Feedback: This one scares me a bit in that I don't know if it will go over well. Please prove me wrong?
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Don't sue, I'll cry. ;p
Summary: The bat mitzvah is over. And Delia has things to think about.
Distribution: Take. Tell me. I'll visit and possibly move in.
Beta: Thank you, Kelsey, and Jen. I've never had a better beta'ing experience with two strangers in all my life. I am grateful for your intelligence, your compliments, your patience, and your expertise. Thank you for making my story what it is.
Author's Note: I am aware that these words are very mature for a thirteen year-old. But I am hoping you will forgive that and see some beauty in Delia's thoughts, in her words. In her heart.
Dedication: For Dan. I love you. I love you still. Please believe me. I will always be your friend.
The bat mitzvah is over. There are streamers in my hair. I'm thinking of cutting it shorter. Seems that it's always been this length.
"Boys love long hair," my mother would tell me as she ran her fingers through my strands. "They're going to go wild for yours. Silky, strong, straight as an arrow."
"Really?" I'd ask with my six year-old eyes, always inquisitive beneath my baseball cap. I'll never know why I stopped collecting them. I just... did. It's like so many things: you grow up, and you don't know why things have to be that way. Why your body has to change along with your voice and your taste in clothes. Why zits have to start appearing on your skin, why your pores have to start popping out like M&M's. I wish I still had Mom to answer these questions. Boys may like straight dark hair, but they're not there for you once you start asking about leaking pores and sweaty underarms.
"Really," Mom would confirm. She let go of my hair once to turn me around in her arms. She was sitting on my daybed, the one with the tomboy tough jean bedspread and the dark cherry wood finish, still towering over my standing form. "But it's not just your hair that's going to attract them. Do you remember the song Daddy and I were dancing to in the living room last week?"
I smiled at her, thinking of the lyrics to 'Brown Eyed Girl', the simplistic 'do you remember when's', and the banging 'sha-la-la-la-la's' that made Mom and Dad sway together so romantically. Sometimes, when they argued, they seemed so far apart. But there was always something, a song, or a pizza topping, to pull them back together. They were like magnets, losing strength when pulled too far from the fridge, or kindergarten crafts waiting for dabs of crazy glue to be applied so they could be smashed together. Mom and Dad belonged together, whether smashed like hurried supermarket carts, jarring and silver, or joined peacefully, like dove claws. When they were apart... things were wrong.
I smile now, into the bathroom mirror. I see the crystal clarity in my "wonderfully rich, dark, dark" brown eyes. I think of Mom kissing my closed eyelids as I drifted off to sleep, and my smile fades. Slowly. Not like glass breaking, but instead like the careful, aching steps over the top of the broken glass. My face is drawn and white in the untouched reflection. I reach a hand up to poke at my skin, making sure it's real. I'm real. I'm here. But Mom is not.
With lady fingers, I pluck streamers out of my "silky" hair, liking the idea of naming my body parts with my mother's descriptions. She always did like to describe me, as though I were her Barbie doll. She told me once that it was a shame I wasn't into dolls, for she had no one to relive that part of her youth with. But I taught her all about baseball while Dad was off saving lives. Mom and I had a time, oh, we did. Quite a time. While Ephram always sulked with his hands beneath his armpits, lips twisted in a grimace, voice in a constant whine of, "Can we go now?" I loved my brother. I love him still.
I loved him tonight as he danced with Amy Abbott, stealing glances at no one else, as usual. Looking sickeningly stunned by her beauty as Bright made some sort of whip noises. I was happy for him, and embarrassed for both of them when the dancing was over and Amy was teeter-tottering in her high-heels, hugging me, drunken and slurring, declaring that I am a woman now! I got out of there as fast as I could, but not without stealing a glance over my shoulder at Ephram, wishing him luck at whatever he wanted to get out of tonight. I wanted tonight to mean as much to him as it was supposed to mean to me. I sometimes wonder if life has any meaning for Ephram at all. He's an artist, yes, or at least that's what everyone pins him as, but he's so sarcastic and everything's so off-hand, especially with me. He keeps me so far away from everything emotional that it's hard to know if he ever does get emotional. My mom's funeral was the last time I saw him cry.
