“I’m bleeding!” she shouts and when my dad finally moves out of the way, I can see that my mom is on the porch, leaning against the railing, looking down. She is covered in blood. Her hand, her elbow, her arm — bright red blood drips onto her light denim capris splattering among grass stains near her knees. She’s getting blood on the steps, soaking drops into the white wood.
“It’s not so bad,” I say. “It’s just a lot of blood. When we clean it up, it’ll be a little cut.”
My dad turns her hand over. Among the blood is white. Bone. He says, “I don’t think so, Gabrielle.”
My dad pulls my mom inside and over to the kitchen sink, turning the faucet on her hand. There’s the flash of white again on her skin near the red globs and I can see now that her bone is sticking out of her middle finger.
“We’re going to the ER,” my dad says, grabbing his wallet and keys off the breakfast nook.
My mom turns to me and in a small voice, she says, “I’m scared.”
This is the second time this summer I’ve left the city to stay with my family as a last-ditch mental health effort. We’re up in the Berkshires, all of us, in a house my parents rented in the woods. I’ve been, so far, afraid to take a shower because it seems like the kind of place where a serial killer would be watching you from outside the window.
In June, I had a nervous breakdown and went to my brother’s house in the suburbs of New York — north by about an hour. I wasn’t eating, I was having panic attacks and I was generally sad. On one Thought Catalog piece from that time, a commenter wrote, “Seems like you’re depressed.” I almost wrote back, “No shit.”
I’m here at this cabin with them, supposedly, so my parents can evaluate how sick I am and so I can maybe relax.
On Day Two, this happens.
When I was a kid, I got hurt a lot. I had stitches on my head three times before the age of three. My legs were so covered in bruises that a school administrator once pulled me aside and asked if anything was wrong at home. My dad used to say if I ever went a full month without an injury, he’d give me 10 dollars.
I never got that money.
I think the natural reaction to someone causing your mom pain — even if they’re a medical professional and you know they’re doing it for the long-term good — is to punch them in the face.
That’s what I want to do. I want to punch this doctor in the face. He’s got a saw wedged between my mom’s hand and her wedding ring, which has to be cut off before he can start working on her mangled hand.
My dad is holding her other hand and my mom is crying out involuntarily, in pain, hiding her face from us. I am shaking and I want to throw up.
Outside, in the waiting room, they’d handed me forms to fill out for her. I wrote her name, her address, our insurance. On one line it asks, “Relationship ______” and I write, “Daughter.” I think about all the times my mom must have filled these out for me, when I was a child — when I was sick or hurt. How scared she must have been. And now I am an adult. And I am filling these out for her.
If I could wish one thing for people, for you, it’s that you never have to listen to your mother in pain.
She’s still crying when I leave the room. My dad hugs her shoulders to him and she buries her head in his chest, unable to look at what they’re doing to her fingers.
In the hallway, I hug my hands inside my white sweater and hold my phone, staring at the screen. I think about who to call. Well, I know who, but they’re both in that other room. They seem kind of busy.
Hours go by and then it is done. She’s bandaged and in a cast. She’s okay.
“Look,” my mom says, loopy from painkillers. “Look.” She thrusts her injured hand towards me.
“What?” I say. She starts laughing. A weird, high-pitched Joker laugh. “What?”
“My manicure,” she says. She wiggles her free fingers. She smiles. “They didn’t even mess up my manicure.”
She makes me take a picture to show my sister her surviving red fingernails. They are pristine. I take the picture, and my hands shake on the button.
“Be safe,” my mom tells me as I sling my backpack over my shoulder and get ready to head into the train station. The weekend is over. I am going back to the city. When she gets home, she has a physical therapy appointment for her hand. It’s gonna take a while to properly heal.
“Me?” I say, gesturing incredulously to her bandaged arm. “I should be safe?”
“If anything ever happened to you…” she starts.
“Mom,” I cut her off. I laugh, but it’s a sad laugh. A resigned laugh. A laugh filled with inevitability and the passage of time and the loss of control.
“Are you joking right now?” I say. “You’re the one who should be safe.”
“Okay,” she says and she is earnest and she is a mom. Always. Before anything else. “But you too. You be safe too.”
In the end, we both nod. And I think: Like we can even promise that sort of thing anyway.