G a i l

Age 6, part 2

6 years, 7 months (April) 

Mama’s gone.  And this time, John and I don’t count days on a piece of paper. 

Here is what happened.


For the first few days that Mama was home, we had to get to know each other again.  I was shy with her, but she was patient.  The twins were big enough to know what was going on.  Sort of.   Mama tried to play with them, and they tried to play with her.  She read them bedtime stories and took them to daycare.  John was moping around a lot in the beginning.  Kind of sneaking around the house, watching, unsure, untrusting.  He  kept his distance, only looked at her when she wasn’t looking.  But slowly, he started to let her back into his heart – the very same heart that she had broken all those years ago.  It was nice coming home to an open door, instead of to an empty house.  Daddy could tell that Mama was trying to fit in with all of us.  At first, there was ice between the two of them, especially from Daddy.  But Mama melted it with her warm smile.  I saw them hold hands sometimes.  Mama cooked dinner for us every night.  She sat at the head of the table and looked at us all with what seemed like pride and love.  She planted flowers in the garden.  She did lots of things that other mama’s did.

Days went by, and it seemed like everyone was slowly starting to feel good again.  Everyone, except me.  I still didn’t know why she had gone in the first place.  I had asked Daddy many times, and he always said the same thing: “Because sometimes grown-ups just don’t get along, even if they love each other.”  This never explained why she left me, John, Connie, and Timmy.  And since I didn’t understand it, I felt scared of it.  I felt scared that whatever had made Mama disappear from our lives before, could make her do it again. 

The happy days went on for a while.  But then I noticed a cloud starting to form over our family.  There were little signs of trouble.  It was in the look in Mama’s face when we came home from school.  She’d be tired, not smiling.  It was in the arguing voices I heard on the other side of my bedroom wall. 

John took on more and more of the household chores.  My responsibility was looking after the twins, especially because ever since Mama came back, Aunt Nora didn’t come and help out.  Daddy and I would cook dinner most days, too. 

One evening after we’d eaten and the kitchen was all cleaned up, I was sitting on the back porch with Wendy.  Jewel was there, too.  It was warm, and the air felt soft.  For once, I wasn’t thinking about anything, just feeling.  Feeling Wendy’s head on my lap, Jewel’s tail brushing my arm, things coming to life all around me in the spring twilight.

I heard the sliding door open, and Mama came out.  She sat down next to me on the step.  We just sat for a while, neither one of us saying anything.  She scratched Wendy behind the ears, I let Jewel climb into my lap.  All around, darkness was starting to fall. 

“I noticed you wearing the necklace,” she said, smiling.  “I’m glad.”  I reached up and touched the little leaf that had been there since the day she left.  I looked at her and grinned.

She touched the side of my face with her gentle hand, but then she turned away, and her smile faded.  She looked out at the woods beyond the edge of our yard.  And I looked at her, looking away.

“You know, Gail,” she said, still gazing into the trees, “I never stopped thinking about you.  All those years I was gone, I never stopped.  Never stopped thinking about you and Jojo and the twins.”  Her voice was so soft, I could barely hear her.  I leaned in.

“I think you’re old enough to understand that things don’t always go right between people.  Things weren’t right with your daddy.  And I guess I had a hard time making things right.  So did he.”

After her words, the silence was enormous.  It went around me and covered me up, and all of that fresh evening warmth was drained away and replaced by something cold and heavy.  The smothering silence made it hard to breathe.

Then she said, “I’m not going to be able to stay with you and the twins and Jojo … and Daddy.”  I didn’t look at her, but instead stared out at the trees.  I was totally still, but my heart was racing.

She went on.  ” I’m not going to disappear without saying good-bye.  I need you to understand, Gail.  You’re the only one I can talk to about this.  Daddy won’t listen.  Jojo is too emotional.  The twins are too little.  But you, Gail, you’re strong and wise.  You and I are a lot alike.  I know that.”

“How do you know that?”  I suddenly blurted out.  I felt like I couldn’t see anything through the burning fog of thousands of un-cried tears.  And then, more words started to come out of me.  “You don’t know me,” I said.  “You don’t know me, Mama!  You think I can understand.  But I can’t, Mama, I can’t!”  And that’s when I took off running.  I lifted off of the porch step like a rocket, sending Wendy and Jewel scattering in opposite directions, and I just ran.  I didn’t know where I was going.  I didn’t care.  I ran in the almost-darkness, just kept going, trying to escape the hurt that was always in me, trying to run it off.  Until I fell down.  Tears pushed at my eyes, and I lay in the cold spring grass.

I guess I fell asleep.  I was woken by a hand on my shoulder.  “Gail.”

I opened my eyes and saw only the dark shape of my mother’s head and shoulders.  I reached for her and put my arms around her neck.  I held on tight with closed eyes, hoping that I could hold her down like a bird trying to fly off.  We sat in the grass.  “Gail, listen.  I love you.  And I always will.  But I know that I’m not good for Daddy, not good for any of you.  I’m not a good mom.”

“I don’t care.  I just want you.”

There was silence again.  I could tell that she was thinking.

I kept talking.  “Why don’t you want to stay with us?  If you love us, why don’t you just stay?”

After a few minutes, she sighed and then pulled my arms from around her neck, so that she could look me in the face.  “Gail, sometimes love works best when you’re not together all the time.  There are things that I need to do, for me.  And if I don’t do them, you won’t want to have me around, believe me.”

“Like what?”

“Well, Daddy and I were only 17 when we had Jojo.  Daddy was happy about it, but I had other things I needed to do with my life.  But then we just kept having more babies, and my chances slipped away.”  She stopped for a moment and stroked my hair, searching my face.  “You’re too little to understand, and I don’t even know why I’m telling you all this.  But there are things I need to do, and when you’re older, you’ll understand.”

My heart hurt.  I asked, “Where will you go?  Will you live with another family?”

Mama laughed a little laugh.  “No, Gail.  You’re my only family.  I know I hurt you, but I need to figure things out and not keep making mistakes.  When I do, I’ll let you know.”




It’s been a while since that night with Mama.  Her words still echo in my mind.  But the days don’t stop, and so we can’t stop.  There is a lot to do.  John and I help each other, and we both help Daddy.  We try to be like a mama to the twins.  I try to push out sadness to make room for happiness.  It’s hard work.  And sometimes I feel bad, because when I push away sadness it’s like pushing away Mama.

The night she left, I took her necklace off and put it in a box.