G a i l

Age 6, part 1

6 years, 5 months (February) 

It’s late at night.  I’m on the floor with my ear against the wall, trying to hear the voices in Daddy’s room.  Wendy isn’t in her bed either.  There are two voices.  One is Daddy’s.  It sounds mad.  The other is… a woman’s.  It sounds familiar.

“What do you think you’re doing?” demands Daddy’s voice.  It’s not strong.  “You pick up and leave and then you think you can just come back after more than two years?  Two years, Maddie?  Almost three?  Do you know what the kids went through?  No, of course you don’t.  You can’t know.  You can’t know.”

“I…” begins the other voice. 

It’s Mama.  I know it’s Mama. My insides turn, and I feel sick.  Sick with a kind of joy and a kind of fear, sick with anger, sick with love and hate, questions and answers.  Sick with memories of twinkly earrings, smiling eyes and tired eyes, of getting hugged, getting pushed, getting left alone.  Sick of trying to forget, trying to remember, trying to hold on, trying to let go. 

Tears come and everything turns white and I feel frozen.  I can’t run to her.  I curl into myself.


I wake up in my bed.  Wendy’s in her bed, too.  Was last night a dream?  I get up and open the curtains.  The world looks the same – the same no-mama world.

“Come on, girl,” I say to Wendy, and we go out to the living room.  She shakes herself, her collar jingling, tail wagging.  I open the porch door to let her out, and the freshness of the morning takes my breath away.  I hear footsteps in the hall and turn around.  It’s Daddy.  He looks like he’s walked a hundred miles.

He goes into the kitchen, and the smell of coffee and cigarette smoke start to take over.  Suddenly I hear more footsteps, but this time coming from outside the front door.  First there’s the metal click of the screen door handle, then its creak as it’s pulled open, followed by the duller sound of the doorknob.  The door opens, and against the white sky outside, I see a dark form.  It’s in a big coat and a wool hat and boots.  The form comes toward me and then stops.  I’m scared to look up.  But then I do, and I see them: the brown eyes.  Everything disappears except for wanting to get to Mama, and I run to her.

She catches me in her arms.  All I feel is the cold of her coat and the burn of my tears.  Inside me there’s nothing but a white-hot ball of needing my mother, and now she’s here.  And the ball explodes.

“There, there, my girl,” she says.  “Mama’s here.  Mama’s here.”


I sit at my desk in the classroom, trying to pay attention.  Mr. Hoffman, my first-grade teacher, is telling us about colors – how to mix them to make green, purple and orange.  But I’m still in the whiteness of this morning.  I look out the window, and the sky is dull.  All I can think of is Mama, at home.  I wonder what she’s doing.  She’s all alone now, because the twins are at daycare, Daddy’s at work, and John and I are at school.  Wendy has learned to be at home alone for the hours that we’re at school, so she must be keeping Mama company.  I get nervous butterflies in my stomach whenever I think about Mama – which is always.

Suddenly I hear Mr. Hoffman say, “Ok, class, come get the paints you need and a piece of paper, and you’ll be ready to get started.”  I realize that I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.  I look for Shane whose desk is two rows behind me.  He’s already gotten up and is waiting to get his paint and paper.  I get up, too, and grab tubs of white, gray and black paint, plus a piece of paper.  I go back to my seat and dip the paintbrush into the white.  I drag it across my paper in thick strokes.  Then I take some black.  I paint a big shape.  It has boots on and a coat.  In gray, I paint a small form next to it.

“Where are the colors we talked about, Gail?” asks Mr. Hoffman as he walks by.  His finger taps on my paper.

I just shrug my shoulders and don’t say anything.

At lunch I sit with Shane.  He asks, “Wanna come over after school?”

“I can’t,” I say.

“Why not?”  He looks disappointed.

“I just can’t.”  I don’t say anything about Mama, since I don’t know if she’ll be there when we get home.  I worry about John and that his heart might break if she isn’t.


As John and I walk up to the driveway after school, he stops and turns to me.  “Gail, I want you to be ready for her to not be there.”

I look at my big brother.  He has dark circles under his eyes. “Thanks,” I say and take his hand. 

We get to the door, and it’s unlocked.  When we walk in, Mama’s standing in the kitchen, and something smells warm.   “I made cookies,” she says, smiling.  I look at her, even though I feel shy.  I remember her a little bit from 926 days ago, when she left, but only a little bit.

I silently take a cookie.

John whispers, “Thank you,” and also takes a cookie.  He’s still holding onto my hand. 

“You’re welcome, sweetheart,” Mama says.  “You can have another one, you know.”  But John quickly eats his cookie and then takes his hand out of mine and goes to his room and shuts the door.  I stay standing there, not knowing what to say.  Luckily Wendy’s beside me.  She starts jumping up, wanting a bit of the cookie still in my hand. 

As Mama turns to the sink, I catch a good look at her.  She’s beautiful.


It’s the middle of the night again.  I get up, because I hear Daddy’s and Mama’s voices on the other side of the wall.  But I don’t want to listen this time. Wendy gets up, too, and sleepily walks over to me. 

I notice that the night is strangely light, and I go to the window.  I move the curtain aside and see that snow is falling.  Everything is covered in thick whiteness.  It reminds me of the picture I drew in school. 

I open the window, and Wendy gets up on her back legs and puts her front paws on the window sill.  Her nose twitches and her ears listen, as her face meets the night air.  I don’t want to hear Mama and Daddy, so I lean my head out and try to hear the snow falling instead.  I see the light sky, and the pines swaying quietly, and the giant, fluffy snowflakes floating down from some faraway place.  The wind swishes in wild bursts, and I forget everything.  I feel free, like I could fly away with Wendy by my side, up to wherever it is that snowflakes are born.  And we’d leave this whole white world behind.