Clawing at the collection of abandoned gum on the underside of a stretched-out beige cafeteria table, I lean forward and put my chin on my free hand. My mother’s skeleton is wearing her straw-like red hair in a ponytail and a vaguely blue set of scrubs, her bangs sticking up like a faux lion’s mane.
Burning bile creeps up from my stomach, stinging my throat, threatening to spew vomit across the table, in front of my grandmother, mother and her almost blonde, almost pretty social worker who smells like apple sauce and Lysol, same as the rest of the ward.
I imagine lighting a cigarette, looking past my mom and out the window, the crisp emerald summer creeping in past the dim spring on the grass. There is no one screaming, just the hum of the microwave and light footsteps in hospital slippers, muffled conversation between the other ladies of the floor. There are words, vague and soft between my mother, grandmother and the social worker.
I know my mother’s secret. I know she ate her bottle of Oxycontin and lived because her roommate found her passed out, caked in vomit, looking like she had left ten tabs of Alka Seltzer in her mouth. I am here and I keep quiet because I cannot string together the right words to prove that things are going to be better.
I have papers, essays due, I have to graduate and I don’t want my mother to want me to see me. “What if she had died?” I think, “Would telling people be easier?” A girl in similar hospital garb as my mother—maybe the same age as me stares out of the window I was looking out. She has deep, scarlet razor marks stretched across her waif-like arms.
I take my gum picking hand out from under the table and run it across the pink wrinkled scar on my arm and dig the blackened gum from my under my nails. My grandma puts her hand on my leg, her translucent fingers spread out, and with a quick tap on the leg she asks me if I need to leave, so I get up.
Standing, I look at my mother, wet eyes and brittle smile crawling across her face. She comes over to my side of the table and hugs me and I stay limp in her arms. Head in her chest, I know I am supposed to cry too.
She says, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” and it is less coherent with every repetition. I tell her I love her and I break out of the hug and tell my grandmother I will meet her downstairs. Walking out, I imagine my mother there behind me, who cannot leave for another month, and she has wet eyes and clenched fists matching mine.