I slam the car door as hard as possible, while mom shuts her door quietly. We’ve finally left the house to get this car part. I much rather anyone else go with me, but a promise is a promise. I grip the wheel tightly and look straight ahead as we pass small houses and well cut lawns.
I dare not look to the right, where mom sits. We haven’t spoken or looked in each other’s direction since getting in the car. I don’t need to look at her face. I know her expressions. Her brown eyebrows are furrowed together, making the wrinkles on her forehead look deeper. There’s a bit of black under her eye indicating the remnants of runny mascara and a quick swipe. Her eyes look out the window too afraid to meet my glance as well. Mom is afraid of me? What a novel idea. She’s always been the one I was afraid of.
I remember being little and being told to clean my room. I remember playing with my Nintendo instead. Mom would get so angry when I hadn’t cleaned any of it, so I would fake an injury in order to escape her wrath. She’d walk in my room with the same furrowed brow and explain her disappointment in me. Her instructions to the small boy were simply to grow up. That instruction has followed me to here driving us to get the part for my car.
“So, how’s Karen?” she says quietly.
“She’s good.” The less Mom knows about Karen’s actual state the better.
My eyes have not left the road, but I’m still unfocused upon it. It’s like when you stare at something too much and it just becomes a blurry haze. It’s probably not safe to do, so I blink hard until the street is visible again. Mom has to go and mention Karen. Like Karen has done anything to her. Mom has only met Karen once and I’m sure she’s already judging her.
Mom had demanded Karen come and visit. We sat in awkward silence for hours across the tiny wood table with our dinner plates before us. I remember trying to grab Karen’s hand under the table and feeling her pull away. Karen never fussed at me louder or longer than the night that followed. She was angry to be invited. She was angry to come and I was angry to go too. Mom and I hadn’t spoken since.
The road shifts outside the suburbs and into the emptiness of the countryside. I don’t know why we had to go to this part shop. It’s so out of the way. “I make a left up here, right?”
“You make a left, correct.” I roll my eyes, which I’m sure she’s seen.
“Are we going to talk about this”, she finally turns to face me. I don’t turn back to meet her gaze, but I can feel it on the side of my face. Her sharp stare is laser like and burns through my skin.
“What are you talking about, Mom?”
“About what’s happening with you and your life.”
“I think you’re confused. We already did that part of the conversation.”
“Matthew, why are you so angry at me all the time?”
I look at her. “Angry. What in the world made you think that? The way I’ve been cursing up a storm at you or the fact that I’ve said ‘Hey, Mom. I’m mad at you.’ Oh, wait…”
“Look, Matt. I don’t need that. You don’t have to be that way about things.”
I turned back around and faced the road. Just in time too, because there is some huge tree knocked down after the rain from the other day. I swerve just in time to get around it. I peel around it, probably too fast.
“Are we going to talk about why you decided to move out?”
“I told you. I need to grow up on my own.”
“You kind of ruined that for yourself, son.”
I slam the breaks harshly. I can feel the blood rushing into my face. I grip the steering wheel tightly and face mom. “Do you really want to go back to there again?”
“I don’t know when or where you go off thinking that it’s an option,” she says crying, of course.
“I don’t want to talk about it all. I want it all to just go away.” I push the accelerator down to awaken the car again.
“It’s not going away, son. That’s the worst thing about the past. It’s always there when you wake up the next morning.”
“Well, let me pretend that everything that’s happening is just a dream. That Karen’s a dream. That moving out is a dream. That this conversation is all a dream.”
“You know you can’t do that. You’ve got to grow up.”
“I’m trying to do just that. I’m trying to grow up like you’ve been telling me my whole life. I’ve moved out the house. I’m living with my girlfriend. I’m a manager at my job. I pay my own bills. What more do you want from me?!” I was shouting. I was spitting. I was red in the face and I never saw it coming. I was in the wrong lane shouting at my crying mother in our little Honda. We didn’t stand a chance against the brand new Ford pick up that plowed right into us.
The first thing you hear in a wreck is the crash of the car. The second is your own bones. I heard a bone in my forearm crack as I tried to protect myself from the air bags. I heard something in my back crack as I flung back into my seat. The third thing you hear is your screams and the others in the vehicle. Mom is screaming “Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.” I can’t hear my scream. I only hear a high shrill and feel my mouth stretch out wide. Finally, when it all stops you hear the other driver. I can see through the cracked windshield a big, bald man stick his head out of the truck I plowed into. I vaguely pick up his angry spits of “ass hat”, “brand new truck”, and “dammed teenagers not givin’ two shits”.
My body tingles with adrenal. I feel it run from my feet up to my fingers, which are still gripping tightly on the wheel. My whole body moves with my pulse. I breathe in quick, heavy breaths to calm down. Mom is in the same state, her mouth open and her body shaking. Her face is covered with blood and tears. Her nose must of hit the dashboard. She immediately turns to me.
“Oh, God. Matthew.” She’ll probably curse me out. She’ll probably furrow her brow and tell me to grow up yet again. “Are you okay? Do you have anything broken?” She can barely get it out in her now raspy voice.
“I think I hurt my arm.” I try to pick it up, but the sharp pain that runs up my arm tells me not to.
“I think I did too.” She says not focused on me. She’s trying to pull her arm out of something.
I look down and see her attempt to pull out her left arm. It’s most definitely broken because of where it ended up. It’s in between the airbag and my chest. She had done what every mother does and has done for years. While driving with something fragile, she would reach over and attempt to protect it, as if her arm could hold back its ultimate demise.