It was more like the crack of a shotgun, than an explosion.
Breath caught in my throat. Flinching, I recoiled into a ball; my legs and torso bare; blankets lost sometime during the night, in a battle of siblings fighting for warmth.
There was a storm raging outside our motel room, whipping lounge chairs around like they were styrofoam.
Most nights, I could sleep anywhere. The four of us children were like keys on a keychain; each finding a spot on the ring, side by side, easing in to wherever we happened to be set down that night.
Most nights, we slept in the car.
Tonight though, we were in a motel room across the street from Disneyland. It should have been a treat. Yet, my baby brother had inched his way across the bed, towards me; I, his anchor among the mayhem, parking his haunches snuggly up against my lower back, adding to my misery.
Desperately, I needed to sleep.
Booming thunder reverberated in my ears, firing off deafening cannons of fury across a starless night sky. A brilliant sheet of lightening followed as it backlighted an army of ominous clouds–and an unexpected flash of blue-white flickering lit up the room. Fireworks. Scary fireworks.
Then, like the flip of a switch, all the lights went out.
Everything went PITCH BLACK.
My tummy, still aching from a horrible bout of food poisoning earlier that evening, wrenched in pain, while my limbs screamed out in a futile effort to exact revenge. I ached all over. I was frightened.
Flinched again. My heart pounded. Reached for my belly.
What was worse: The fierce storm outside wreaking havoc, or the acidic storm inside burning a whole in my tummy?
Lying there, I couldn’t get my head to block out either. I smelled smoke. Glancing over to the bed across from us, mama was awake. Sitting up. Smoking, in the dark. Thinking about daddy. I stared at the outline of her silhouette and found my thoughts drawn back to earlier that night …
Reluctantly, mama pulled the last twenty dollar bill from her bra and handed it to daddy. He grabbed at it, tossed a few coins on to the bedspread, and left. Mama turned her head away in disgust. She always did that, and then she wouldn’t speak again until the next day.
Other than some Oreo cookies, the last real meal we kids had was a couple of days before that. We needed to eat.
Took only a spilt-second for me to turn back to the shiny tokens, scoop them up, and run out the door.
The spiffy vending machine was just a few doors down, near the front office. I deposited the coins and waited in anticipation to hear the familiar thud as each can was spit out, dropped. Four single servings of heated deliciousness: weiners, spaghetti-o’s type stuff. We were salivating. Had to juggle the hot cans back to the room so as not to get burned. We giggled, and tried not to drop them.
The can I got was tasty going down, but not so much coming back up. Something rancid settled in my stomach and then erupted.
The lining of my esophagus was on fire.
My cheeks churned with nausea.
Vicious vomit ensued.
Wasting no time, my mother cupped her hand over my mouth, lifted me off the ground, and rushed me into the bathroom. A forearm braced firmly across my abdomen, a hand held back my hair, little legs dangled over the toilet.
Over and over again.
Sweat formed a film across my forehead.
Heaved some more.
Chills set in.
Finally, the violence subsided. Shaky. Running water. Cool. Soothing. Wet chunks of half digested weiners, found tangled in damp strands of hair clinging to my cheeks, were strained. A cloth and something that smelled fresh washed away the stench. Mama wrapped me in a soft towel and sat down on the side of the tub.
Pulled me close.
Never said a word.
Cuddling, there was a gentleness that caressed the wet clumps of hair back from my face.
Comfort … familiar heart beat … warm breath on my face … my hand resting on her bosom … sleepy.
It’s gonna be okay.
Mama. I love you.
Then, as we sat there in the dark, on the edge of the tub, I felt her body begin to shake.
I couldn’t see her, but the tear drops on my lips told me … mama was weeping.
Silently. She began to tremble.
Mama’s light went dark. Again. My world went black. Pitch black. My life changed forever.
More than anything?
I wish I had had the ability to switch the light back on whenever my mother went dark. Only with the light can we prevent swerving off our desired path. And when it’s pitch black? We exist in isolation. No one can see what lies ahead.
Often, I ache to reach back in time; to help that young fragile homeless woman in her twenties, someone like you and someone like me, only destitute, alone. Bi-polar. With no hope, for hope. I long to reach back and care for her delicate beautiful soul, because I know nobody ever did.
Because, that night it went pitch black … and the next day, my mama gave me away.
Photo: ©Julie Anderson All Rights Reserved