstairs in my underwear to get clean clothes. I was a ghost, no one could see me
behind the screens and draperies, the windows never-cleaned. Even if I shut a door,
Mom always came in, without knocking or calling out. She went through my room to
the bathroom, saying it was faster, although each had a door and the rooms were the
same size long-ways. She thought nothing of opening the bathroom door, sitting
down on what, to my disdain, she called “the pot,” and starting up a conversation
while I soaked, as if I were the hairdresser and the toilet were the styling chair, as if
Once, she walked in just as I was getting out. I’d taken the towel off the bar but not
yet pressed it to my body. She stopped in the doorway.
“You have such a beautiful body,” she said, really looking at me for the first time in
years, before hitching down her hose and underwear. “You should be happy.”
“Thanks,” I said, slipping back into the water, as if it were murky or full of bubbles,
some place I could hide.