I write about my mother in beginnings. 1187 words. Then 1090, then 886, then 690. Finally, something I title, “Mom, Trying,” but it’s a blank page. A pretend surface for zero ideas. A bald-faced failure. Mine and hers.
Then not-made-up short fiction: a 1971 protagonist, sedated by Elavil and Valium. Her doctor calls her one of his unhappy housewives. She walks through her living room in the mid-afternoon, her gauzy nightgown brushing the carpet, the house empty. She picks up the local college newspaper from the coffee table and sees a headline: “Sexuality Conference Begins Next Week.” She reads the words women’s liberation for the first time.
Her legs fail her. She grabs the back of a frayed wingback chair and holds on. She does not fall. She reads the story again and again.
She leaves her husband, a drunken narcissist English professor.
But also her two children, who are none of these.
Here, I stop writing.
A few years later, my mother files for custody and wins, her debt a mountain, her regret an ocean below.
She now appears in essays I write: At 16, I make myself vomit as she pounds on the locked bathroom door. At 18, I withhold plans to drink and drink and drink as she waves goodbye from the front door. At 22, I sob in paranoia and panic as she drives me to a hospital.
At 25, I ache with morning sickness and shame as she asks no questions and, I am certain, wipes out her savings account when she mails the check inside a folded note. I’m so happy to help, she writes. I’m glad I can do this. Make sure you get enough sleep. Each line level across the page, her cursive steady.
As I revise this, she is dead at 83. She had dementia. All of her lifelong struggles gone, her final hours both terminal and restless, tremors of objection she could not control.
Mom, I said. I held my face in her line of vision as her knees shook beneath her sheet. Do you know who I am?
A storm of memory in her eyes.
Yeah, she said.
She would not have retained my thanks, I tell myself. She would have forgotten, immediately, who I am.
It’s your daughter, I could have said. Who you loved.
For the last two decades, Anna B. Moore has been publishing creative nonfiction, essays, and short fiction in a variety of literary journals and magazines, including The Missouri Review, The Offing, and Identity Theory. Two of her essays were nominated for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net 2022; her first novel will be published by Unsolicited Press in 2024. She lives in Northern California—read more of her work at www.annabmoore.com.