After that first reading, it became obvious to me I was secretly an actor in my own play. Too bad I hadn’t chosen a musical. Those seem to be relatively happier.
Outwardly, I decided I would put my every ounce of my energy into parenting. This level of interest was new to me, so I knew it needed to happen gradually. I couldn’t just wake up one morning and be Howdy Doody. Since this was all an act anyway, it clearly needed to happen slowly. No use scaring the children.
Not that I thought Seliah would tolerate insta-mommy, anyway. She had a knack for calling me out on my shit, so the slow and steady was definitely the plan.
I felt alive again. The first time for that since… well, since Harold.
In the subconscious part of my mind, I began formulating a plan. I guess it wouldn’t be too long before I admitted to myself that I had one. Again.
The mommy years were upon me. Lamar Kevin was three and Seliah was ten. I decided it was high time I tried to figure out who these people were – because in order to get where I was going, I’d need their cooperation.
Before the mommy years, the kids weren’t actually people. They were distractions from my heart, and responsibilities to be kept. If he needed his diaper changed, fine. If she got on my case to help make dinner, fine. Until the moment I decided I would do something about this life I had awoken into, there were just pieces in the story, not like they served any real purpose other than to keep me in line.
If I’m honest with you, Roy was, too, as far as I had been concerned. It’s like a curtain lifted in front of my eyes. I had been a ventriloquist’s dummy, going through the movements without a lot of purpose – just treading water hoping not to sink, I guess.
The girls said a woman’s awakening happened around thirty-five years old. I just agreed with them, unsure if it was my being middle aged or if it was because I’d finally started getting real with myself.
I was surprised to realize that Seliah was an unusually bright child. It was always something I took for granted – neither her wit or her astute observations were ever anything I’d put any thought or merit into. So imagine my shock when I took it all in. I’d made a little person once upon a time, and even though I put every possible hindrance to her success in her way, she’d figured out how to make things work, and well.
My son – Harold’s son – was an easy, compassionate child. He loved animals and followed his big sister around everywhere. I didn’t need to notice them when I was going through my ghost years. Seliah had it handled, and she was doing a fine job raising Lamar Kevin.
Mom kept inserting herself. It was okay at first because she was just being friendly and it was nice to have her help so I didn’t have to do so much. I didn’t really care for the fact that she decided which chores she’d do, but what can you do? Dad said I needed to let her do what she was willing to, and that at least I wouldn’t have to worry so much about those things. He said, “Look at it as more free time.”
It was a relief when she started playing with Lamar Kevin. He was a good baby, but always getting in my stuff. And if you remember what it was like being ten, there’s a lot of stuff to be gotten into.
Instead of coming home to having to grown up stuff, I had more opportunities to go outside and play with some of the other kids in the neighborhood. Which would have been really awesome if they weren’t such babies all the time.
The good news is that mom wasn’t really a baby, and she was doing a much better job at being a grown up, so I did my best to include her when I could. And when I wasn’t hanging out with mom, I found there was a sixteen-year-old girl up the street who let me come around some.
I found out that outside of school it was little harder to keep friends. In school, I was the smart one, and so the teachers and kids were pretty nice. But in the neighborhood, they could be really hard to talk to. Even when I was interested in crack the whip or marbles, some of those kids did a lot of whining and not getting along so well.
So, usually I ended up just going home to talk to Mom. It was pretty easy to convince her we needed to get another batch of cookies or bread going, and I’d show her the recipe box and she’d say, “Welp, let’s pull the ingredients out.”
I was much better at cooking than she was. After our third attempt ending up burnt again, I asked her about it.
“Mom, didn’t you cook ever?”
“Yeah, ‘course, Seliah. I know it doesn’t show, but I cooked with my mom when I was young.”
“Maybe a little older.”
“You didn’t cook when I was little?”
She didn’t answer right away and I guess she decided to go with honesty. “Not really, we always had stuff left over from the weekend.”
“Like Rachel’s cooking.”
She paused to bite into her over-hard chocolate chip cookie. “Yeah, and there were some other gals who cooked.” With a thoughtful look on her face she went on, “We were pretty busy drinking and enjoying each others’ company. People brought food over a lot. And when it was just your dad and me, we liked this nice little diner down the way.”
“Huh,” I said. “Do you know any of your recipes from back home?”
“Ooh,” she said with a remembering look on her face, “what were you thinking of?”
Other days we didn’t get along as well. Mom was pretty moody still, even though I could tell she felt bad after she snapped at me or Lamar Kevin. She’d explode at us and then get real quiet. Dad said that was her way of saying sorry.
I usually forgave her – just like that. I knew she didn’t always have the best control over herself. It takes lots of practice to know just how to behave best, but one time I had had enough.
I was tired and she must have been, too, but when she raised her voice over something – I can’t remember what, exactly – she just exploded and it was probably something really stupid. Her red face faded and she sheepishly sat down. Lamar Kevin wasn’t old enough to know not to cry about her loud voice, and so he had tears streaking his cheeks and I flew in a fury at her.
“What is wrong with you!” I screamed at her. “You can’t just go around all your life going ape like that! When are you gonna learn?”
She looked at me like I had just slapped her, and to be honest I wasn’t sure she wouldn’t slap me back. But I couldn’t stop. I was so angry and I had reached the end of my wick.
“You’re a grown woman, Mom. You need to start acting like it. Don’t be throwing a temper tantrum like a baby. What are you? Four?” My eyes went to Lamar Kevin, hoping he wouldn’t take offense at that.
She liked to egg on fights with Dad, and he never reacted to her. He’d always said it was a good idea not to fuel the fire because Mom could get real mad, and here I was, asking her to respond with strong words.
