May woke up on Tuesday morning at 2:15, on August 15th, 2018. Her two children were near, softly snoring. She pulled off her twin size comforter, lifted her head off the carpet floor, grabbed her phone, and tip toed her way out of the bedroom. Next door, she quietly turned the shower head warm, cleaned up, and finished the packing for their flight. Away from Washington, the three of them, one-way tickets to Michigan would board in four hours. Her children, and her.
Two knocks suddenly on the bathroom door. The hairs on May’s arms rose. An immediate clench of her intestines, her heart, and her throat were simultaneous. She didn’t respond. She couldn’t at the moment. “Are you done? I have to use the bathroom. We have to go.” The voice of an alpha male worn by pain and fatigue. May clenched her jaw to allow for a clear passage in her throat with a hard swallow. She responded, “Yea, I’m almost done.” Said with such a soft voice, but somehow, still such a strong bearing, a tone dominant enough to match his demeanor. That heavy hand on the door knock however did enough to wake the kids up, 2:30 in the morning. She sensed the eye roll on the other side of that door as his presence veered further away from her, and closer to the kids bedroom. He would calmly greet the one and three year old after the flood of a bright ceiling light streamed into the slit in their eyes. He would then get them dressed.
The bags were lined up by the front door of their two bedroom townhouse. She walked past that man cave of a small master bedroom; where he would sleep. For the past 14 months, she and the kids slept in the other bedroom. Her on the floor, until she could afford a twin size bed. Her youngest, in a crib. Her oldest, in a toddler bed. No arrangements were made to move the furniture through state lines; not for a twin bed, a crib, or a toddler bed. Those were moved into the garage for giveaway. Only bags of clothes that fit were packed. The ones that carried the better memories within its’ stitches. A diaper bag, a carry on bag, a large suit case, a purse. She brought no pictures, no extra toys, and no blankets. The hours in transit; the hour drive to the airport, the two hours at the Seattle airport, the two hour layover in Chicago, the hour drive from the Detroit airport. Those hours were meant to fleet that stench of horror. Like, spoiled milk… there way too long. The fresh air on the drive would clear things up. The thin air in the sky during the flight would help her drop that attachment. She stepped out of that house, to the car, only bringing what would last all of five days for the three of them. May dabbed a drop of lavender essential oil to her pressure points while waiting for the car to rev up, while that man would have a talk with their children.
That brief and shielded interaction through the bathroom door was remnant of a reality of a nightmare that she had with him just a few months prior. Her 25th birthday. That age felt important to her. Maybe because the day was May 25th. Maybe because she was a stay at home mom, a full-time student, somehow paying for half of all the bills and Washington living expenses, emphasizing here… the children’s expenses. She didn’t just feel spent, like a slave. She’d literally been called a slave.
It was by her mother, who yelled for years now… through the phone to “...leave! You mean to tell me you work full time, but you don’t even see your money? Honey that makes you a slave!” That was three years back, before taking maternity leave. She had saved $500 a month for almost two years… somehow it all was gone. His response, “I guess we spent it on fast food.” He managed the joint bank account and the joint savings account. He budgeted for them both... a tight one for her. He paid the bills. Well… they split the bills. She agreed to a joint bank account after an argument about being a traditional married couple. “Pack your stuff and leave! Now. I’ll pay for it. I can pick you up. You can’t stay there.” What her mom told her continued to echo in her ear while sitting patiently in the car.
That birthday was not too different from the others in that span of time in Washington. They had arranged it so that he would watch the kids every other afternoon, when he got off of work on the week days. They’d split days of the weekend for time with the kids. This day was on a weekend, his day to watch. She went out for a run, then went back to “the house.” She only ever referred to it as “the house.” It was around lunch time when she ran into the bathroom to get cleaned up. An hour later, she was at the mirror; makeup and hair. The kids were now in the bathtub, singing, laughing, catching bubbles, splashing water. His heavy handed knock, two times on the door. “Yea?” May requested. “Where are your keys? I need to get the car seats.” He said. May responds, “They should be on the counter.” Five seconds later, he knocks again, “not there.” May looks around the bathroom, “um, oh! They’re in my bag, right here. I’ll be out there in a minute to unlock the car.” With a heavy pant, he now opens the bathroom door. “Just hand me the keys then, I’ll do it.” This is as much interaction they do in a week by the way...
