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About a Girl: Chapter Two

Joined: 11/3/2010
Posts: 206
MY MOTHER RUNS AWAY FROM home when she is sixteen. She is head over heels for a college boy who whispers in her ear how much he loves her as he slides his hand between her legs and tugs at her panties. She is drunk on his breath, his skin, his hair. She pictures them together, wild and in love, for the rest of their short exciting lives, like hurtling down an empty interstate at a hundred miles an hour in a purring Jaguar.

They move in together. They have sex on every surface of his tiny apartment. Several months later he kicks her out. Aside from two iridescent black eyes, a lifelong loathing of packaged ramen, and a penchant for cocky bad boys with tattoos and eyebrow piercings, she emerges unscathed. She does fairly well considering her bad boy is later put away in a state penitentiary for armed battery and attempted sexual assault.

I don’t know if her parents or her pride won’t let her return home. Knowing my mother, it’s most likely the latter. But from what I’ve heard of my grandparents, the former isn’t entirely improbable either. Most likely it is a combination of things, mixing together into the recipe of estrangement.

In any case, she moves in with her best friend Hilari Whitcomb, the school wild-child, hostess of the biggest and best parties. Hilari’s parents take numerous out-of-town trips together to country B&Bs in a futile effort to save their wrecked marriage. For years they determinedly visit marriage counselor after marriage counselor, attend weekend getaway after getaway, trying to plug all the leaks in their marriage for Hilari’s sake. Despite all the time they spend fastidiously stopping up all the tiny cracks in the floorboards, Mr. Whitcomb will years later discover the iceberg that has ripped out the hull: his wife has been sleeping with the interior decorator. They forget about Hilari and promptly obtain a swift, incisory divorce.

But for the time being, they struggle to save their marriage. They leave on Fridays and return Sunday nights exhausted and irritable. The house is Hilari’s for the weekend. A sprawling sanctuary for inebriated teenagers of every class, phylum, and order.

Normally, my mother would be thrilled to live in the school’s unofficial party house. She would be the first one to crack a bottle, the last one to pass out on the floor. Instead, and to Hilari’s amazement, my mother all but locks herself in the attic. She studies while party music pulses through the floorboards and Hilari and her boyfriend-of-the-week grunt and sweat in the room below. While the house rocks with adolescent glee, she scrapes together just enough credits to don her gown and toss her graduation cap. She is never so proud as when she holds the silky fabric of her cap in one hand and her high school diploma in the other.

It is the hardest C-average she has ever attained, she later tells me.

Hilari throws a graduation party, and this time my mother is in the basement with the rest of her friends instead of studying in the attic. This time she wins the Jell-O shot contest. This time she runs around the house naked. This time she passes out drunk at four in the morning. She’s rushed to the hospital amid a deluge of red and blue lights to have her stomach pumped.

Despite the partying, the drinking, and the men, by the time she is twenty-two she has an Associate Degree in nursing and works part-time at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She and Hilari go barhopping every Friday night. An endless string of boyfriends trips her up around the ankles now and then, but she isn’t as interested in the protracted dedication of steady relationships as the fleeting, passionate fix of a one night stand.

She has almost lost her job twice for showing up late, but she’s good friends with her supervisor, a woman named Chrissy who’s only a few years older than she is. Chrissy often cuts my mother some slack, covering for her when she shows up tired or hungover.

I suppose you could say that at this point in her life, my mother is an unofficial alcoholic. She consumes huge amounts of alcohol every night, not so much because she’s addicted to it as because she wants to drink it. She and Hilari toast to the mantra, “Live fast, die young.” The alcohol makes her happy. It fills a bottomless hole in her heart, impedes menacing words like meaningless and worthless from popping into her mind. Words that she shies away from because they are so close to home.

Sometimes I wonder if she has a premonition about what will come later in her life, about the husband and daughters she will lose. I wonder if, while she drowns herself in alcohol as a young woman, she ever stops and wonders what her future will look like. Her children. Her home. Her marriage. I wonder if she knows the spreading bleakness of the horizon.

To be continued . . .
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