To my surprise, she stood up, knocking the chair over behind her, and then she left. Like, not just going to her room, but she full on left the house! “Oh God, Oh God…” I muttered over and over.
It turned out okay because she came home shortly after Dad got home. Boy, was I nervous, though. I kept worrying that I had finally broken the camel’s back with her and knew it was going to be real hard explaining myself to Dad. We’d done so much hard work to keep her home and happy. My guess was that it wouldn’t take much to make her leave again.
It wasn’t too long after our first fight that Mom started teaching me about her secret gods. It was really important that I kept my mouth shut about it, especially around Dad and other grown ups. Mom said it was a really beautiful system she was trying to show me but that other people who didn’t know any better were pretty afraid of women who knew how to use magic.
Her secret lessons were a really nice opportunity for Mom to show me some things I couldn’t learn from school. At first I was a little overwhelmed with how much there was I didn’t know – and so many little rules to remember. She said I should spend too much time worrying about it, but that I should pick something that I liked and learn all about that one thing.
Since she was good at reading cards and the pendulum, I thought it would be good to learn about some of the healing herbs. Besides, herbs on the surface weren’t really obviously witchcraft. No one would question why I was growing things.
Mom said she had a group of ladies she’d spend time with to get more education about witching stuff. She didn’t tell me who they were, but I’m guessing she was just talking about Femi, Sonci, Mathilda, and Perry. They seemed a little weird so I guess it made sense that they were the witches. That and I didn’t see her hanging out with any other ladies.
It was the girls who encouraged me to take Seliah into the craft. At first, I thought there was no way on earth I was bringing Seliah into that. Mostly, Roy would murder me if he knew I was exposing her to “the dark arts.” But as the thought simmered in my head for some time, I agreed. This was the perfect thing to bring us together, and if Seliah grew up used to keeping my secrets, well, all the better.
She took to what I taught really quickly. I shouldn’t have been surprised. She was a brilliant kid. Maybe it was more a surprise that she so interested. I saw bits and pieces of rebellion in that girl and my own rebellious spirit thrummed with recognition.
“Toni,” Sonci asked, “how is the girl with things?” We were seated around the table, waiting for Perry to show. All eyes moved to me and I couldn’t help but gloat for a moment.
“She’s been doing really well. Seliah had her father buy a journal for her book of herbs. Said it was a diary.”
The girls tittered. “She’s becoming quite a big girl now?” asked Methilda. “What is she? Twelve?”
“Nearly time for her moon,” Sonci said. Three heads nodded like sages. I about choked.
“Don’t rush it, girls.”
Femi covered my hand with hers. “Do you know about dose customs for when your child hits womanhood?”
“She’s practically a woman already without her period,” I said, shaking my head. “She’s practically moody enough.”
“Don’t be so scared of it, Toni. She’s going to do much better if you make it something special.”
While Seliah was turning into a young woman before my eyes, Lamar Kevin was changing just as fast. From a toddler to a talking, hard-playing little boy. His personality started showing and I was proud to see he had his father’s sense of humor. And his good looks.
It wouldn’t be too long before he was old enough to go to school himself. I was ready for it, finally. My little boy had become my shadow, my little friend, and he talked more than any other thing he did.
As he became more independent, more willing to repeat what he heard, it had also become more difficult to practice my secrets while he was around to witness. I held my breath every time he opened his mouth in the days after holding our meeting at the house. It was unfair, I know, but I planned on saying, “Are you something? I just don’t know where you get those things,” if anything incriminating came out of his mouth.
With Seliah, I’d never get away with it – she was daddy’s little princess and no lies could ever make their way to his ears. But with Lamar Kevin, I felt it would work, even if it wasn’t the most honorable means of parenting.
Now don’t look at me like that. I fully get that some folks would call this a wrong plan, but a girl’s gotta have some privacy from her husband.
Another bonus about the craft: I was inspired to get back on the keys again. I’d played the piano my whole life – except during the first few years back with Roy. It was too much effort to keep my fingernails filed and my eyes up on the music. I appreciated then that Roy had kept my piano.
I asked him about that once. Why he kept her.
He said he remembered the story about me pushing a piano out of the apartment when it was on fire. He knew it was important to me, and he had wanted to get lessons for Seliah if I wasn’t around to teach her.
A pang of guilt punched me in the guts. I didn’t know if I had it in me to teach her. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want her to use the piano – that was alright with me. Just wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the time to teach her. She was bright enough to pick it up quickly, but for some reason in my head, that was such a personal thing. One I wasn’t sure I was ready to share with her.
“You can still get her lessons,” I told him.
I knew he took that as though I still wasn’t feeling well. And maybe I wasn’t, if I was refusing to pass on something that would hugely benefit her if she took to it.
When I was home alone, I sat on her bench and let my fingers take me for a walk. We’d see sad stories and memories. Longing and whispers in the back yard. Lost friendships and new ones about to become real.
As my fingers fluttered across the keys, I could think clearly. Something about idle hands.
But it wasn’t idle hands that would get me in trouble. It was time to make plans. Time to assess where I was in my life, and compare it to where I wanted to be.
Mustn’t go there, I thought a million times a day. But I would go there. And I’d imagine what he was doing right that moment. Imagine him telling me to meet him in our dreams. To dream rendezvous under the safety of moonlight. I’d remember what warm skin felt like when my arms laid wrapped around him as he slept.
And I’d awaken, like from a trance. Instead of the rumble of a concerto, I was enveloped in silence. Solitude was a good healer, but now that I was on the mend, it was lonelier than before.