With a fixed ‘what’s your problem’ face, she says “Man, I’ll be out in a minute.” She attempts to move the door to a close while his heavy hand is still on the other side of the door knob. With one hand, and one shoulder, he insists on keeping the door open. “Close the door!” She shouts with the same fixed face. She caught a glimpse of it in the mirror, along with the wide eyes of her kids in the reflection. His eyes dim as he then whips the door wide open, makes his way in front of her. So uncomfortable to May. They’ve set boundaries over two years ago to not get too close, not even a hug. They haven’t shared a room since their first child was born. May is now cornered into two walls of their bathroom, his feet plotted just inches away from hers, his neck bent down to face her, his arms stiff. That same facial expression wore on May. He just stood there, staring at something on her or in her. Not her eyes of course, his was still dim, not aware of his own actions in that moment. She screamed “move!”, “get out the bathroom”, “get the f*** out my face!” When those awkward twenty seconds past, he snapped out of it, stepped back and walked out of the bathroom, no words spoken. She took a deep breath, blinked up, looked down, glanced at her kids in the bathroom, graced them with a forced gleam in her eyes, grabbed her bag, and walked out of the bathroom.
She then sat on the couch. Unlocked the doors to her car through the window, then turned to a daze. Ten minutes later, she sat in the same spot. As he walked through the small living room nonchalantly he said; “I don’t know why you’re the one upset, you’re the one with the attitude”. In somewhat disbelief she sat up straight, slowly shedding tears, on the couch, in a daze. For the next 10 minutes, she would sit there, tears rolling down, as he got the kids dressed in the kids bedroom. She was 25 years old, a stay at home mom, a full-time student, somehow paying for half of all the bills. Savings depleted, living on credit, sleep deprived and intentionally intimidated.
Rude if she sits in the car waiting any longer is it? She changed the gears of her thought processes, into the now. Out of the car, into the house to carefully assess the mood. Their dad with his eyes red, put shoes on the youngest child. May helped her oldest child zip up his coat, then walked him to the car. A few minutes later, everyone was in the car ready for the drive. That hour, the kids napping, silence.
While sitting in the passenger seat for the last time, she checked out of the moment again, into another memory. A few days after her birthday. The kids were playing, she was cleaning up a bit. The three of them had spent most of that spring day outside in the backyard. She could afford some play time outside then, because she didn’t have class that day, and the online courses didn’t have assignments due for a couple more days. That meant she could go to bed at a decent time. It meant she could use her energy during the day being active with the young boys. He walked in the house from his day at work. He would greet the children in the kitchen, then he would ask to talk to May after the kids’ bedtime. It was her afternoon and evening with the kids. She tells him, after there bedtime, they can talk.
When it was time, they sat in the living room with notebooks and pens ready. He said, “I think you are going through a rough time right now. I think moving near your family, you and the kids, would help.” May quickly shut her mouth, after a slight jaw drop. She held her chin up gently. She discretely held in that smile seeping from the right corner of her lips. He went on to say, “I understand it’s not a healthy environment for any of us at this point. So, I am presenting this idea in order to help keep us all in a good place emotionally.” I think being around your family will help you, since you haven’t been there in so long. And I think it will help with the boys, since they can learn more of they’re culture and be around more family. They haven’t really gotten that in their life yet, with us being in the military.” She keeps a straight face, not a peep. “So, what do you think?” He continues, “It’s just an idea, obviously there’s a lot we’d have to plan out for that.” May takes a deep breathe, then considerably agrees to his proposal. “You said it so many times, you don’t want me here... this is something I would have considered anyway.” Knowing that honestly, it wasn’t. She grew up without a dad. She almost desperately did everything she could to avoid that scenario for her children. She had notebooks filled with plans and options on a parenting schedule that was neutral.
