The Road Yet Traveled
The bright orange sun that rose just above the mountains to the east illuminated the clinging outline of Mara and Felicity. Their arms twined around one another like noodles stuck together, Felicity’s face burrowed into the crook of Mara’s neck. Their bodies shook and their shoulders drooped as exhaustion set in. Mara gently rubbed her hands up and down Felicity’s back, warming the goose bumps forming there. It had only been hours earlier when Mara had helplessly gawked after her daughter’s retreating figure.
Only a sharp knife could have sliced through the tension that blanketed the room. Mara and her husband Nick sat in the living room. The anger that flowed from them seemed to dissipate as it reached their daughter Felicity like smoke swept up by a light breeze. Nick perched at the edge of the couch ready to pounce at the next smart remark. He seemed to control the atmosphere of the room with a single glare.
Mara stood, not cowering over Felicity, but staring at her, her eyes bug-wide, “I bust my ass every day! I work twelve hour shifts three sometimes four days a week!” Her hands flew about the room, dancing, pointing, illustrating her anger.
Goddamn it! Does she want me to slap the shit out of her?
“Do you wanna get hit young lady? Because if I see you roll your eyes one more time, I will!” Mara pointed her dainty, stubby finger in Felicity’s face then turned her hand palm up, jerking it up and down, “Do you know what I go through every day? I have to go to work and deal with a bunch of nurses who don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves, then I’ve got to come home to my children who don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves!”
Felicity stood with her chest puffed out and her eyes shooting daggers.
“All that I ask is that you guys clean up around here so it’s not such a pigsty. I mean your rooms at the very least is all I ask you to maintain, and you can’t even do that! Instead I have to come home exhausted and wake up on my one day off and clean up after you and your sister.”
Mara put her hand on her hip, massaging the small of her back with her thumb, “Do you even care that I’m in pain? That any day now I might need surgery to repair the bulging disk in my spine? Or that I work through the pain to provide for you and your sister?”
Nick glanced over to see tiny pools of tears filling his wife’s eyes, then turned to Felicity, “She asked you a question young lady!” Nick had sat up quicker and straighter.
“I do care, but—” Felicity choked back her words.
Nick opened his mouth wide and screamed, “But what? What’s your excuse now?”
Blood pulsed in Felicity’s cheeks and a bead of sweat rolled down the side of her face, “It’s not an excuse, it’s the truth! You guys pick and choose when you want to yell at me and be nice to me! And when I do get yelled at it’s over one little thing, but then you bring up everything bad I’ve done in the past year! How is that fair?”
“Don’t raise your damn voice at me young lady! I’m your father and you will respect me!”
“I’m trying to, but how can I when you never let me talk to you? You always say we need to communicate, mom, but when I try to you guys just shoot me down and accuse me of disrespecting you!” Felicity stared her mother straight in the eyes.
“You’re not getting the point Felicity, we’re yelling at you because you are going to be eighteen in less than a month, not to mention,” Mara grabbed at an accordion folder, waving it vigorously in the air, “you’ll be going to college soon! You think you’re ready for adulthood? You won’t last one month in the real world, let alone college! I’ve got your number Felicity! You’re lazy, you procrastinate, and you don’t know the first meaning of independence!”
Felicity took a step back, her expression contorting into a look of pain, “Is that what you really think? I thought my parents were supposed to be supportive, I mean that’s what I’ve written all of my apparently “procrastinated” essays about! It’s nice to know that my biggest supporters think I’ll fail! And you know what? My lack of independence is your fault,” Felicity jabbed her index finger at her father, “you never let me go anywhere outside of school or even get a job! You’re both just afraid that’ll turn out like Rose, Roman, and Tori! Just because they couldn’t handle independence doesn’t mean I can’t or that I shouldn’t be given a chance!”
Mara’s voice softened, “That’s not what we’re saying Felicity.”
Nick jumped to his feet and took a step toward Felicity, “You know what Felicity, if you want to be “independent” and “respected,” then do it somewhere else. Not in my house. Like I’ve told your brother and sisters, if you don’t like it, then there’s the door,” his arm swung over to point at the polished brown door.
“Yah! I agree. You don’t like it here and you want out, then by all means, go!” Changing her tune, Mara gave her head a definite shake, trying to convince herself that this was the right thing to do.
“Fine. I can clearly see what my own parents think of me. You know, I want more than anything to change the relationship we have. But as long as you both feel that respect is a one way road, it will never change!” Felicity turned on her heel, strode to the door, grasped the knob, and taking one last look at her parents, swung the door open, inviting reality.
