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My mother—the biological mother, the glamorous and manipulative one—called last night. I had no choice but to answer to her inquiries, and commiserate with her mundane misfortunes. “He insists on carpet. That’s fertile breeding grounds for dust mites. He can vacuum it, because I didn’t want the carpet in the first place. Do you need curtains? Curtains are expensive here…”
My father—the biological father, the stoic and vengeful one—never calls. Since his discovery of my scandalous love affair, his displeasure at my published work, we have not spoken. Our curt emails, once in a blue moon, are all business. We talk RESPs, we talk money. He doesn’t want me back, and I’m good with that.
The first time I left him, I was five. He had divorced his wife, the biological mother, and was living with the new wife, the surrogate mother. A five-year-old is taxing. I guzzled energy like air conditioning. Perhaps I was too much for them.
The discussion was brief, and very lacklustre, not the least dramatic. “Go to your mother’s apartment,” he said. I said nothing. He opened the door. I stepped out. He locked the door.
It was dark. The apartment corridor had no functioning light. Underneath my father’s door was a bright white line. I stared at it. Then I put my hands in my pockets and ran down the stairs.
My biological mother was surprised. Her plucked eyebrows disappeared into her bangs, and her pink lipstick made an O-shape. She offered me a bowl of raisins. I loved raisins. She put on Looney Tunes. I loved Looney Tunes. We were happy that night.
The happiness quickly degenerated, at least on her part. “Go back to your father,” she shrieked, two weeks later. I cried a lot, but I had no fight. I let her open the door, I willingly walked out, and I let her lock the door behind me.
Since I wasn’t about to be evicted again, I begged my babysitter for shelter. Mrs. W. didn’t know what to make of this. The hairy mole in her left eyebrow jerked up and down. Was this a game between my mother and me? What sort of mother would play such a game with her daughter? She could not understand, and neither could I.
Just then a knock came on the door. “I’m not here,” I mouthed to Mrs. W. Expertly, rapidly, and spurred by panic, I slid under the bed. Please, please, please, don’t let her find me.
My mother drags me out from under the bed. She’s not pleased. I’m terrified. Locking my wrist in an iron grip, she leads me to my father’s apartment building. As I crawl up the stairs, a miserable little maggot, she does not follow. I do not look back.
I am back in the dark corridor again, back in front of the bright white line. The light sears my retinas, but I am transfixed. I do not knock, I do not cry. My mother’s heels click, click, and fade.
Why didn’t I push back? Why did I let them close doors in my face? Why didn’t I stand up for myself? Say something, d*** it. You’re five. They’re your parents. Lonely nocturnal trips and bright white lines, those shouldn’t happen. Stand up for yourself. Fight.
I wasn’t a fighter, but I am now. When no one is looking out for you, look out for yourself. Happiness doesn’t fall out of the sky. You have to work for it. Squeeze out every drop of sweetness, because a lemon doesn’t juice itself.
The second time I left home, I was sixteen. Perhaps I was too much for them; perhaps they were too much for me. But this time, it was my choice, and on my terms. No bright white lines, no closing doors, and no fading heels. Just snow, wind, and a breath of lemon-scented air.