Friday, September 24, 2004


I was driving a few cars behind J, intending to meet up with him at the video store parking lot, when the memory vividly popped into my mind's eye. Hands curled menacingly into two claws, face distorted with madness and rage, her mouth making a horrifying hissing noise that reminded me of cats about to tear into each others' flesh, eyes no longer showing any reason. It was feral cat mixed with mania and unpredictability, and the memory felt just as fresh as the day Mom first frightened me with that gesture.

Suddenly I was back there, a pre-teen, standing our apartment's dining room, while my mother menaced me with her claws and her gutteral hissing. The reason for her sudden turn is lost to history, but I suspect that she was feeling threatened by something I asked her to do, or by the voices of the neighbors talking about her through the wall, or perhaps it was the sound of an airplane flying overhead at the wrong time of day, which of course was a signal to those who watched her every move. Whatever it was, it was the first time I remember being truly terrified of her.

She could be very strong when those fits of mania would come upon her, when the fight-or-flight reaction sent adreneline coursing through her crazed veins. I wasn't aware at the time of the science behind her sudden strength, but I knew enough to be worried that I might not be able to defend myself against an attack.

My first instinct was to shout her down. One of the few genetic blessings bestowed upon me was a powerful voice, and my gut reaction was to bellow at her threateningly, because despite the manic strength and the apparent complete loss of all reasoning, I knew that basically, my mother was a coward. Any threat of physical harm would probably take her crazed bravado down a notch, and that was all that was needed.

Lucky for me, the shock of my big mouth letting her know in no uncertain terms that if she tried to hurt me, that I would kick her ass but good, and she'd be very sorry later, had exactly the desired affect. She retracted the claws, moved backwards away from me, and for the first time since the episode began, I saw a tiny trace of fear in her eye. Not that I took any satisfaction in having to threaten my mother and make her afraid of me at that moment, but I wasn't dealing with my mother in the conventional sense. I was a jungle beast, beating at my breast, showing another jungle beast which of us was more dominant. It made me sick to my stomach in a way that I'd never felt before, but which I was destined to feel many times over the next twenty odd years.

I found myself still driving at least a half mile past my turn, not quite sure where I was going for a moment. The vision was only momentary, but it felt like it took several minutes to shake off the weight of all those years ago. I made a u-turn and finally made it to my destination, where J waited for me in his car.

He'd pulled out of the chinese take-out place's parking lot right before me, and saw out of his rear window that a bus came roaring up the road behind him, just missing rear-ending him as he made his left turn. The traffic was bad that night, so he assumed that I'd been stuck trying to make that same turn, and that was what had held me up. I didn't explain right away what happened, because I was still feeling that dull, washed-out cloak of memory hangover, the way I often feel when a ghost of the past pops up unexpectedly with another nasty reverie.

We watched our movie and ate our chinese food, and I snuggled up closely to him all evening, salving my old wounds of fear and insecurity with the warmth of his nearness.

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