Authors: Anie Michaels
Never Tied Down
Never Tied Down
© Copyright Anie Michaels 2015
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Cover design © By Hang Le
Table of Contents
The loud buzzer from the oven startled me, sending my pencil point carelessly across the page.
“Shoot,” I mumbled as I tried to erase it. Math wasn’t my friend and I was already confused, now I would add to it by erasing parts of the equations I’d managed to complete so far. I threw my pencil down on the table and went into the kitchen.
I turned off the blaring timer, then put oven mitts on and opened up the oven door. The scent of baking chocolate wafted over me and I couldn’t help but take a big sniff.
“Yum,” I said, putting the cake on the counter to cool. Then I picked up the wooden spoon and stirred the stew I had cooking on the stovetop. Stew was one of the meals I’d mastered in the last two years. It was pretty easy, but it always tasted like it was really difficult to make. Mom always loved when I made stew.
I returned to the kitchen table and tried to finish my math homework.
An hour later, Mom finally came home from work.
“Sorry I’m late, baby. Carla didn’t show for her shift so I had to stay until they found someone to cover her tables.” She ran past me, kissing me on the head before she went back to her bedroom to change. It was her ritual. She always stripped off her waitressing uniform as soon as she walked in the house because it smelled like grill. Like greasy, burned, fatty food. If she left her uniform on, the whole room she was in would begin to smell, so I never got in the way of her dash to her bedroom.
When she emerged from the back of our mobile home, I could see the bags under her eyes and knew she was tired. She left early in the mornings and worked in the bakery at a big box grocery store, then after she was done there, she was a waitress at a truck stop. Every once in a while she had a day off from one of the jobs, but it was usually a weekday, so I didn’t really get to see her. Besides, when she had time off, I tried to let her sleep. She’d been exhausted for two years, maybe even longer.
“Happy birthday, baby,” she said, placing a small box wrapped in paper with colorful balloons all over it and a big red bow in the corner on the table.
“Mom, you didn’t have to get me anything.” I was already feeling guilt wash over me.
“Nonsense, Kalli. It’s your birthday.” She kissed the top of my head again and walked into the kitchen. “You baked your own birthday cake.” Her words fell somewhere between a statement and a question, and I knew from the tone of her voice the cake was upsetting to her. “I was going to make you a cake.”
“It’s okay, Mom. I knew you wouldn’t want to come home from working two jobs and make
cake. It was just one of those dollar store boxes.”
“You made yourself a dollar store birthday cake?”
Crap. I could tell she was getting upset, and that was the last thing I wanted. I’d been trying to make things easier for her.
“Mom, how about we have dinner, then ice the cake together, and we can eat it while we watch
“You made dinner too?” Now she sounded slightly panicked. “I thought you were turning nine, not twenty-nine.”
“It’s not a big deal, Mom. It’s only stew. I threw it all in a pot and turned on the stove.” I watched as my mom walked back to the table, sat in the chair across from me, and put her head in her hands. I stood up, went to her, and wiggled my way onto her lap. “I’m sorry I made you sad.” Her arms squeezed around me.
“You didn’t make me sad, baby. You’re such a good girl. I just wish I could have given you a better birthday. Made your cake at least, or thrown you a party.”
“I don’t want any more birthday parties,” I said quickly. The last time I’d had a birthday party my family had fallen apart. I didn’t have any extra family to lose.
“Come on,” she said, patting my back. “Time to open your present.”
I hopped up from her lap and went back to my chair, pushing my homework aside. I lifted up the colorful gift and shook it back and forth. It didn’t make any sounds that gave away what was inside, so I flipped it over and started tearing at the paper. When I could finally see what my mom had given me, I stilled.
“Mom, no.” I shook my head, and put the box down on the table, pushing it toward her.
“What’s wrong? Is it the wrong color? There were a few choices, but I thought red was the color you’d like best. We can take it back and exchange it if you want the blue one.”
“Mom, we can’t afford that.” My eyes darted down to the brand new Game Boy Color I’d seen in the store the week before. They’d had a display set up and I’d spent a half hour standing there playing it. I’d seen the price tag. There’s no way my mom could afford to buy me such an extravagant gift.
