The letter falls onto the table with my tears quickly following. I had been trying to hold out hope Emma would walk back through our door, but with one letter those hopes are destroyed. Emma was changed from being listed as a missing person to deceased.
None of this surprises me, but doesn’t make the pain in my heart any less, but I wasn’t morning the Emma of today. No my heart was breaking for the Emma of my childhood. The Emma who would cuddle me when our parents were fighting and tell me no matter what we will always have each other. How it was her and I against the world.
The Emma I want to remember died when she was a senior and I was a sophomore. Emma’s senior year was the beginning of the end. She fell in with the wrong people. People who took advantage of the pain she carried and made her empty promises of family. Soon she was tumbling down the rabbit hole with no way back up.
No matter how much I tried to keep her on the straight path she would always fall off. I’ve lost count the number of nights I sat with her when she was coming off the high or the number of moments I begged her to pick me over the drugs. But the drugs had a strong hold on her. A hold she was never able to shake.
I could have written her off years ago after all the shit she put me through especially when she would drag me with her. Every time I went with her to one of these parties as she calls them I would end up locking myself in the bathroom or finding a hiding spot.
We weren’t dealt a great hand in life, but I still managed to push my way through. I could have easily fallen down the same rabbit hole, but I wanted more out of life. After watching how shitty our mom’s life turned out and seeing my sister on the same path I promised myself I would never waiver.
Instead of taking the easy road and following my sister I kept my head down and graduated in the top ten percent of my high school. Back in May I graduated with a double major in psychology and social work. Took me eight years to achieve my degrees. None of which was easy. Not only was I going to school, but I was also working a full time job. Sometimes even a part time job here and there. I did whatever I needed to do to make sure we had a roof over our head and food in the fridge.
We were already struggling when my sister threw a monkey wrench into our lives. Causing everything to be flipped upside down. The day she broke the news to me was almost six years ago and for awhile she was clean and focused on something more than just herself. For a time I allowed myself to hope my sister was back, but sadly her sobriety only lasted about a year and a half.
But the time she was sober was one of my fondest. For the first time since this hell started I felt like we were sisters and were back to being a team. She was managing to hold down a job and contribute to the household. Even though we were trying to figure out what are next steps were going to be life was the easiest I can ever remember it being.
Since she was working I was able to work a little less and concentrate more on school. I was able to relax a little. We were living the life we use to dream about. A life away from our parents and where we were being more than the label we were given. For once I was able to go to sleep with a smile. But the drugs had taken hold long ago and still had their nasty teeth buried deep into my sister.
Drugs, I never touched them. Alcohol never drank a drop, at least not any by my freewill. Boyfriends never had one. Didn’t have the time. Hell I’m still a virgin. My sister had way too many “boyfriends” and they all put a bad taste in my mouth. Teaching me even more how you can never trust a man and can only depend on yourself. Never met a male I liked other than one and he pushed his way into my life.
Hunter. The monkey wench. The person I had hoped would be able to get my sister off the drugs when I couldn’t. The person she would make the choice to try and change her ways for. She did for a while, but even his existence couldn’t keep her on the path of sobriety.
The only male I love and will ever love is Hunter, my nephew. He may have not been planned, but I would never want him out of my life. He understands Emma is his mother, but after a conversation at school around mother’s day when the teacher explained what a mother was he started calling me mom instead of auntie. Which caused a major chain reaction with my sister.
Emma was home from one of her benders and over the years I have learned not to ask her where she was. The conversation would only end in a yelling match with her storming out of our dingy apartment. I didn’t want to do anything to anger her in fear of her leaving. Hunter hasn’t seen her for a few months and was missing her. My heart would break if she left before seeing him.
My teacher had let us go early today and hence why I was home. I wasn’t scheduled to work at the bar till later in the evening and was debating if I should still send Hunter to the babysitter or not. Even though Emma was his mother I never trusted leaving him alone with her.
Checking the clock, I realize Hunter will be leaving school soon. Usually Tina, a neighbor in the building, would pick him up when she picked up her own daughter. We were a close-knit group in the apartment building. Each of us dealing with our own struggles, but always willing to lend a helping hand. Tina would get the kids and keep Hunter for me till I got home from school. I was beyond lucky and grateful for the people at the building.
Then Hunter and I would enjoy our evening together till I had to go bartend at the strip club. I had a few different people he would stay with while I was at work and even a few would come stay in the apartment till I got home in the early hours of the morning. The weekends were difficult since Thursday, Friday and Saturday were when I would make the most in tips I tended to work those days the most. Then a day or two during the rest of the week.
