As I lay here waiting for death to take me, I allow memories to flood my mind. Helps to put what’s happening in a better place. The first day of kindergarten. The look on the teachers face when I first walked into the room, stormed over to the little boy trying to take a toy from a little girl, how I grabbed his arm and pulled him away from her. Seeing my favorite purple wild flowers as I walked through my favorite field behind our house. Well, it was a small shack but I imagined it as a house. The birds chirping, telling me warmer weather was finally here. Christmas morning when I knew I didn’t get anything due to mama’s low income but the excitement I felt just the same. When I walked into our small living room and looked under the tiny tree we’d chopped down in the nearby forest. Mama and I had made garland from old newspapers and a star for the top. The utter astonishment when I found a small package there, wrapped in the comic section of those newspapers. I looked up at mama, tears of joy in her eyes, and my mouth dropped open. “Go on, sweetheart. Open it.” I felt excited yet sad because I didn’t have anything to give her. Sitting down on the floor below it, I picked up the small package and started tearing the paper away slowly. I can still hear her laugh, telling me to hurry up, but, I didn’t want this moment to go by too quickly. What was inside was uncovered and I sat there holding it as I cried. “Go on, baby girl. It’s Christmas.” I remember telling her I couldn’t because she worked so hard, was so tired all the time, and even though I knew it had to have taken her a while to make it, I felt bad because I didn’t have anything to give her. She smiled. “You’re the sweetest girl with the biggest heart. Don’t you know my present is here with me every single day? You. Nothing could be better than you being my baby girl.” I still have that rag doll even though it’s missing one of the button eyes.
I let out a soft groan. Stabbing pain pushes through me like it wants me to suffer more than I can handle. “Shhh. I’ve got ya.” I feel a cloth against my forehead, wishing it could absorb the pain.
We lived in a small town. The wealthy folks lived on the other side of it. But, they don’t come into town much. They’d rather go to the bigger one about half an hour from them. This side had your poor people and then there was where we lived. Poorer than poor. I’ve been told that my dad was a drinker and abuser. Left mama and me right after I was born. Made me pretty much dislike all men for a long time. Then I figured, they aren’t all like him. I just haven’t figured out how to tell up front. Guess mama couldn’t tell either. That’s just plain scary.
The memory of walking into the dime store enters my mind. How I walked in with determination to get a job and help mama out with bills. I was only fifteen but I knew I would work hard and could do better than some of the cashiers there. “Whaddya mean, you want a job? You ain’t old enough.” I remember Mr. Ditters fondly, even though back then he scared the shit outta me. But, I held my ground, needing a job in the worst way. “Tons of girls my age work. Besides,” I cock my hip, placing my hand there. “I can do way better than some of the people you got workin’ here.” I swear to this day I saw a hint of a smile. “Don’t you go to school?” I knew I had him but I wasn’t gonna leave the store unless I had a job leaving with me. I straightened my stance, raising my chin at him. “Yessir. But, I can work every evening and every weekend.” It like to take my breath away, waiting for his answer. But, he let me suffer for what seemed like a couple of minutes. “Be here tomorrow, right after school. You’re late one time and you’re gone. Understand me?” I still remember today the feeling of elation that he actually gave me a job. Even more so that I could start helping mama. I was proud yet a little nervous, but, I would never have admitted that to him. “Yessir. I’ll be here right after school.” I walked out, never thanking him, but from his facial expression I could tell he knew I was a proud girl and would forever be beholding to him. After that, life became a little easier but not by much. He didn’t pay me a lot but every penny I earned, I gave to mama. The look on her face was pure joy to me.
We struggled all my young life but I never had a richer existence. Mama saw to that. It was her love that made everything okay, made my life better than some, and gave me self-worth. I kept that job for a few years, even after I graduated from high school. It didn’t pay enough but I guess I had a softness for ole Mr. Ditters. Eventually, I had to move on, earn more money, and found a job at the local newspaper. It paid more and I got to sit behind a desk instead of on my feet all day or night. I’d seen what that did to mama, how her back hurt all the time. Even my back rubs didn’t help her all that much. I wrote the articles people gave me and edited them. I did so well in English class that it paid off. Of course, when they were printed my name wasn’t on them but that was okay. I knew who wrote them and it was the other people who gathered the information anyway.
Life got better until the day that changed my life. A few months after my twenty-fifth birthday. I remember as if it just happened yesterday. I’d come home from work, all tired but thought I’d get dinner started before mama got home. Thought I’d start a load of wash too, because I tried to do as much around the house as I could so she didn’t have to. I walked inside, setting my old ratty sweater down on the beat up chair and went into my room and got my hamper. I went to her room next to pick up her laundry but when I reached out and grasped the doorknob to her bedroom, a chill ran through me that even today I couldn’t explain. I released it quickly as if it had shocked me. Something was wrong. I felt it in my bones. I opened the door, ran over to her still body lying in a heap on the floor next to her bed. Our bedrooms are tiny and by the blood covering the floor and the large gash on her forehead, I assumed she hit the dresser as she fell. I’d given her that two Christmases ago. It was old and beat up but I painted it to make it nicer, bought it at the thrift store in town. I checked for a pulse and found none, put my face against hers, but no breath left her to touch my skin. I held onto her, sobbed into her body. I didn’t know what to do. I knew I couldn’t pay for an ambulance or even a funeral. She didn’t have time to make many friends although she was neighborly to those around our shack.
By the time my tears had dried, it had grown dark inside with the night sky filtering in the room. Not knowing what else to do, I walked over to the shack to the right of ours. The alarmed look on Mrs. Granger’s face told me I looked a mess when she opened her door. I told her about mama and she rushed me inside, shutting the door behind me. She walked over to Mr. Granger and whispered to him. His eyes moved to mine then looked down my body. I hadn’t realized until later that my shirt was covered with mama’s blood. She sat me down on their weathered couch while he called a friend of his. Next thing I knew, a couple of men went over to my place and took her body. With little to no money to pay for a service, I was told they would take her and bury her proper. I was grateful, sad, confused and disheartened about what I was going to do now. Mama.
I gasp for air, pain radiating throughout me I shut my eyes tightly with the intensity.