Her eyes softened when she heard my words, but she didn’t agree. “Don’t worry about what we can afford. It’s your birthday, and I know you want it.”
“Mom….” I didn’t want to argue with her, or seem ungrateful, but how could I play on a new game system and eat cake I’d bought at the dollar store? Or play on that game system when, in a few weeks, I’d hear Mom cry because she didn’t know how she was going to pay the electric bill? The gift, although I wanted it very badly, would haunt me every time I knew things were tight.
“Listen, last week a few of the girls at work donated their tips. So, I didn’t buy it all on my own.”
I could hear in her voice it hurt to admit that and I thought, in that moment, it was probably pretty hard for my mom to accept money from her coworkers. I didn’t want to make her feel any worse.
“That’s awesome, Mom. Thank you.” I went to her and gave her a long and tight hug. When I pulled away I kissed her cheek. “You’re the best.”
“No, nine years ago I gave birth to the best. I’m so lucky to be your mom.”
I hugged her again, feeling like I was the lucky one.
We ate dinner, iced and ate my cake, and my mom sang me an extremely out-of-tune rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Then we sat in the living room and watched
was on the TV, but I was busy playing on my new Game Boy.
That night, as my mom pulled the covers up to my chin, I asked the question I’d been thinking all evening but hadn’t found the courage to ask. Perhaps being in the darkness of my room gave me strength.
“Did you check the mail today, Mom?”
I saw her shoulders slump in the light sweeping in from the hallway. I also heard the sigh that escaped her. Both of those things told me the answer to my question before she said the words.
“I did, baby. There was nothing there for you.” She leaned down and pressed a kiss against my forehead, lingering there. The longer she kissed me, the harder it became to hold back the tears welling in my eyes, and ignore the stinging in my throat. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me, Kalli. Just because your daddy isn’t here, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.”
I wanted to argue with her, wanted to shout that was exactly what it meant, but the words were trapped below the lump that had formed in my throat. If I opened my mouth, the only sounds that would come out would be sobs.
“Somewhere, he’s thinking about you and he wishes he could be here with you. But he can’t, baby.”
I knew it wasn’t true. I knew she was only saying the words she thought would make me feel better. I couldn’t fault her for that, for trying to comfort me on my birthday, but I didn’t have to believe her.
I never brought it up again, but every year on my birthday I silently hoped to hear from my father.
I was disappointed every single time.
Made of Glass
I heard the sounds of Ella moving throughout the house, heard her sweet voice floating up the stairs as she spoke to her adorable little girl, Mattie. She was a master at the “mom voice.” You know, that voice women use when they’re talking to babies? It’s almost the same tone you use when talking to a puppy, but not as shrill and just slightly more singsong. Ella was saying something to Mattie about their day, telling her that her daddy would be home later that evening, and then I heard a smacking kissy noise and I could picture Ella’s lips mushed up against her daughter’s chubby cheek.
I lay in bed, staring out my window, until I heard the front door close, then slowly climbed out of bed and walked up to the window to watch Ella’s car disappear down the extensive driveway of her Salem home. It was early October and the trees lining her property were turning beautiful shades of orange and red, and the sun breaking through the leaves as it rose made for quite a breathtaking view.
Much like anything beautiful or worthwhile I’d witnessed in the last six months, it only accentuated the pain that was still lodged inside me, making no effort to dissipate. It was just another wonderful sunrise Marcus would never see, that I would witness alone.
I groaned at my own depressing thoughts and decided to make a conscious effort to not be completely morose for the entire day. I’d always been a big subscriber to the idea that one was in control of their own outlook on life. I’d managed, for years, to live through some of the worst circumstances imaginable and still lead a pretty happy life. All those notions were challenged when Marcus died.
Sure, I took the obligatory time to grieve, lived through his funeral and the wake, floating on some sort of removed cloud of distant engagement. Then I landed firmly on the other side of the whole ordeal, putting myself squarely in a dark existence. For weeks I was inconsolable, but I still felt as if that was normal, still felt as though I was owed a period of sadness. I was angry, too. Unimaginably angry. I was also dealing with guilt so heavy it kept me in bed most days.