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Everything happens for God’s good reason is the clichÉ my mother has drilled in my head since I was old enough to ask “Why?”—but too young to question why she really didn’t seem to believe this was true regarding her and my father. She would go off on these paranoid rants about him and how he had left us. These tirades were always followed with a lecture on how I should let that be a lesson to me about boys, how they only wanted to spoil me (“spoil” being her euphemism for sex), and how much she had sacrificed for my benefit.
She usually got this way after her typically long day at work, a glass of sherry, or a love scene in a television movie. I was smart enough—even at ages four, five, and six—to know I couldn’t help her. So I tuned her out. But when I got older, her tirades sent me into hiccupping, snotty hysterics.
My tears seemed to work like rain in those moments, extinguishing the flames of her bitter outbursts. She’d use the velvety back of her hand, like the windshield wiper on our Opel, to stop each sliding drop until I was calm.
Everything I do is for your good, she’d say.
On those nights, after she turned out the light in my room, I’d pray to God that my mother would be happy. Truly happy. That she would forget about my father. That I would be enough for her. I wanted to be good for her, never disappoint her, never leave her the way my father had.
Every time Mum would rant, I wished my father could be there since it was he who was really her target audience. Mum didn’t mean it when she said to me—practically foaming at the mouth—“Go on. Ask him. Ask him why you only hear from him on your birthday, on Christmas and New Year’s.” I ignored her reverse psychology and went to Auntie Flora to take Mum up on her suggestion to call him.
“It’s complicated, Lila,” Auntie Flora said when I worked up the courage to ask her what had happened between Mum and my father to make her so bitter. She added, not unlike my Mum, “Maybe he can explain to you himself.”
My father’s voice boomed on the other end of the line. I wanted to ask him what he was so happy about. He answered before I could ask.
“Lila! You’re a big sister. Your mother just had twins!” I listened, confused, until I realized he meant his wife, my stepmother, had just had twins.
Tears suddenly seared my eyes like meat in a saucepan of oil and onions. I had called to…now I didn’t know what I had called to hear or say. I wasn’t expecting the jealousy, the outrage.
I handed Auntie Flora the phone, choking on hiccups. My armpits started itching the way they inexplicably do whenever I get freaked out or excited. Auntie Flora’s eyes got big with panic.
We both knew she didn’t want Mum to find me this way. We both knew Mum was always waiting for something bad to happen to me when I was with Auntie Flora. She’d ask, “What happened?” whenever Auntie Flora dropped me off at home, instead of “Did you have fun?”
Of course Mum clapped the knocker on Auntie Flora’s door just at that moment when I had my meltdown. I was relieved to see her even though I knew she’d be furious that I had spoken to my father in her absence. When Mum saw me, she flew to my side and cleared my tears. She looked up at Auntie Flora. “What happened?” When Auntie Flora answered, she led me out of Auntie Flora’s flat to the Opel parked several blocks away without so much as a word.
I didn’t see Auntie Flora again until three years later.
My father still called me on my birthdays, for Christmas and New Year’s, but I got off the phone as quickly as I could from then on.
“We just got on the phone, Lila,” he once said, the boom in his voice slightly diminished.
“I know,” I said cruelly, glancing over at Mum, hoping she was pleased with me for icing my father out.
I lived to please Mum then—even when it stopped being as simple as being mean to my father. That’s why I still don’t understand how she could so abruptly have sent me away.
© 2010 Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond