Wednesday, May. 18, 2005 - 3:46 p.m.
~ Come Saturday morning ~
When I was eleven, my mother told me she was going away with a friend.
My mother had very few friends. I knew all of them. Janet lived around the corner and was my mother’s friend at PTA meetings. Her oldest boy played the King in “Camelot” at his university and I had a crush on him. Anne was a mom who had two boys my sister’s and my ages and whose husband worked with my father. The two boys were rough and rowdy and I always thought the younger one was probably...special. Linda lived in a small apartment like ours with her three kids, the youngest who was very fat and the oldest who was a girl I wanted hair just like. I couldn’t imagine how any of these friends could leave their families for a whole weekend to go away with my mother.
I definitely couldn’t see how my mother was going to leave us for a whole weekend. My sister and I went everywhere with her. At the laundromat, we sat on the yellow molded chairs while the dryers pushed hot air at us and my mother pushed more dimes in the slots. At the houses where my mother dropped off the invitations she had been paid to address in her fancy writing, we stood in the kitchens that were bigger than our entire apartment and said no, thank you, when offered Popsicles by ladies with frosted hair. At the grocery store, we either rode the cart in turns, hanging onto the front of the metal basket with whitened fingers while my mother pushed, or, if we promised not to roll down the windows or unlock the doors, we sat in the car and colored.
When I asked my mother who she was going away with, she said it was a new friend, Jean. I ran the names of all my friends’ mothers through my head and came up empty. I told my mother I didn’t know her and that was when my mother told me Jean wasn’t a her, Gene was a him.
And I wasn’t to tell my father that she and Gene were going to Niagara Falls.
It was a rough weekend. I was eleven and I knew something that nobody else knew and telling it wouldn’t help anybody. My father woke up that Saturday morning and found the note from my mother saying she’d be back Sunday night. He wandered the four tiny rooms of our apartment looking lost or looking like he had lost something. Finally, he settled in the living room to listen John Denver and Glen Campbell. I made liverwurst sandwiches for me and my sister and waited for my mother to come home to fix everything.
My mother coming home didn’t fix much. A month later, I sat on the bathtub edge on a Saturday morning and instead of watching cartoons, I watched my father take his lemony shaving cream and blue toothbrush off the bathroom shelf and drop them into the cardboard box he held. Everybody was crying except my mother. She was in their bedroom, pulling out my father’s belts and sedate shirts from between her flouncy mini-dresses in the closet. It wasn’t much use trying to stop her. We had all done that and she refused to listen to us. She just called our grandmother and told her to expect our father with his stuff.
A month later, my mother, my sister and I moved into a rental house in the next town. Our apartment furniture looked small in the three-bedroom house. My mother painstakingly wrote out the words to a song in her perfect, curling cursive and framed the song to hang over her bed. Gene spent most evenings at our new house for the next six years, going home very late to spend the rest of the night in his wife's bed.
Come Saturday morning