Your mother is so divorced…
that she and your father no longer live together or file joint tax returns. Their marriage, never the most rock-solid or caring, teetered on the precipice of divorce for the last two years they were together, and was only sustained during that time by a fear of action, inertia, and an unwillingness by the both of them to enter into even the most basic of discussions. As a young child, you would sit with your little brother in the room you two shared with the lights turned off while listening to your parents argue. Your brother, even more frightened of these scenes than you were, would sob quietly as you told him—without believing it yourself—that things were sure to be all right, and all the while your father would drink and throw things while your mother shrieked, harpy-like, barely coherent. Finally, your father moved out (for a time he lived in a terrible motel near the interstate on-ramp called The Bungalow) and divorce soon followed. Your mother was awarded sole custody after her lawyer insisted that you and your brother testify before a judge that your father beat you (which, technically, he didn’t; he hit you only once, and afterward felt such remorse that he sat on the porch crying for hours), which you did, but as you said it you caught momentary sight of your father, whom you were trying desperately to avoid looking at, and the look on his face caused you to cry and wail uncontrollably, which the judge mistook for a welling-up of repressed emotion that indicated how severely your father did indeed beat you.
Shortly after the divorce your father sent a letter to the house that your mother read aloud to you in the kitchen. He was moving on, it read, since he wasn’t yet so old that he couldn’t make a clean start of it. He’d be moving west, to San Diego, where he planned on opening a restaurant with an old navy friend. He wished you all luck, he wrote, and eventual happiness, since he’d managed to let go of his anger and feelings of betrayal. And while their union had never been good, these wistful words put your mother into a state of extreme melancholy. She went several days with a sour film wrapped around her heart, feeling nostalgic for the few times she and your father had been happy together, trying to forget the years of neglect and accusation. On the third day after reading the letter, worn out from work and weighed down by the lingering depression, your mother went to bed and developed a fever. During the night she slipped in and out of consciousness and yet, when she recalled it later, she was beset by vivid and affecting dreams of colors and light. Something took hold of her during the night, a flood of emotion or perhaps some foreign spirit, and she saw its inky fingers wrapped around her insides, squeezing her, robbing her of breath. After what seemed like hours, the awoke with a start. It was still nighttime, the room dark as a bible, and her fever had broken. The sheets were soaked through with your mother’s sweat, her nightclothes clinging wetly to her body, and wet strands of hair plastered across her face. And with the dissipation of the fever, the fist, the sour film, those inky fingers that had squeezed her heart and pulled her face into a grimace, the regret she could not let go of, all fell away.
She blindly fumbled to open a window, and as her sweat dried in the slight breeze she felt that she would be all right. Her heart felt free and untarnished, and in the morning she would wake you and your brother with a kiss on the forehead. She will have already made a big breakfast and called your school to tell them you’d be taking a sick day. The three of you would spend the day watching Pink Panther movies and laughing, eating popcorn with too much butter on it, and that night, although you didn’t know it—wouldn’t know it for days—your father would be killed driving across the vast plain of America, a small, glowing ember on route 80, screaming westward and dreaming of a new life, when he fell asleep for just a moment.