I was six years old the first time my mother brought a man home.
I had just spent the whole afternoon and most of the evening in the front office of my elementary school, listening to my teachers frantically try to get ahold of my mother, who had forgotten to pick me up that day.
It wasn’t a rare occurrence. She used to forget me everywhere: the park, the grocery store, the bar where she worked as a part-time waitress. I had gotten very good at blending in the background and staying out of people’s way, a gift that would come in handy in my teenage years. I learned very quickly that you’re never too young for unwanted attention, especially as a woman.
The man she brought home was named Brad. He wasn’t a traditionally handsome fellow, just a little too rough-featured to qualify as rugged, but my mother was never a picky woman. Her “type” ranged from goody-two shoes nerds to bikers with so many tattoos you could barely see the skin upon which they had drawn in the first place.
My mother had gone out with men before I turned six and I had met a sizable amount of them, but this was the first time she brought one to our home, a small, dilapidated apartment complex of which we were the sole residents. Everyone else had left gradually as the years wore on, each realizing that this place was truly not habitable anymore. The electricity would come on and off at random times during the day, if at all, seeing as my mother wasn’t one to always remember to pay our bills, and there was a constant stench of smoke in the air. Not the regular, safe smoke of cigarettes. No, this smoke had a more worrisome, gas-leak type of smell to it. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have wanted to live anywhere else. Every day in our apartment was like a new adventure, a new jungle I could play in and navigate my way through. Brad wasn’t as much of a fan. The first time he came over, he didn’t stop saying what a shithole it was for even a second. I didn’t know what shithole meant at the time, so I took it to be a compliment. When I began repeating it to him, Brad just laughed and patted me on the head.
“That’s right, Maya. Your house is a shithole!”
After that day, Brad began spending more and more time at our house, and even when mom had to work he would come over and play with me. Adventures were a lot more fun to go on when I had a beastly sidekick to carry me on his shoulders and throw me in the air. As the weeks passed, I grew very attached to Brad. He would teach me about how to win at spitting contests or how to hit a guy right between his legs so that he would double over in pain, and in return I would show him my secret stashes all around the complex. He particularly liked my ancient rock collection. That was my favorite, too.
I became the happiest that I’d ever been. Mom had been cheerier and nicer since Brad had come into our lives, and she hadn’t forgotten me at school once in almost two whole months. The three of us would go on outings to the park or the zoo together, and every time we went out Brad would buy me whatever I wanted from the ice cream truck. When my friends at school talked about how great and strong their dads were, I told them about Brad. I told them about his leather jacket, how big it was and all the spikes it had on it. I told them about his motorcycle, which he let me ride on without a helmet. Girls who had never spoken to me before would come up to me in the courtyard and ask about Brad, and whether I could get them a ride on his motorcycle too.
I came home one day after school and saw Brad’s motorcycle parked outside, so I barreled upstairs to ask him if he would drive me to school tomorrow. Some of the girls at school were so jealous that they called me a liar and said I’d never even seen a motorcycle. Well, Brad and I would show _them. _ When I opened the door to the apartment, I stopped dead in my tracks. Mom and Brad weren’t tangled up on the couch like they usually were, but instead I found them standing at opposite ends of the kitchen. They were glaring at each other with an intensity that could have almost shattered the rock-hard tension building up in the room. Another thing I had grown to recognize after spending countless hours at the bar while mom worked was the instant before a huge fight broke out. There was always this incredibly heavy silence, the calm before the storm. It was a few minutes after I’d entered the room and they still hadn’t noticed me that Brad broke the silence using a sharp tone of voice that I’d never heard from him before.
“You’re a real bitch, you know, Mer.”
I may have not known what shithole meant, but I definitely knew what a bitch was. This couldn’t be good.
“Oh, so I’m the bitch for making you own up to what you did. How do you always manage to put the blame on me for your mistakes?”
“I wouldn’t have needed to do what I did if you hadn’t gone and lied straight to my face.”
“I lied because I knew how you would react! And why does that even matter? How is that remotely connected to what you did?”
In a burst of anger, mom grabbed the knife lying on the counter, holding it between her and Brad as one would a shield. I stood still in the doorway, trying to register what the hell was happening.
“What, you’re gonna stab me now?”
Brad laughed, but there was no humor in his eyes.
“Do it, Mer. I’d love to see how far you get before I snap that little lying mouth of yours shut.”
I gasped, and they finally turned to me with wide eyes.
“Great job asshole, now you managed to scare the kid. You’re so self-centered that you don’t see or care about anyone but yourself.”
“She’s not a normal kid, Mer. It doesn’t affect her like it normally would.”
“What do you mean?”
Mom’s voice had turned glacial.
“You know exactly what I mean. She’s a six year old who spends the majority of her time in a bar. She’s not as innocent as you make her out to be.”
“You can’t be serious, Mer. That’s what makes you snap?”
“No. What “makes me snap” is that an arrogant, selfish, good-for nothing bastard like you thinks he can come into my house and insult me and my kid.”
What was mom doing?
“I’m going to count to three, and if you’re not out that door by the time I’m done , you’d better pray to God that I have bad aim and this knife doesn’t hit you straight in the face.”
“You can’t be serious, Mer.”
“You _really_ think you can do better than me?”
“That you’ll find someone to put up with you and your retard kid?”
Mom stopped counting. Her arm was up in midair, the knife held in an awkward position as she glared at Brad, tears brimming in her eyes.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought babe.”
