Freezing in the Sun

Tasha Gatlin

Today it was spring and somewhere in the world it was dawn. The smoky morning light hadn't made it to me yet. That didn't stop the alarm clock from buzzing and flashing at 4:30 in the dark.

No sun to guide me but my bags were packed anyway.

Between the blinds, I could see frost on the windows. Icicles clutched the roof. My bed felt like too-tight shoes. It was the bed I'd slept in as a little girl, dreaming of far away places and foreign people, bright light and laughter. I was an explorer, a traveler, one of those brave people who looked into the sky and went in a direction only the stars and God knew. This morning, I lay in my bed as an adult and tried not to cry the hot tears of a child.

I really am going to leave, I thought. Just start all over again. My friends think I'm brave. My family fears for me. And I, I don't know what to think. In or out? Back or forth? Stay or go?

Mom and I went about the routine parent and child go through when one hasn't been under the roof of the other. She wanted to make breakfast; I wanted just coffee. She gave me a hat to wear; I fidgeted. We were two women trying to take showers, curl hair, and apply makeup in the same space, all the while respecting the bond that brought us there.

What a brave front I put on. What if this job doesn't work out? I thought. What if my co-workers don't like me? Who will help me? Who will look after me? And then there were the little things: how do I make pot roast? What do I do with bacon grease? Who's going to buy me new towels?

I'd lived three CD tracks and a phone call away in case she needed me. And I complained how close that was - to myself, of course. I'd resented it when she called on the weekend, wanting nothing more than to talk. Why can't she talk to the boys? I'd thought. Men always got the first crack at being adults, even if they're the least prepared. They got to move away and be adults but all I got to be was Little Sister. Not Young Woman. Not Independent. Not anything exciting or glamorous. Just Little Sister. I was the one who took care of Mom.

I wanted to be free! I wanted to be so far away, no one could touch me. I wanted to live by my own rules.

I should have heeded the whispering voice that said, "Be careful what you wish for, little one."

Freedom had come swiftly and sent me into a dizzying whirlwind of possibilities. I gave notice at my old job, boxed my belongings, and dreamed some more. Heat. South. Sun. Distance. And here the morning had come and I didn't want to go. Who was going to take care of me?

Don't make me go, Mom, please don't make me leave, I thought, but I couldn't get the words out. I started to worry. What if she gets sick? What if she needs me? She'll still need me, won't she?

Cold sharp air greeted us as we loaded my car with essentials: a teapot, clothes, dishes, CDs. I kept the hand-knitted blanket she gave me two Christmases ago in the front seat in case I got cold. I was freezing, shaking from the inside out, from fear, from loneliness, from apprehension. I just wanted to be that little girl again, dreaming about the world from the safety of my bed. But I was more afraid of staying, of always questioning what could have been. No one had told me that life would have more questions than answers.

It was nearly 6 a.m. The sun was breaking through. Sixteen hours and a thousand miles separated me from my new life. My mother hugged me like she was coming apart and whispered through tears, "You be good, OK? And let God be with you."

Please don't let me go, I said. I've changed my mind. I'm not ready. I'm going to stay here with my mother. She needs me. The realization was as clear as a crystal bell ringing in the night. But it was all in my head. I held on tight, not knowing what to do. In this divine, frosty moment, it occurred to me that my mom had never held me captive. It was I who never had the nerve to go. She knew I was her child on lease, but I acted as if I were bought and paid for.

Now that I knew this, I saw no problem with staying. That's it, I thought, I'll just stay. There's no shame in that. I showed I can break the ties that bind, that I'm ready to be free. It's as simple as that. It's not that I'm afraid. I've simply proven my point. I am the criminal who willingly stays in the cage. No need for a lock for me, I thought.

I don't remember getting in the car and starting the engine. The heat poured from the vents, defrosted the windows. I could see her standing in the doorway watching over me. I pulled my suede mittens on.

You don't have to do this, I thought. You can get your old job back if you call them right now.

And then the voices got louder. Don't LEAVE! You're making your mother cry. Call your landlord and get your old apartment back, they said.

And then the dashboard got blurry. The voice was panicking. What kind of daughter makes her mother cry! Don't be so selfish. You always were selfish! She's crying! Can't you see she's crying? Go home! YOU CAN STILL GO HOME!

As I drove away, I heard the sound of fresh snow crunching behind me.

© Tasha Gatlin

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