On January 1st, 2010, I wake up with two black eyes. I am thirteen years old, and three nights a week I walk to an Assemblies of God church a few blocks away from the duplex where I live with my mother and brother in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. I am not religious, really, especially in the speaking-in-tongues kind of way, but it’s someplace to be besides home.
The previous night, on New Year’s Eve, wind scalds my face as I walk to church. I take my shoes off when I get there and leave them along a wall. I am talking to one of the pastors when I hear a friend yell at me, “Hey Amanda, catch!” Just as I turn my head, a shoe hits me square in the face. My nose begins to bleed. My friend rushes over and the pastor runs to get some paper towels.
“Looks broken,” says the pastor as I pinch my nostrils. “Can you call your mom to pick you up?”
I tell him my mother and I share a phone, so I’ll have to borrow his. He hands it over and I dial my mom a few times to no answer. I have no clue where she is.
This isn’t atypical; she has lots of friends she likes to run around with, but I much prefer her being gone all the time to the occasions she invites her friends over. They’re all greasy old guys and they shoot up in the living room while my brother and I play video games upstairs and pretend not to notice. Mom’s phone goes to voicemail again, and I hope they’re anywhere but back home.
I call my brother next. He says he’s out with a friend but he’ll be there soon. I bid the pastor goodbye. He looks at me with a quizzical expression, but I’m out the door before he can ask too much.
My brother shows up with a bag of ice and drives me back to the duplex. Our electricity is shut off again, so I spend the night in the dark holding an ice-filled dishrag to my nose. By the time my mother comes back a few days later, my black eyes have faded. She doesn’t notice the new bent to my nose. I’m not sure she ever heard the story. In the next six months, we’ll be evicted from that duplex, and my brother and I will move in with friends where we’ll stay until we finish high school. I still don’t know what my mother was up to all those years.
It’s December 2019. My brother and I sit in our living room playing video games. He tells me after a pull off his Coors Banquet that our mom found him at the gas station he manages that morning and said she wants to come over the next day.
I tense up. I haven’t seen my mother since our grandfather’s funeral in 2016. She disappeared again shortly thereafter, a nice chunk of inheritance money in her pocket. My brother and I had moved away from our hometown to escape the past, but I suppose a person can never fully lose sight of where they come from. A three hour drive wasn’t enough distance to forget our beginnings.
We finally decide it’s best if she doesn’t come. If we try to keep her a part of the past. It makes us sad-- we know she is homeless-- but we can only help her as much as she’s willing to be helped, which is not at all. We can’t put ourselves through that heartbreak again.
That night, sleet taps against my windshield as I drive to an MA cohort member’s house. I wonder where my mother is during the drive and hope she’s somewhere warm. Later, my friend helps me dye my hair purple. We spend the night filling out MFA applications to programs across the country. See? I think to myself. Things have changed, dammit, my purple hair asserts to the world. I’m getting far away and starting over again, no past to hold me back.
I am not the same. And I am not alone.
Amanda Hadlock is a Graduate Teaching Assistant at Missouri State University. Her work has appeared in journals such as Hobart, Wigleaf, New Limestone Review, The Lindenwood Review, Moon City Review, and others. She has a self-erasure piece featured in issue 43.2 of The Florida Review. She encourages your support for Missouri Safe Project: www.mosafe.org