All the while Mara stood silently planted in her spot on the living room tile floor. Mara had wiped at her downpour of tears, staring intently as her daughter’s hand had tightened on the knob; then at Felicity’s retreating figure, as it disappeared into the darkness. Twenty minutes passed before Mara fully registered what had just occurred.
Mara’s head hung toward the floor in defeat. The accordion folder still in her hand felt like it weighed a ton. She flopped the folder onto the coffee table making it bounce up and down. It seemed to be laughing; it was surely a foreboding laugh.
Mara bent her head back, staring into the dully lit crystal chandelier, “I’ve always hated that chandelier; it’s never lit the room properly.”
“You can’t blame yourself. She chose to leave,” her husband shuffled to her side and rested his meaty, calloused paw on her shoulder.
“You’re right. This isn’t just my fault. We’ve been so wrapped up in her faults, that we don’t even see our own.” Mara brought her hands up to her face and drew in a ragged breath, “You’ve tried so hard all these years to control her and I never wanted that for any of my children. I grew up with that. A demanding father; I just wanted to be her outlet. Her friend.”
Nick folded his arms across his now puffed out chest, “So you think this is our fault? Our fault that she doesn’t listen? Talks back. Doesn’t do her chores or anything else we ask of her. Doesn’t respect us.”
“No, No. She has her bad tendencies, but Nick, she is a good kid. I just think that maybe she needs a mother, not a friend. And maybe a little understanding too. Maybe it’s time we offer her some respect; she’s not perfect, but my God, she’s not a failure either!”
“Who are you trying to convince? Me or yourself?” Nick breathed a long sincere sigh.
“I just want her to come home,” her voice cracked on the last syllable.
Nick fidgeted for a minute then step forward and reached for Mara. He paused, unsure, then resigned to pulling her into an awkward one armed embrace. Mara’s eyes wandered across the living room to the slightly crooked family portrait. One brow arched, quizzically, then joined her other in a sorrowful frown. All she wanted was for her family to be together. She thought back to her two older children and remembered how she couldn’t save them from themselves. She believed she failed them because she was too strict, too harsh; in truth she was just a parent. Mara wondered when it was that she became “the friend” and not the parent.
How can I be a parent, a disciplinarian, without becoming my parents? I can’t let my girls walk all over me. I want them to respect me, but I want to show them that I can respect them back. How else can we learn to trust each other?
Mara pulled out of Nick’s embrace. Her feet felt like a ton of bricks had been strapped to them; she couldn’t bring herself to take one step. With all the force left in her, she floated to the couch and sat ram-rod straight in front of the menacing clock. Each tick rang terror in her ears. The dimming chandelier seeped into her very soul as the hours ticked by, growing darker and colder.
What if morning comes and she isn’t back yet? What am I going to do? What if something happens to her and I never get to tell her how much I love her?
She pictured her beautiful baby lying in a furnished white coffin, dressed in a silk gown to match; the coffin slowly being lowered into the darkness, into the unknown. Her mind flashed to only moments earlier; the impending darkness that had swallowed her daughter reflected her own fears, her bitterness. Her shoulders shook and a puddle of salty water pooled at the edge of her chin. Her chest wracked with hollow sobs, uncertain of why she was really crying.
Nick spoke in a low whisper, “How long are you gonna stay here?”
An inaudible sound escaped from Mara’s lips, then her weak frame slumped inward on itself, “I don’t—don’t—know.”
Her husband treaded to her side. Nick flopped onto the sofa with his wife and waited; waited for the hopeful purr of an engine.
Mara balled her fists and brought them to her eyes, wishing to blur the hours that had passed, “I don’t think she’s coming home.”
“She will. She will, I promise” Nick reassured, glancing at his wife’s red-rimmed eyes and white fists.
It was almost daybreak when the telltale purr of a car engine stopped in the front of the beige stucco house. Mara heard the squeal of brakes as it rolled to a stop. Nick jumped when he felt Mara scamper to her feet. Mara sprinted to the door and turning the knob, flung the door wide open. Felicity stood, shaken and tired. A damask of purple circles drooped beneath her eyelids. In that moment Mara knew what it meant to be a mother.
Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can find a way that doesn’t reflect my parents’ ideals, but rather reflects the ones I’ve learned to believe in. A new path altogether; one of my own making. Perhaps a road not yet taken.
In two strides she reached her daughter and pulled her into a tight embrace. Mara’s heart filled with a warmth that spread throughout her entire body. It was a warmth that radiated pure bliss; a warmth that emanated felicity.