Maybe my childhood never ended. I mean, do you ever think that sometimes all that really shifted was your perception? That when you look in the mirror, the young woman staring back is a mirage of your own making, a fantasy of the little girl peeking in? That you’re actually just a girl still, everywhere but in your own reflection?
I think that maybe my childhood never really ended, but I’ve got the whole world fooled. They pay me to work, they let me sign a lease, smoke cigarettes, cuss freely, vote. No one knows that I’m just a little girl in big girl’s clothing.
In the heat of summer I lie curled in a ball beneath her wing. We’re laying under a sheet on our bed and she’s reading to me but I’m dozing, I think; everything is hazy.
Screaming in the hallway rouses us, it’s a man’s voice. I’m afraid for a moment, and she starts yelling something back in Greek. I bury my head in her armpit, and there, for a moment, everything is silent.
My grandmother bursts into the room, arms flailing wildly and I realize she’s laughing. My grandfather is stomping up and down the hallway shouting in Greek; he’s seen a lizard climbing the wall of his living room. He’s panicked, childlike, and his fear sends my mother and grandmother into hysterical giggles as we pile into the hallway to witness his commotion.
This is where we live now.
Grandmother dashes into the room, pushing my slight, frantic grandfather to the side. She is bold and courageous — she scoops up a tissue from a box on the coffee table as she takes one, two, three loping strides towards the lizard, and in one deft movement, grabs it up in an unshakable grip.
But for all her valour she miscalculated; she grabbed it by the tail. Now she’s holding the writhing, disembodied extremity in her hand and the lizard is on the floor, making grandfather shriek like a woman.
Mother is crying with laughter, as we stand in the doorway watching the slapstick of grandmother groping for the lizard, and grandfather hopping like a mad man. Grandmother eventually captures her mark, her face contorted and red in mirth, her cheeks tear stained like my mothers.
She takes the lizard outside to release it into the yard. Grandfather mutters and returns to his corner of the couch.
Mother pulls me toward her, her arms wrapped around my small neck. It’s just us now.
“The tail will grow back,” she says.
She’s yelling into the phone and I’m sitting at the kitchen table, crying.
Gesticulating emphatically, she moves about the room, her pace frenetic. Every now and then she shoots me a glance; she’s livid. Then she’ll come and stand behind me, rest her hand on my shoulder for a second before it’s required in the air again, or she’ll reach across the table from the opposite side and squeeze my hand.
I just sit and cry quietly.
The show she’s performing is spectacular; if only the voice on the other end of the phone could see her. But her words — she’s articulate when she’s mad, like in a movie when someone’s jacked off but they still manage to leave no argument unargued, no grievance unaired — seem to be vibrating into the receiver and through the ether to meet the other end with a firm import.
“It’s not good enough,” she’s saying, “this is a good school.”
“I’m talking about my daughter.”
“They can’t do this to her. They’re bullies.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
She puts down the receiver eventually, her hands find her hips and she sighs. Then she’s with me, and I’m crying harder as I fold into her open arms.
“They can’t do this to you unless you let them,” she says.
I lurch into the bowl again. It’s been hours, and now all that’s coming up is a thick, yellow bile. When my body stops convulsing, I ease myself back onto the cold bathroom tiles, the sweat from my forehead rolling down into my ears.
What happened last night? I try to piece together the evening’s events in my head but I can’t. I’m still jet lagged, anyway, and the tequila obviously didn’t help. Josh was there, I knew Josh was there. Oh, Josh.
I’m too old for this shit, I think, and for a moment a smile crosses my cracked lips, but then I’m up again, on my knees, my whole body retching into the toilet bowl.
I do this dance for a whole day. Floor, tiles, relief, sleep? No, up, heave, heave, heave, bile. Repeat. I don’t go downstairs until almost 5 p.m.
“Have a nice sleep?” she walks into the room, laundry basket in hand.
“Wasn’t sleeping. Vomit.” I slide onto a stool at the kitchen bench. She comes up behind me and clips me over the ear.
I let her rant at me. Alcohol poisoning! You live on the other side of the world and you come home to do this? When are you going to grow up? How do I know you’re OK? I can’t take care of you when you’re all the way in New York. But seriously, how old do you think you are? You have to stop partying. Look at you, you’re a mess.
She steps back when she’s done and draws a huge breath. Reaching out to brush the hair from my damp forehead, she cocks her head slightly and looks at me for a moment; she’s somewhere else.
Then she laughs and pulls me into her bosom despite my protestations. In her vice grip, pressed against her chest, she shakes us from side to side and coos at me.
“I love you,” she says.
She picks up the phone and orders my step-dad to bring me a family bucket of KFC chicken and that new action movie with Angelina Jolie in it, on his way home from work, please.
No one; but one.
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It’s so hard for me not to let what other people say about me define who I am.
I should eat an entire sleeve of saltines (and a brownie).
Forget answering: my salary is ________. This is about all the little things that you think are your preferences but were actually given to you like gifts.
7. Visiting the beautiful Milwaukee Art Museum.