Sundays were always my day off and then a random day or two during the week. We had a well-oiled machine working for us. This may not be the greatest for Hunter, but he’s safe. Once I graduate and get a real job I’ll be able to afford actual day care.
But having Emma home always causes problems. On one hand I’m glad she is here for Hunter’s sake since he should know his mother, but on the other we did better when she isn’t here. My heart hurts because I think the way I do.
I had texted Tina when I got out early if she wanted me to get the kids today she waved me off claiming she could use the exercise. She was going to walk Hunter to the apartment once they return. Emma was currently passed out in my bed recovering from whatever the hell she has been up to. Her original bedroom I had turned into Hunter’s room the third time she disappeared. Which resulted in an argument when she came home and her storming out again, but at least Hunter wasn’t home at the time.
The door flies open and Hunter sprints into my arms shoving a paper in my face. I send Tina a smile in thanks and she wishes me luck. Everyone in the building knows about my sister and the trouble she bring to my door step.
“Auntie look what I made you,” he giggles. I pull slightly away from him to see what he was showing me. There was a brown cut out of a flower plot with a green cut out of his hand and flowers on the tips of his fingers. “It’s a flower pot of my hand,” he exclaims. “I made it for you for mother’s day.”
Mother’s Day. I had forgotten Sunday was Mother’s Day. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day were the two days I dreaded the most throughout the year. Father’s Day because Hunter would ask questions I didn’t have the answers to. Mother’s Day because Emma was never around.
“Thanks buddy. I love it.” I tell him kiss the top of his head and putting his gift on the fridge. “Why don’t you go change? I have a surprise for you.”
He stands there for a moment with furrowed brows watching me. I could see the worry and uncertainty in his eyes. Something was bothering my little man.
“Auntie Kinsley can I ask you something?” He glances at his feet.
I kneel down in front of him taking his chin between my fingers and gently raise his head. “Hunter you can talk to me about anything,” I say as gently as I can. “No matter what.” I bop his nose and earn a toothy smile.
Hunter’s eyes turn serious and he scrunches his nose. “Today in school while we were making our surprises for mother’s days the other kids were talking about their mommy’s and...” he trails off deep in thought fiddling with his fingers. Patiently I wait for him to continue. “I became confused.”
“Why were you confused buddy,” I ask him even though I have some ideas of my own.
He sighs showing an age way beyond his own. “What they were describing didn’t match with mommy.” Hunter shakes his head. “They were describing you. So I told them they were wrong. All the things they were talking about wasn’t what mommy’s do, but what Aunties do.” Lord please help me on this one. All of my education has never prepared me for this conversation.
“What happened next,” I ask him biting my lip.
“Rebecca started to cry and Tony started to yell at me so Ms. Payne came over. After she calmed them down she had a talk with me. She told me there are many different types of mommy’s in the world and a mommy isn’t always the one who gave birth to you. A mommy is someone who kisses your boo boos away and rubs your tummy when you don’t feel well. They also love you always.”
I could hug Ms. Payne for how she dealt with this delicate situation. She deserves a raise. “I agree with Ms. Payne. Mommy’s do all of those things she described and more.”
He raises his eyes to mine. “Auntie since you do all of those things and more are you my mommy instead of the other lady?” Tears spring to my eyes and my heart breaks for both him and Emma. My poor sweet boy doesn’t understand Emma’s role versus my role. Sure I’ve practically raised him and buy what he learned today I am him Mom, but I would never take the role from my sister. No matter how fucked up she is. I can see this pushing her even more over the edge.
How do I explain all of this to him without hurting him or Emma? “The other lady is my sister and your biological mom.”
“What does biological mom mean?” He stumbles over the work biological.
I stand up and lead him over to the couch. We both sit down and he cuddles into my side. I wrap an arm around him. “A biological mom is the one who gave birth to you and since she is my sister I’m your aunt.”
He adamantly shakes his head in disagreement. “But you do everything a mommy does. So you are my mommy not my auntie.”
I sign unsure how to navigate through the logic of a five year old especially since he’s not wrong. So I try my best. “My sister will always be your mom, but I can be your mommy if you want me to.” I hope I did the right thing with telling him this.
He studies me for a moment and hold out his hand. “Deal,” he says.
Laughing I hold out my hand and shake his smaller one. “Deal,” I repeat.