I remember that day. There was snow in New York. Dad held out his hand for me as he walked away from Mom's grave, but I shrugged it off and walked to my brother. Not because I didn't want my dad; just because I wanted my brother.
Ephram was so hasty in smacking at his face, grinding away his tears like his hands were windshield wipers. Shoving them out of existence as if they shouldn't have been there in the first place. He was a boy to the core, ashamed of weeping, of his sorrow and his pain. I sobbed openly, wanting to pull the bill of my baseball cap over my face.
"Go away," Ephram said.
I stepped back, stung. But only for a moment. I was in no way stunned. I knew this attitude. This was Ephram. This was my brother. He was always telling me the exact opposite of what he wanted. Which was maybe what he thought he wanted, but it was my job to figure out the right path and make him see the light. I shoved my body into his face, stepping in front of him, planting my feet before his, placing my hands on my hips.
"Don't be a butthead," I said plainly. I sounded more defeated than I was. It was the toll of the day in my voice -- the drag of the death and the funeral, the burial, throwing dirt on her grave. Hearing it clunk in that sickening way. The final sound I could associate with my mother: dirt hitting her coffin, fresh and brown, like my eyes. Like hers.
"Go. away." He sniffled loudly, big clumps of snot, rubbing at his nose with his sleeve. I could see his breath in the air, mingling with mine. I would have laughed if I could find anything funny anymore.
I continued to shove myself into his personal bubble of space. I wormed my way into his jacket, sliding my arms around his waist and hugging him tightly to me, digging my tear-stained face into his long-sleeved t-shirt, the kind that he was always wearing. The kind that Dad scoffed at because they would never keep him warm. "Leave him alone," Mom would say. "He'll learn when he gets cold enough."
"Delia..." He couldn't even talk. His voice was so clogged with tears. I thought he was going to keel over and take me down with him into her grave. "Stop it!" His voice wavered, on the edge of hysteria. He fought with me, pushing me, pushing me away. "Get off of me!"
New tears came to sting my lids and burn through my eyelashes. "No!" I was persistent. I was eight. I couldn't be an anime hero. I couldn't save our mother. I didn't know how to make things better. I didn't know where I was at that moment, but God, he was my brother, and he was drowning, and I wanted him to take me along, because I couldn't let him go alone! I didn't know how to tell him this, so I screamed into his chest. The sound was muffled to the world, but I could tell that it resonated in his heart and in his ears, opened up some sort of floodgate inside of him, made him bleed like I was bleeding, right in front of him. I was a part of him, didn't he see it?
Dad was long gone, sitting alone in the limo. Waiting for his children who were crying together in the snow. We fell together to the ground, one family unit, sobbing. Ephram clung to me, and I could hear his anguish through his sobs into my ears as he poured out like in one of his concerts. He could create magic with his hands when he touched a keyboard and on that day we created a tragedy right beside our mother's grave, cowering below our father's God and all the hatred He had rained on our heads. I hated Him, Ephram hated Him. We hated Him together.
I felt Ephram come apart in my hands.
When it was over and we had cried enough, Dad came to us and tapped us on the shoulder. "It's time to leave," he said, all of his strength gone. I nodded, as Ephram scowled. He let go of me, then, and the spell was broken. I brushed the snow off of me, sick with the chilling wetness seeping into my clothing. Shivering, I sought the warmth of my bed, where I could cuddle a picture of Mom and sleep for a thousand years, dreaming of days when there were baseball games, 'sha-la-la-la-la's'and brown-eyed girls.
As I huddled in the corner of the limo, I kissed my palm, where I could feel the residue of Ephram's final tear.
I reach for my toothpaste, and slather on a glorious amount, bringing my pink toothbrush to my mouth. I never used to like pink. I'm starting to think that I should. It's the way girls are, right? It's the way my mother would have been. Gradually, I've been putting away my baseball caps, my Colorado Rockies bears. I've been redecorating my room with more feminine things: sentimental pictures, ribbons. I got a new bedspread, somewhere in between.
