When Momma left, family stopped. Was it worse before? Maybe for her. But she was what tied us together. The fabric ripped as soon as she was gone. The unraveling continues, even today.
The flashback took me by surprise. It’s not that I thought I’d forgotten. I just hadn’t realized how much it was still a part of me. How much it still affects everything I do.
I was giving a presentation at work. It outlined quarterly growth and profit projections, and it bored even me. One second, my bosses and coworkers sat in front of me. The next, I was back in that bedroom. Her eyes stared back at me, but she didn’t see me. She didn’t see anything.
Her arm hung off the bed. I expected it to sway, but it didn’t. Somehow, her hand still grasped the bottle.
I should yell. I should go to her. I should get help.
My feet remained rooted to the floor. I remember the feel of the plush carpet. No shoes allowed on that new carpet.
By my calculations, I stood there for forty-seven minutes without moving. I can’t say, “It felt like forever,” because I don’t remember feeling anything. Except that carpet.
According to the story I was told, our neighbor came to check on me at the same time as always: 5:15pm. Mr. Lewis put his hands on my shoulders, walked me to my bedroom, and sat me on my bed. He then left to call the police.
The police arrived and took away her body. They talked to Mr. Lewis, asked him where our father was. Apparently, Mr. Lewis had laughed. That didn’t surprise me. Even before everything that happened, Mr. Lewis had a weird sense of humor. After laughing, he told them we didn’t have a father. I’m sure they realized that wasn’t exactly true, but it was close enough. Six years earlier, our father had stopped existing to us.
I didn’t experience any of this, though. And while I stood in that conference room, silently staring at presentation slides, that wasn’t what I saw. As my colleagues watched me, I sat on my bed in my childhood room. Muffled voices sounded outside my closed door, but they barely registered. Instead, I heard my momma.
She sat in a chair beside my bed, reading me a story. I tried to tell her that eleven was much too old to be read to. I wasn’t a little kid anymore. She laughed.
“You will always be a little kid to me,” she said, “no matter how old you get. Remember that, okay?”
I nodded, and she closed the book, placing it on my nightstand.
“It’s time for me to go now, honey.”
Somehow, despite my age and haze, I understood the implications of that statement. Tears flowed immediately and I flung myself into her arms. She caught me and kissed the top of my head. I buried my face in her chest.
“Don’t leave, Momma. Billy and I love you. We need you.” I cried harder, tears and snot soaking her shirt.
“I know, honey. I’m sorry. I love you both, too.”
“Then why—then why are you l-leaving us?” I stuttered between sobs.
“You’ll understand when you’re older. Just remember, I love you both very much. And this isn’t your fault.”
I wondered why I would think it was my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong. Later, I understood why she said that, but I had a hard time believing it.
When I was placed in foster care, I thought it was my fault. Every time I switched homes, that belief cemented further. We stayed together as much as possible, a little girl and a nineteen-year-old boy, but it was never the same.
Even as the flashback faded and I heard my boss calling out my name, I knew it was my fault.
If I had loved her more, she would have stayed longer.
Anyway Billy, I’m sorry. I wanted to try to explain this to you. Just remember, I love you. And this isn’t your fault.
—Dino Laserbeam runs freeze frame fiction, a quarterly flash fiction publication—or an excuse to boss writers around. An engineer by trade, Dino can typically be found staring at blank pages, hoping for bizarre stories to appear. Find out more at dinolaserbeam.wordpress.com.