She knew no one in Washington, she trusted no one in Washington. Who knew how long he’d be stationed there. Her plans were to follow him, even if divorced, to make sure the kids could see their dad. Her education path, her projected career path, her dreamt up hobbies, all revolved around the idea that it would not be stationary, a portable way of living. His proposal though brought perspective. She was then permitted to ask herself, what she really wanted for herself. That’s not something she would have considered before. She hadn’t lived in her home in 10 years. She hadn’t been home for more than 4 days, in 10 years. She couldn’t really call a place home in 10 years. Those years were spent shifting into roles to make her stay. Those years were spent adding value while diminishing her own. Those years of forgetting what real love was. Not until she became a mother did she remember what that actually was.
Back in the car, her mind settled back into the current moment. They pulled up to the gate at the Seattle airport. They pulled out the bags, the stroller, the car seats, the children. The kids had that heartfelt moment with their dad. They waved goodbye. They position themselves to move through the airport. They walked. After checking bags, and getting through security, things were smooth. It was another adventure for the three of them. On the flight, May remembered the lavender scent on her skin. It calms her. It takes her to the favorite dream. The summer breeze brushes along her face as she tip toes barefoot on the ground beneath. She’s careful to step only on the soft parts of the green grass. She finds a spot perfect to lay in. Although the lavender stems reach high against her knees, she sink into the sacred bed and gazes at the skies. May feels the sunlight sink into her cheeks as her grin reflects the shine.
The lavender oil was a trick she used to take a break from anxiety. A few drops on her skin when her stomach clenched up at the of perplexed stares and irked head turns. She’d thought in 2018, the offenses of racism and segregation were close to obsolete. It was a new world they had moved to, and outdated one maybe. Her dark skin next to her children’s fairer, was a quick trigger for the neighbors of which she would learn to avoid. It was love that conceived these beautiful humans, wasn’t it? Who would proclaim the right, the audacity to judge a parents intentions of procreating? Who could ever judge a stranger? On the bases of skin color for that matter. The tension built in the unsaid, in the eyes, and murmuring while passing, was just another thing that felt out of her control. To be condemned without reason, without an actual dialogue to confirm their opinion made it hurt so much worse.
She first learned how good the essential oil worked when she drove on the highways of Texas. She had a kind of phobia about highways, driving on them. Seven years ago, he taught her how to drive there. She was 18 years old and just moved from out of the country. He drove close to every weekend to see her, a 10 hour drive, one way. They’d practice driving, eat out, sleep in. He took her to get her drivers license, lent her his car, and bought a new one. He was a friend, a mentor, a parent. He loved her. She appreciated him. She felt in debt to him. So in those years shortly following, with every request, her answer became yes, without contemplation. The yes became strained when she became a mother. No longer being parented, she was now the parent. May learned how selfless the act should be, not transactional. She grew resentful for all of the times she said yes before hearing the question. She grew resentful for the times that he knew what he was doing, to get whatever he wanted.
The air felt different when they landed. In through their breathe, it filled their hearts like never before. She had found a place that she would thrive in. After landing to the Detroit airport, at baggage claim, family was there to greet them. When May heard the words “I love you” it felt more like true a statement, no longer a line of persuasion. Walking through the airport garage, the glances from neighbors would accompany polite smiles, kind gestures, kind greetings.
May’s chill was warming up. Those raised hairs settled. Her heart beat settled. She could breathe. It was the first time in a long time where she could breathe out loud. She could begin to do the work that would build her as a whole person and as a strong mother. She could sleep with both eyes closed. She could sing in the shower. Although her children could do these things all along, there witness to her change brought enforcement to do the same more often. Everyday now, it was “We are going home now” not “We’re going to the house now.” Her body didn’t clench at the car door closing or the house door opening. They were home. She calls it home.