We loved road trips – my mom, sister, and myself. We’ve traveled down to California, across Canada to Montréal, and various small camping trips around the island. I have fond memory snapshots of dust flying up as we cautiously bumped down logging roads. Timber being swallowed whole by brilliant wild flowers under blue skies. Lightening striking down over gentle rolling hills. Nestling between mountains that seemed to have no end. Happily reading my books as mom drove on. My sister and I playing games which at times led to epic fights. There are also polarids that we carefully tuck away.
Such as when we went to a national park in Washington. I believe it was at the beginning of our road trip to California – we were to go to Disney Land. Something that we felt incredibly excited about. Disney Land! Oh, it will be glorious my sister and I thought. And it was. Despite the ridiculously long line ups. We committed a family crime – stealing mickey mouse headbands and pencils. There was such a long line up so my mom looked at us both and quickly signed – come on, let’s go. I think this was the very minute my sister and I decided to become hardened children with stealing problems. Ha. No, we stole before. Especially candy, we couldn’t resist the candy. Never could.
Anyhow, at this national park – it was a beautiful day. I remember my sister and I complained a bit while we hiked. But we had fun and our mom took pictures of us. She’s an amazing photographer and thanks to her – we have so many beautiful portraits of us growing up. After the hike, we got back in the car and started driving down the road. My sister and I started to argue about something and that was it for mom. She abruptly hit the brakes, spun around, and screamed at us to get out. We obligated and stood on the side of the road. Our mom started driving again and disappeared around the curve.
Honestly I don’t remember any distress. I would imagine most children would be crying at this point. Terrified that they were just abandoned by their parent. But my sister and I stood there – looking at that curve in the road. After a little bit, we sat down. I don’t remember us discussing anything. I remember being surrounded by majestic mountains and forests that towered above us.
Moments like this – my sister and I dealt with it in our own ways. I’m not sure about my sister but for me, I shut down my feelings. No use in feeling abandoned. Maybe because I had a little sister. Being afraid in front of her wouldn’t help anything. Maybe I knew it wouldn’t help myself either. Maybe I didn’t want to give my mom that – she didn’t deserve to see me upset. I just felt nothing instead. I learned this trick very early on in my life and stuck with it for as long as I could.
I would do the same thing whenever our mom threatened to kill herself. It’s interesting though – my sister and I remember different situations. Ones that really stuck out for her are ones that I have completely forgotten about and vice-versa.
My sister remembers our mom telling us that she was going to go out to her car and turn the gas on to suffocate herself. After she left to do this, my sister and I looked at each other and waited – feeling unsure as to what we should do. We waited because if we followed, mom would get mad at us. So we waited. Then after a while, we went to check on her. Was she going to be dead? No, she was alive and crying uncontrollably in her car. This memory is strongly engraved in my sister’s recollections of the past and completely absent in mine.
A memory of mine that my sister does not share is when mom told us she was going to drive up island to the logging roads and kill herself. We nodded because what else are we supposed to do? Plead? Beg? Insist that she doesn’t kill herself? It’s out of our control. All we can is just nod at her. After arranging it with her best friend, our chosen aunt and housemate, to watch us for a few days – she packed up and left. I don’t think our aunt knew she was planning to kill herself. That week – I remember us going on with our lives. There was no use in feeling anything about this situation. But every once a while – I would be hit with a thought: is she alive? Where do we go if she’s dead? Do we stay with our aunt? Or do we live with our grandparents?
But just like this day in Washington, after waiting for a bit with my sister on the side of a road – she returned. She came back. She always did. She never killed herself. She barely stayed afloat at times but she kept trying to make it back to shore. As an adult now, I can think about how young she was. How afraid she must have been. How alone and out of control she must have felt. But for now, I need to make some room for myself.