He smiles brightly at me. “Mommy I’m going to go change now.” Without waiting for a response he bounces off our worn couch. My heart stutters in my chest over hearing him call me mommy. I love the sound of the word coming from him and being aimed towards me. Tears slide down my face and I hastily wipe them away. I never dreamed this day would come.
“Mommy,” I can hear the question and anxiety in his voice. I stand from the chair wiping my face to figure out why he is upset. When I do I discover a glaring Emma.
“How dare you,” she yells at me causing Hunter to take a step back in my direction. “How dare you try to steal my son.” She points towards herself. “He is mine.” The complexity of Hunter’s and my conversation had me forgetting she was in the apartment. “Fuck you,” she screeches forcing Hunter slam into my front. I rest my hands on his shoulders in comfort.
“Hello Mom,” he stutters.
“Emma you need to calm down,” I drop my voice an octave. “In no way am I trying to steal him from you. And please stop swearing in front of little ears.” I rest my hands over his ears waiting for her next explosion.
“I will say whatever the fuck I want in front of my own fucking son. Fuck you.” She stumbles into our tiny family room and head dives into the couch. Ungracefully she rearranges herself till she is sitting. I don’t let her words get to me since she is no longer the Emma I remember. This one is only a shell of her former self.
“Yes he is your son.” I turn to Hunter. “Go to your room please while me and your mom talk.” Tears glisten in his eyes, but he leaves without argument disappearing behind his door. “Now that Hunter is no long here I’m going to tell you exactly what is on my mind. How dare you try and make him feel bad for wanting to call me mommy. In his mind I do everything a mommy would do and he isn’t wrong.”
“But he’s my son not yours. Did you carry him for nine months?”
“No,” I whisper.
“Did you give birth to him,” she snarks.
“No,” I whisper crossing my arms over my chest to fight the sudden chill I was having.
“Exactly. I did,” she snaps point once again to herself.
My anger soars with thoughts of how she’s never around. She doesn’t work a job she hates to make sure there is a roof over her son’s head and food in his belly. She’s never around when he’s sick or gets hurt. Nor is she there to help him with his school work. But I am.
I clench my fists at my side and take some calming deep breaths not wanting to say anything I would regret later. “Pam may have given birth to us, but she was never a mom to us. There is a difference and you understand the difference.”
We stand there locked in a staring contest neither one of us wavering. She narrows her eyes and in a huff breaks the contact when she stands from the couch. “I don’t need to listen to this shit. Or listen to you implying how shitty of a mother I am.” A snarky remark is on the tip of my tongue, but I choke on my words in fear of her taking Hunter. Just because I’m his care giver doesn’t mean I have legal rights if she was to remove him from my care. Sure I would eventually get him back, but who knows what damage would be down to his impressionable mind.
“Since you think you’re so high and mighty,” she continues, “I’m out.” Emma starts to stomp towards the door. She pauses when she is about to exit the apartment and turns to face me. Hope blossoms in my heart. Maybe she has changed her mind and will stick around. “Do you have any cash?” My hope deflates much like all balloons do eventually.
All she cares about is money and more than like the only reason she came was to get a hand out. Normally I would give her some to remove some of the guilt from my shoulders, but not this time. This time I have nothing spare to share. Everything I have goes into caring for Hunter and paying for my schooling. My schooling is my only selfish act.
I shake my head no. “Not this time Emma. I’m still trying to recover from taking Hunter to the emergency room last month when he was running a fever over a hundred degrees.” She huffs at my words not once commenting on the fact her son was in the emergency room last month.
“You have to have something laying around. Aren’t strippers rolling in the dough?” She says looking down her nose at me.
“I’m not a stripper,” I remind her, though my boss is continuously trying to get me on stage. “I’m one of the bartenders.”
Her head falls back laughing. “Only a matter of time before you’re up on stage and can no longer look down on me for selling my body. Then we will be the same.”
My anger takes over and words are flying out of my mouth at a rapid pace. “We will never be the same. Even if I was step on stage our reasons why would be very different.” I was on a roll so I continued without stopping slightly raising my voice even though I shouldn’t for fear of Hunter hearing me. “Yours would be due to chasing your next high and mine would be to make sure Hunter was taken care of. Hunter you do remember your son who I’m raising. Then one you are about to walk out on again. All because he’s confused about my role in his life.”
“Of course I remember Hunter. Why do you think I’ve been trying to get a hold of...” she trails off as though she only realized she almost shared with me who Hunter’s father was.
“Emma come on fucking tell me already. Maybe we could reach out to him for help. Hell he would owe years of back child support.” I own my arms indicating the apartment. “Do you really want him being raised here? Maybe with his father’s help we could move into something better.”