Her lips trembled as she raised her arm up again, and her eyes hardened as she uttered
Brad began laughing and started taking a step towards mom but she took a step back, swung, and threw that large kitchen knife at Brad’s face. He ducked, barely escaping the stinging bite of the blade.
“You’re crazy! I always knew you were an idiot, but I didn’t think you were actually mentally insane!”
Brad continued shouting, and mom started opening all the kitchen drawers, grabbing at any of the cutlery sharp enough to leave a mark.
“I warned you, now you better leave my fucking property before one of these hits its mark.”
She continued screaming and hurling anything and everything at his head, and he finally decided this wasn’t a fight worth having as he ran out of the kitchen and then the apartment.
“You’re crazy, bitch. I’m gonna report you. I’m gonna fucking report you!”
His screams echoed down the creaking stairwell as he barreled away from us. Forever.
That wasn’t the last time a man ran screaming from our apartment.
After Brad, the men just got worse. Mom began drinking herself into oblivion, stealing the bottles at work. Eventually she got caught and they fired her, so she began jumping from part-time job to part-time job, never staying anywhere for more than a few weeks. When I became old enough to work, she stopped trying and spent all of her time in the apartment doing whatever drug her new boyfriend brought her that day. The apartment complex eventually got torn down after some rich man bought it and renovated it, and we had to rent the cheapest camping car we could find and move to a parking. I ended up going to community college, where I earned a degree in business and management. When I applied to managing jobs after college, I learned how to deal with rejection once more. After a couple years of dead ends, I gave up and went to work at the Walgreens next to the parking we lived in.
Mom died seven years ago of an overdose of some kind. We had a funeral, and as you might expect it sucked.
I didn’t cry, because why would I?
I never had anything even close to a caring or loving relationship with that woman. In fact, I hated her for the majority of my life. I didn’t get why she kept indulging in that self-destructive behavior. I looked at the drugs she saw as pain relievers and I only saw pain inflicters. How could she stand to waste her life with no regard for me or my wellbeing? Or even her wellbeing? How did a person get so miserable and suicidal? How had she turned into this shadow of a woman, this ghoulish wraith? I spent years despising her and avoiding the rooms where she lied senseless, but for some reason I could never truly leave her. Something was holding me back, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it was.
Until five years ago, when my daughter was born.
Eve Mary Gallagher.
She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. When she smiled, my heart squeezed so tightly I forgot how to breathe. The father was a man I had met at work. He’d come in for a pack of gum and left with a piece of my heart. He was the classic heartbreaker, a handsome bad boy with a soft side that made all the girls swoon. When he winked at me as I handed him the receipt, I was suddenly grateful for the counter beneath my hands holding my weak legs up.
“Keep the receipt, sweetheart.”
I’d mumbled some dumb response, and he’d left for what I thought would be forever.
The next day, as I searched my pockets frantically for the camper keys, I found that receipt and noticed some writing on the back side of it.
He’d left his number and one scribbled sentence. Call me.
I called him that very night, and, as they say, the rest is history.
Evie was born, and I never saw him again.
I got through the first year fine, but just before Eve’s second birthday I fell into a deep depression. The Walgreens I worked at had just shut down because of monetary issues, and the camper park where we were staying was being eradicated. The neighbors were sick of having to look at our poor, depressing excuses for a home. It didn’t fit in to the neighborhood, they’d complained.
So, one night I went out with one of my coworkers, both of us recently unemployed and looking for a distraction. When she suggested we go into the closest bar and drink our worries away, I readied myself to go home. No, I couldn’t do that to my daughter. I couldn’t turn into my mother. But my coworker kept insisting, and she was so desperate that I decided that I couldn’t deprive her of this small joy just because I wasn’t willing to partake in it. I would go in, but I wouldn’t drink. That’s what I told myself.
I think you can see where this is going. No drink turned into one drink, one drink turned into two, two turned into three and I began my slow decline into alcoholism. That’s when I started leaving Evie alone at home on multiple occasions, putting my personal enjoyment over my daughter’s safety. Hell, I even locked her in her room once so she wouldn’t endanger herself.
Child protective services came when she turned four and learned how to scream a little louder. They took her away. They took my baby away, and left me alone in that miserable camper.
A few months ago, they came back and asked me about the family history, if there was anyone in the family that might be willing to take her while I straightened myself out.
That’s why I thought of you for the first time in years. Mom gave me your address when I turned 16, as a sort of gift. It was during one of her rare moments of lucidity, and she said that it wasn’t fair that I’d never gotten to meet you. This way, I could meet you when I was ready, she said.
Let me get one thing straight; I don’t want to meet you.
I don’t want to hear from you, I don’t want to correspond with you, I don’t ever even want to see you.
I just want you to know that it’s your fault.
All these years I spent hating my mother, I didn’t realize that I was wasting all of my anger on the wrong person. Because she never abandoned me. Yes, she might have not gotten it all right, but she was always there. No matter what happened, she was in that broken down apartment for me to come back home to every day. She gave me a home. Even after you left her, after you broke her, she never left me.
I used to wonder how she could act like she did, never fully present or aware of me. I used to swear that I’d never be like her, because that would mean I had failed.
But now I see that it wasn’t her who failed. That it’s not me who failed.
You’re the one who broke her and took away her spirit.
You killed her.
Don’t answer this letter.
Read it, keep it, and most importantly, remember. Remember that it’s your fault, not hers.
I hope you have a miserable life, and that the guilt eats you away like it ate her away.
I hope you learn what it means to be truly miserable.
So, I guess what I’m saying is have a good life.