I work my toothbrush in between the crevices of my teeth, loving the way I keep them clean and white. "You'll lose your hair, you'll lose your shape. You'll lose your sense of sanity," my mom would always say. Then she'd show me her famous grin. "But you'll always have your smile." I plan on keeping mine for the longest time. I still have my mom's with me, on my bedside table; in a locket I keep in a small jewelry box.
"Geeze, a little early to be frothing at the mouth," a deep voice offers from the doorway.
I look behind me in the mirror and glare at my brother's smirk. Spitting out the remaining toothpaste in my mouth and rinsing my tongue clean, I turn off the faucet.
"Who let you in?" I ask innocently.
He holds up a key. "I have resources. You're up late. Out partying, were you? Drinking booze at this age?"
I fold my arms across my "breasts". "What are you doing here?"
He smiles at me sweetly. Pauses for effect. "I, uh..." He looks down, then up, at me again. "Came to tell you something."
"Okay. Well if it's that you want that shirt back, then you can't have it, 'cause I lost it..."
"You lost it? I loaned it to you for like three days!"
"Sorry!" I unfold my arms and prepare for a battle. "But it's not like you ever wear it. I mean, it looks better on me, anyway."
"So you're saying you didn't lose it, but you're keeping it."
"Yeah, maybe? So?"
"Anyway, anyway..." Ephram takes a step back, and then steps forward into the doorframe, slouching into it, the way that he does. He folds his arms across his chest and smiles at me. I think I know what he's going to say, so I open my mouth, but then --
"You looked like Mom today."
I place my hands behind me on the sink counter, balancing my weight there slightly. I press my lips together daintily, being a real girl about accepting this compliment. "...Oh."
"You did. You look like her now. It's like... I don't know... seeing a ghost."
I used to wonder about ghosts. If they were white and see-through; friendly like Casper, or zombies that eat your brains. If I would know my mother if I saw her. If she could be one. If she would want to be.
When I was eight, and Mom had just died, our house in New York would make strange noises. Sinks would creak; walls would seem to move, adjust; floors would whine at the step of a foot. And I would wonder... is it her? Is she speaking to me? Is she here? Sometimes I would wake up, and my bedroom window would be open. I wouldn't remember opening it. The rational part of me would tell myself that Dad probably opened it to give me fresh air. But my heart would thump out, It-Was-Mom, It-Was-Mom. She-Was-Here, She-Was-Here.
"Thanks," I finally say. It is all I can say when I can hardly speak.
Ephram nods, uncomfortable. He always is, never good at complimenting people. "Yeah. Whatever. Thought you should know."
Now I do. I'm a ghost of my mother on the day she wasn't here.
A ghost of my mother, like the one my dad used to see when he would dance and I would stand in doorways and just watch, sadly, brokenly. I would watch his breakdown and have one of my own. We were all broken then, when she died. I feel like now that I'm becoming a woman, our pieces are starting to rise up and come together again.
Ephram turns to leave. "By the way, Delia," he says over his shoulder. "She was here today. ...I could feel her."
I try to smile. I try to convey the emotion I'm feeling, but I can't quite identify what emotion it is. "I know. Me too."
He leaves me alone to face the bathroom mirror once again. The streamers are gone from my "long, silky" hair. The baseball caps are absent, too. So are the haunted circles beneath my eyes. I haven't let go of anything. I've grown into it. I have eclipsed all of these fears of my childhood, that I would lose my mother as memories fade. I have closed the golden locket around her picture and ingrained it in my soul. It is a part of me that I carry with me even without its physical presence. I'm a grown up now, or at least I'm getting there. These ghosts don't haunt me so much anymore.
I look in the mirror, and I see so much in me. I see the woman that poor drunken Amy was blathering on about. I see her starting to form. I see my mother in my eyes and in my cheekbones, my father in my chin. Ephram in my tired, droopy stare. I see my family in my face, see that they'll be okay as long as I am. They'll be with me, these ghosts that I'll keep in my pocket. These ghosts that won't haunt me, but will sing me to sleep like my mother's soothing voice.
I blow a kiss to myself goodnight, and hug my arms to myself, tightly. I am a woman now. I carry so many things with me. I carry them as they carry me, with every footstep that I take.