A Child Unlearns the Unloving of a Momma
The fact Hazel never had a momma makes me feel better about the fact that I don’t speak to mine much anymore. I overshare stories of my childhood all through sophomore year at university, waiting for it to make Hazel uneasy, make her ache in a way I can see, but it never works—she is an unmoved lake; the sky mirrors back at itself as she walks beneath.
Even now, as we fall asleep and wake up in the same bed with the same rent to pay and same dog to feed and same neighbor with bad music taste to complain about over dinner, I spend my evenings trying to skip stones on her, trying to make her freckles ripple, but she is a master of forcefields and catching on. I ask her what it’s like to have a momma who ran away, and she asks me what it’s like to have one who hates that I am gay. These are the moments I hate most: when she throws rocks back. I am not an unmoved lake. I am all live wires.
So I hold out memories of my momma and say, Here, look at what you didn’t have. Look at the careful fingers that ran through my hair in second grade and explained death to me when a boy younger than thirteen died three houses down, said, Sometimes this world isn’t okay. I say to Hazel, What was it like to have to understand death alone? I can’t imagine, don’t have to. Look at this picture of us from Easter eleven years ago. See clearly where the bump in my nose bridge comes from—a genetic gift my momma got from her momma got from her momma got from hers, a gift that might just end with me because I don’t know how to love a thing that needs love the way a child does, but look, I say. Look at the Christmas Eve services down at First Baptist where we all lit candles from the same flame and held them in the dark, and my momma said, Sometimes this world isn’t okay, but other times it’s beautiful. Don’t ask about the last Christmas Eve service, or the last time I visited home, or the last time I called and heard that sunflower-voice that explained life and death and heaven and sin, my sin, to me. Don’t ask, I say, just look at her hands that held me to her chest like a newborn cub every day until they didn’t, look at their worn edges, the way they fray like a well-worn sweater, how much they tried to keep me from breaking. I say to Hazel in our bed under our roof, Look at this momma I had.
She says, Your mother loves you, and I say, Yes I know.
She says, So what’s the problem, then. Says, Your mother is here and she loves you, so what the fuck have you been doing all these years. I almost say, Because there are things I can’t face yet. Because I’d rather apologize to the tree I wanted to crash into when I realized I’d never love a man than see my momma cry over me. Because I’m afraid the love has dried up.
Instead I say, You wouldn’t understand. So Hazel says, Try me, and I say, My momma buys candles that come with lids so she can cut the flame off from the air and watch it die.
Tyler Anne Whichard is an MFA fiction candidate at UNCW. She is the fiction and visual arts editor for semicolon literary journal, and her work has previously appeared in Spelk and Memoir Mixtapes, among others. For content ranging from books to K-Pop to existential crises, follow her on social media @tylerawhichard.