The last memory I have of my mother is from when I was eight and she broke my arm: a bad fall.
Late Septembers in New London are almost always beautiful near when the new school year starts. Warm afternoons, all the summer greens turn red then rain. My favorite was the Sweet Gum leaves. How they sail down like paper stars, into piles at the base of trees then get kicked in all directions by the wind.
My mother was fighting with Dad when I got back from school. I walked home. Four blocks on my own. A lot for an eight-year-old. I thought Dad forgot to pick me up again. My mother had been absent for a few months. She left Dad for her therapist one day and never came back. Not really. At first, she’d stop by the house sometimes, to see me, argue with Dad, but she was never really all there. She wasn’t Mom anymore. Not the same as before she left.
“Get inside, Kara,” Dad yelled.
I kept my mouth shut the whole way to the front door, tried not to look my mother in the eyes. She grabbed my arm when I climbed the brick steps.
“Come with me,” she said.
Dad gripped my backpack, “Get inside.”
“We’re getting married,” she said.
“He brainwashed you.”
“Jon’s got a lawyer. If you want a fight—”
“I’ll kill you both first.”
They went at it like this, back and forth, for what seemed like a really long time at the time but was probably less than how I remember it. My mother cried. Dad kept yelling, louder and louder. The louder he got, the more he sounded like a little boy, having a fit. Most of what they said made no sense at the time.
I didn’t understand how bad my mother’s shrink had messed her up. She went to him for help. Growing up, she’d been abused, physically. She wanted to remember what happened. Her shrink got her into all this hypnotic regression, rebirthing, recovered memories, putting crazy ideas in her head. Then he started sleeping with her. Instead of help, my mother got a new husband, a new life.
I want to believe that my mother wanted me in that new life with her. I want to believe that if things had gone differently on that day, if she hadn’t broken my arm, we might still have a relationship today. But my mother never wanted kids. I know this is true because it’s what Dad tells me all the time. Also, I could tell too, even when I was eight, how she wanted to run away. From her whole life. Her terrible dad. Dad. Me.
They kept going at it, me between them, on the front steps. When I tried to pull away, to go inside, my mother tugged me back. Harder and harder, on my arm. Dad kept yelling. When I lost my balance on the steps, I reached for the handrail. What I remember most is how the railing felt in my hand. I gripped it so tight, I can still feel it in my palm. Like one of those iron pokers for the fireplace, to poke the flames.
“She’s my daughter,” my mother said, snot running down her lips. “Kara, come with mommy, let go.” She yelled, “I know you want to come with me.”
And I knew she was right. I did want to go with her.
“Rachel, I swear to god,” Dad tugged harder, “You’ll never see her again.”
And I knew Dad was right too.
And then I saw the neighbors come out, they could hear what was happening. And I saw the cars pass by, slow down to watch us. And the Sweet Gums fall. Pile. Kick into the wind.
And then so did we. All of us. Fell. Piled. Kicked into the wind. But I know that I never let go.
Mark DiFruscio is currently pursuing his PhD at Oklahoma State University. He received his MFA in Film Production from the University of Southern California and an MFA in Creative Writing from San Diego State University.