“Don’t act like nothing has happened.” Her response lets me know that she isn’t in the mood to dance around social niceties. “You’re dressed completely different than you used to, certainly different than your father would probably approve of. Your hair is pink—nowhere near its natural blond. You’re out here at night, walking alone. I’m not the only one who noticed you, you know. John, who goes to my church, saw you the other night. He told us in front of everyone.”
She waves her hand at my protest. “I’m not finished. Your dad told me you aren’t even going to Ohio State now, in spite of all those years of you and Curtis preparing to go together.”
The name coming from her lips slices through me, breaking away at some hard shell I’ve gotten used to inhabiting. The thick nothingness I’ve been guarding myself with. Her son’s face covers my mind, and his voice fills my ears.
“Stop,” I manage to say through my pain.
“No, Molly,” Mrs. Garrett says.
When I look over at her, she’s flustered, like she has bottles upon bottles of emotions inside of her that have been shaken over the last six months and now are within an inch of exploding.
“He was my son,” she says. “So don’t you sit here and act like you have more of a reason to be hurt than me. I lost a child—my only child—and now I’m sitting here watching you, sweet Molly, who I’ve watched grow up, get lost, too—and I’m not going to be quiet anymore. You need to get your butt into college, get out of this town just like you and Curtis planned on. Get on with life. It’s what we all have to do. And if I can do it, hard as it is, you sure as hell can, too.”
When Mrs. Garrett stops talking, I feel like she’s spent the last two minutes tying my stomach into knots. She has always been a quiet woman—her husband has always done most of the talking—but in the span of five minutes she’s become less fragile somehow. Her usually soft voice has taken on a new tone of determination, and she impresses me. Makes me feel heartbroken, too, at the fact that I’ve let my life turn into this ghoulish existence.
But I was driving that car.
I agreed to drive Curtis’s small truck the night before I got my license. We were excited, and his smile was persuasive. I loved him with every thread of my body, and when he died, I came unstitched. He was my calmness, my reassurance that I wouldn’t end up like my mother, a woman who lived and breathed to be more than someone’s wife in a big house, in a rich neighborhood. She spent her days painting and dancing in our big house, singing songs and promising me that we would make it out of the cookie-cutter town.
“We won’t die here—I’ll convince your father someday,” she always said.
She only held up half of the deal and left in the middle of the night two years ago. She couldn’t cope with the shame that apparently came from being a mother and a wife. Most women would have trouble finding shame in that, but not my mom. She wanted all the attention on her—she needed people to know her name. She blamed me when they didn’t, even though she tried to deny the fact. She was always ashamed of me; she constantly reminded me of what I did to her body. She told me—many times—how her body looked so good before I came around. She acted as if I chose to be placed there, inside this selfish woman’s womb. One time she showed me the marks I made on her stomach, and I cringed right alongside her at the sight of her shredded skin.
Despite me hindering her lifestyle, she promised me the world. She told me about bigger, brighter cities with giant billboards that she wished she was pretty enough to be on.
And early one morning, having listened to her tell me about the world she wanted the night before, I watched her through the staircase’s thick metal banister as she dragged her suitcase across the carpet toward the front door. She cursed and flipped her hair off her shoulders. Dressed like she was going to a job interview, she had full makeup, blow-dried hair—she must have used half a can of hairspray to get it to look that way. She was excited and confident as she touched her hair to adjust it slightly.
Just before she walked out the door, she looked around her beautifully decorated living room, and her face filled with the biggest smile I had ever seen on her. Then she closed the door, and I could imagine her happily leaning against it outside, still smiling like she was going to paradise.
I didn’t cry as I tiptoed down the stairs, trying to memorize how she looked and acted. I wanted to remember every interaction, every talk, every hug we shared. I realized even then that my life was changing again. I watched through the living room window as she got into a cab. I just stared at the driveway. I guess I always knew she wasn’t reliable. My father might be afraid to leave the town he grew up in, where he has an amazing job, but he’s fucking reliable.
Mrs. Garrett touches the tips of my pink hair with a cautious finger. “Dipping your head in pink food coloring won’t change anything that happened.”
I smile at her choice of words and say the first thing that comes to mind. “I didn’t dye my hair because I watched your son bleed out in front of me,” I snap, remembering the way the deep pink dye resembled blood as I rinsed it down the drain.
I push her hand away, and, yeah, my words are harsh, but who the fuck is she to judge me?
As she takes in what I said, I’m sure she’s picturing Curtis’s mangled body, the one I sat with for two hours before anyone came to help us. I tried to rip his seat belt from the driver’s seat, to no avail. The way the metal bent when we hit the rail made it impossible to move my arms. I tried, though, and I screamed as the jagged metal tore into my skin. My love wasn’t moving, he wasn’t making a sound, and I screamed at him, at the car, at the entire universe as I struggled to save us.
A universe that betrayed me and went dark as his face paled and his arms went slack. I thank it now, grateful that my body shut off just after he died and I wasn’t forced to sit and watch the thing that was no longer him, watch and hope that he would somehow come back to life.
With a soft sigh, Mrs. Garrett starts the car and pulls out. “I understand your pain, Molly . . . if anyone understands, it’s me. I’ve been trying to find a way to continue with my life, too, but you’re ruining yours over something you had no control over.”
I’m baffled and try to focus by running one hand over the plastic of the car door. “No control? I was driving the car.” The sound of twisted metal colliding with a tree and then a metal barrier floods my ears, and I feel my hands shaking on my lap. “I was in control of his life, and I killed him.”