My Mother Before
by Juliana Cardullo '19
“Happy Birthday To You!!!” They all sang as I blew out my candles for my 18th birthday, the day before I left for college. I told Dad I didn’t want a party, but he insisted and invited all my friends and family over to our little house and had a birthday/going-to-college party. That night after everyone had left I was finishing up my packing, looking and reminiscing on past memories. I was cleaning out my room putting things in the keep or to-go box. The “keep” box was overflowing compared to the “to-go” box. I looked at my closet and started to spread things out all over my room when I saw this familiar-yet-unfamiliar shoe box. I took the box and cleared a spot off my bed, and slowly I unfolded the top of the box and it was full of old pictures of my mother and I together. I was picking up the pictures one by one, looking and remembering. When I came across a single envelope that was at the bottom of the box, the letter was addressed to me and I knew it was from my mother because of the beautiful calligraphy-like handwriting she had.
A shiver went down my spine when I saw it and a lump formed in my throat.
It started when I was five, like every other normal sunny Sunday. I would watch my mother walk down the porch steps wearing her electric blue sandals— she almost looked like she was gliding across the driveway in her ruby-red overalls and favorite strawberry shirt. She was off to go to the market downtown and get some groceries and anything else we needed. I would stay home and help my father make some dinner for when she would return, we would use up the rest of the food in the fridge, sometimes we didn’t have a lot but it always came together in the end.
At 6:00 PM the sun would be setting and you would see her bright yellow Bug toot its way down the driveway and slowly come to a stop just before the garage. I would run outside to meet her
and help with the groceries, and she would sit down as my father put them away and I would serve whatever we made, and then we would eat... like a normal family eats dinner together... but one day she never came back.
I remember we waited in silence, 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, then father said he would wait and I would go to sleep... I didn’t sleep. I waited and waited until the small clock was lit up by the moonlight in the corner of my room, it said 2 o’clock, I waited for her to come home that night.
She had on my favorite pair of forest green sneakers and was in bright magenta pants and a matching shirt. I hoped that I could see her yellow Bug climb down the driveway like it always did. But after the clock said 3, I went to sleep. The dream I had that night sent my mind in a fury— I was running down a grassy green hill and at the bottom there is my mother, with open arms... I run faster and faster down the hill until I reach her... and like smoke she was gone. My screams sent my father running up the steps and cradling me in his arms asking what’s wrong but I was too afraid to say that she was gone.
I remember it vividly, it was so long ago. I pick up the envelope and look at the seal and caress the paper, folding it over and over in my hands. Debating whether I should even open it in the first place. I put it down and picked up another piece of paper, the report, a couple of days after.
After a couple of days we filed a police report. All the big tall cops scared me, so I clung to Daddy’s side like a barnacle. The first policeman asked what she was wearing the day she disappeared, I found some courage and said “She... she was wearing these dark green sneakers and... and the color magenta on top and bottom... And she has a yellow Bug that goes toot down the driveway when she is home from the market.”.
He looked at me and nodded and continue to spew some nonsense that my five-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend at the time. After we left the station we went home and all I did was hope that she was home... she wasn’t.
That fateful day in May, we lost hope of everything we had wished. They found her car, a month later, on the coast of Cape Cod, the Cape police contacted the Lewis Vil police and they told us the car was covered in vines and slowly eroding near the bumper and around the license plate, a lot of rain had fallen and the sun roof was busted open so the car and seats were soaked and smelled of mold. The keys were still in the car sitting neatly on the dashboard, they tried to turn it on but the gas was empty. The police noticed a small card sitting next to the keys, it had browned from the rain and was wrinkled from the water. In my mother's beautiful calligraphy-like handwriting it said, My love and dearest, the wind blows where I am going and I hope you will understand what I had to do to keep you safe and out of...
And that was it. Just like that my mother had slipped through my fingers never to be seen again. I saw my dad cry that day. When we received the note this was only a month after her
disappearance, she could still be alive the police said but the likelihood of where they found her car... and her keys... and not her, was unlikely that I would ever see her again. They searched the woods, the harbor, the towns, inns and hotels. Nothing.
When they searched the car they found a small revolver in between the consul and the drivers seat, it was also rusting and only had 2 bullets left in the barrel. When they asked my father he said he didn’t know she even had a license to have one or even knew how to shoot. Another thing the seat was moved back much farther then where my mother kept it, my mother was only 5 foot 4 inches, and sat very close to the wheel, but when they found her car the seat was pushed back as far it could go. We thought she might have gotten stuck and couldn’t get out and had to move the seat back, but the passenger seat was pulled up close and uncomfortably near the glove compartment, like it was being protected and someone was hovering above it, yet when they searched the car nothing was found except a map of New England... and my mother was never heard from again.
I was young, I wanted to get rid of her. She abandoned us with no meaning at all, my father was in distraught for years and years and now I all I have is this, this stupid envelope that could say something important or it could say nothing at all. I stared at it and slowly picked at the corner where it had started to come up.
“Honey, can I come in?” said my dad from the hallway.
“Shit... uh, yeah, hold on.” I quickly shoved all the pictures and the envelope under a pile of clothes and sat right back on my bed, “Ok.” My dad came in holding a small little box. “Here, I wanted to give this to you as one last parting gift for your birthday.”
I took the box and unwrapped its blue wrapping, inside was a little necklace with a little lighthouse pendant and a small diamond as the light. “Oh wow, thank you Dad, it’s beautiful.” I gave him a hug and sat back down and put the necklace on.
“It was your mother’s, she was saving it for your birthday one year, to give to you. I just thought it was a good time for you to have it.”
“I love it— thank you.”
“Ok, good night. I'll see you tomorrow, make sure you get all packed.”
“Good night, and no need to worry about me, I’ve got this under control.”
With a chuckle, my dad turned around and closed the door behind him. I quickly jumped and grabbed the box from the clothes. I grabbed the envelope and played with the corners and
ripped the envelope open, exposing a heavy piece of paper. I hesitated for a moment, I didn’t know if I really wanted to know what this said, my hands slightly shaking as I reached for the letter.
Today was the day, and yesterday was yesterday, today is a new day the same, it was two days ago and two days before that and two weeks before that. Those days were normal but today was the day that I gave up, gave up on my mother. Not another word about her, not another sad glance in my direction, today was that day. We moved in all my stuff and got me all settled in to my new room. Finally he had to go, I said goodbye to my dad and he took a minute to let go, but eventually he did. I watched him drive away, down the long road over the bridge and away to home.
That night I took my necklace, the one that my mother was saving for me, for all these years, and I threw it off the bridge, where I watched it sink to the bottom of the river in the moonlight, never to be seen again.