For years I’ve tried to get her to disclose to me who Hunter’s father was and she would continue to avoid the subject. At first she claimed she wasn’t sure who the father was due to the number of men she had slept with. And for a time I believed her, but she even started to slip up with that lie.
Now we were on to how too many years have passed and he wouldn’t believe her. I fired back they have test to prove who the father is. Hell we could even contact Maury for help all he shows on his talk show are people trying to figure out who the father of their kids are. Plus with our fucked up lives we would fit right in. But she refuses.
Emma shakes her head no. Then softly says. “I love him Kinsley.” Her voice croaks and tears leak from her eyes. I sprint to the door wrapping her in my arms and lead her back to the couch. She leans into my hold.
“Of course you love Hunter,” I tell her in a soothing tone. “And he loves you.”
“I’m not fully talking about Hunter,” she discloses gaining all of my undivided attention. I don’t say a word, but instead wait for her to continue when she was ready. “I’m talking about Hunter’s dad. Sure we only had a couple of night together, but he treated me like I was a person and not a piece of ass. Like I meant something. I’ve never had a man before or since treat me the way he did. I couldn’t live with myself for him to hate me for keeping his son from him. Or the pain he could inflict if he rejected Hunter.” Her voice changes into the Emma I want to remember not the one she has become.
“If he rejected Hunter than Hunter is better off without him.” I explain to her running my hands up and down her arms.
She starts to laugh hysterically. “The other reason I’ve never told you who Hunter’s dad is was because if the people I run with knew than they would target Hunter.” She lets out a sigh. “I may not be the best mom, but I still want to protect him the best I can.” She raises her eyes to me. “Let’s just say if Hunter’s dad was in the picture we would have no worries in terms of money, but all the worries of something bad happening to Hunter.”
I nod my head up and down. “We will figure all of this out,” I reassure her. As much as I want to know who this man is I have to respect call on this. She understands the people she runs with way better than I do and if she believes they will hurt Hunter than they would.
Emma cried on my shoulder for a while till she once again fell asleep. I texted Mr. Tim who was watching Hunter this evening if he could still come over. The wonderful elderly man agreed he had no problem sitting with Hunter and my sister.
Realizing time was slipping away I threw a pizza in the over for Hunter to eat for dinner. By the time I was done getting ready for work the pizza was ready to come out of the oven. I called Hunter into the kitchen for dinner and he slinked in shocked to see Emma sleeping on the couch. He probably thought she left after our yelling ended, since those were always her action of choice.
He sits at the table still staring at Emma. “Is mom going to stay for a while,” he asks.
I set the pizza in front of him and prop a hip against the table. “I don’t know buddy. I hope so.”
He nods his little head and takes a small bite of pizza. “Did I do something wrong asking to call you mommy?” He asks sounding so broken and breaking my heart.
I come around to his side of the table and kneel next to his chair resting on hand on the back of his chair. “No baby you did nothing wrong. Your mom has a lot she’s dealing with, but maybe for now we can table the you calling me mommy.” The words till she leaves hang in the hair between us because we both know her being her is only temporary.
“Okay Auntie,” the haunted look in his eyes tell me he doesn’t want to call me auntie anymore, but he also doesn’t want to upset his real mom.
A knock at the door puts an end to our conversation. I ruffle his hair and kiss the top of his head then head over to let Mr. Tim in.
“Good evening Miss. Kinsley,” he tells me in a kind tone.
“Good evening Mr. Tim,” I respond. “There is plenty of pizza if you want some.” His eyes drift to Emma and pity takes over. “Knowing her she will sleep till morning. Thank you so much for doing this.”
“Not a worry Miss. Kinsley. I just wish you would find yourself a better job. Bartending at a strip club is still not the greatest. You’re a smart girl and deserves more.”
“The plan is to find something better once I graduate.” I give Hunter another hug. “I’ll see you in the morning,” I tell him, “and you better be on your best behavior for Mr. Tim.”
Mr. Tim chuckles. “He always is hence why I don’t mind watching him at all. He takes the pain of missing my own grandkids away.” I smile in thanks and head out the door for work.
Emma would stay with us for two weeks. One of her longest stays since she returned to the drugs. She snuck away during the day while Hunter and I were both in school with some of my tip money. She never said a word she was leaving, but that was her way. I never knew when she would show up at my door or when she would leave.
A week after she left Hunter started calling my mommy again.
Thoughts so far?