The next day, I woke up in the mother of all bad moods. I’d tossed and turned all night, having one bad dream after another. But the last one was the worst.
In it, I’d been walking down the sidewalk outside of the library during my lunch break, carrying my sandwich, and a car pulled up beside me, beeping its horn. When I turned my head, I saw my dad was behind the wheel. He motioned for me to get in, but when I reached for the door handle the car suddenly lurched forward, tires squealing. My dad kept looking back at me, and I could tell that he was scared, but there was nothing I could do as it headed into the intersection, which was filling up with cars from all directions. In my dream, I started to run, and it felt so real: the little catch I always felt in my ankle right after a start, that certain feeling that I’d never get my pace right. Each time I got close to my dad, he’d slip out of my reach, and everything I grabbed thinking it was the car or a part of the car slipped through my hands.
I woke up gasping, my sheets tangled around my legs. Unfurling them slowly, I could feel my pulse banging in my wrist as I struggled to calm down. Not a good start, I thought.
My mother was on the phone as I came into the kitchen, dealing with some last-minute details for the Wildflower Ridge Independence Day Picnic and Parade she’d been planning for weeks now. After my shift at the library, which was open special holiday hours until one, I was supposed to be there at the neighborhood information table, to smile and answer any and all questions. Even if I had gotten a good night’s sleep—or any sleep at all—it would have been a long day. Now, with Jason and everything else still to get through before that even began, it felt like there was no way for it to be anything but positively endless.
I was sitting at the kitchen table, forcing down some cheese grits and trying not to think about it, when my mother hung up the phone and came over to sit beside me, her coffee in hand. “So,” she said, “I think we should talk about last night.”
I put my spoon down in my bowl. “Okay,” I said.
She took a breath. “I’ve already conveyed to you—”
And then the phone rang. She got up, pushing out her chair, and crossed the kitchen, picking it up on the second ring.
“Deborah Queen,” she said. She listened for a second, turning her back to me. “Yes. Oh, wonderful. Yes. Three-thirty at the latest, please. Thanks so much.” She hung up the phone, jotting something down, then came back over to her chair. “Sorry about that,” she said, picking up her coffee cup and taking a sip. “As I was saying, we’ve already discussed my unhappiness with some recent changes I’ve noticed in you. And last night, it seemed that some of my concerns were well founded.”
“Mom,” I said. “You don’t—”
There was a shrill ringing sound from her purse, which was on the island: her cell phone. She turned around, digging it out, then pushed a button, pressing it to her ear. “Deborah Queen. Oh, Marilyn, hello! No, it’s a perfect time. Let me just run and get those figures for you.” She held up her finger, signaling for me to stay put, then got up, disappearing down the hallway to her office. It was bad enough to be having to have this conversation; the fact that it was getting dragged out was excruciating. By the time she returned and hung up, I’d washed out my bowl and put it in the dishwasher.
“The bottom line is,” she said, sitting down again and picking right up where we’d left off, “that I don’t want you hanging around with those people outside of work.”
Maybe it was that I was tired. Or the fact that she couldn’t even commit to this conversation without interruptions. But whatever the reason, what I said next surprised us both.
It was just one word. But with it, I’d taken a stand against my mother, albeit small, for the first time in as long as I could remember.
“Macy,” she said, speaking slowly, “that boy has been arrested. I don’t want you out riding around with someone like that, out at all hours—”
The phone rang again, and she started to push herself up out of her chair, then stopped. It rang again, then once more, before falling silent.
“Honey, look,” she said, her voice tired. “I know what can happen when someone falls into a bad crowd. I’ve already been through this before, with your sister.”
“That’s not fair,” I said. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“This isn’t about punishment,” she said. “It’s about prevention. ”
Like what was happening to me was a forest fire, or a contagious disease. I turned my head, looking out the window at the backyard, where the grass was shimmering, wet under the bright sun.
“You have to realize, Macy,” she said, her voice low. “The choices you make now, the people you surround yourself with, they all have the potential to affect your life, even who you are, forever. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
In fact, I knew this to be true now more than ever before. With just a few weeks of being friends with Kristy, and more importantly, Wes, I had changed. They’d helped me to see there was more to the world than just the things that scared me. So they had affected me. Just not in the ways she was afraid of.
“I do understand,” I said, wanting to explain this, “but—”
“Good,” she said, just as the phone rang again. “I’m glad we see eye to eye.”
And then she was up. Walking to the phone, picking it up, already moving on. “Deborah Queen,” she said. “Harry. Hello. Yes, I was just thinking that I needed to consult you about . . .”
She walked down the hallway, still talking, as I just sat there, in the sudden quiet of the kitchen. Everyone else could get through to my mother: all they had to do was dial a number and wait for her to pick up. If only, I thought, it was that easy for me.
When I went to leave for work, I found myself blocked in by a van that was filled with folding chairs. I went back inside, pulling my mother away from another phone call, only to find out some salesman had taken the keys home with him after parking it there.
“I’ll drive you,” she said, grabbing her purse off the counter. “Let’s go.”
Silences are amplified by small spaces, we found out once we were not only in the car but stuck in a traffic jam, with other annoyed commuters blocking us in on all sides. Maybe my mother had no idea I was upset with her. Until we’d gotten in the car, I hadn’t really realized it either, but now, with each passing second, I could feel myself getting angrier. She’d taken my dad’s stuff from me, his memories. Now she wanted to take my friends, too. The least I could do was fight back.