When Momma told me I killed my mother, my whole life made painful sense. I didn’t understand the details, but puzzle pieces clicked together with her words. Hearing her say that I was special wasn’t new, but she’d never said that my mother had died in childbirth. Momma always said that she didn’t remember anything after the accident. But why would she lie? And why would she tell me now? What made the fall before senior graduation the right time? Because I was now “an adult?” Was it because she was sick again? Was it because I’d asked one too many times?
As she glanced out the window at nothing in particular, I had to pause and close my mouth. How long had my jaw been dropped like that? She wasn’t surprised by my reaction given the serene look on her face.
“Why?” I sputtered.
“Why?” Her eyes crinkled, and her head tilted in her signature sign of curiosity.
“Why didn’t you tell me before? Why now?”
“Liam.” She leaned over the lunchbox sitting in the cramped seat of our old 2015 Toyota to get closer to me. “It’s time that you learn a little more about the world.”
She patted my arm as and kissed my cheek and then leaned back over to her side of the car. I glanced over at her and saw that she was looking out the window again as if she’d just answered the flood of questions that were overwhelming my brain. I couldn’t be mad at her. This had always been her silent, certain way. The short, deliberate speech was her very essence. It was the way that everyone else knew that she was “other,” and that I was too.
We rode in silence for quite a while until a gurgle disrupted from my stomach. I rubbed my belly and then looked at the wristlet containing my comp. It was already 4 o’clock, and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
“You feel like eating something, Momma?” I asked
“Yes, please,” she answered.
We stopped at the next exit, and I asked my comp where the closest rest stop or air-conditioned park was. “Two miles. Willoughby park and vehicle storage,” the mechanical voice answered and then began directions.
When we’d arrived, we put our face masks on to cover our mouths and noses. I stretched but only for a moment. The heat was scorching in the car, but it was completely unbearable out in the direct sunlight. I could feel my skin burn under the 115 degrees of sunshine overhead. Even though my skin was naturally dark, the desert sun wasn’t kind.
There was no one else in the glass globe that functioned as a rest stop, so we had a clear view of the sand and Organ Mountains. Momma pulled the sandwiches out of the lunchbox from the car, and we both applied squirts of foaming sanitizing liquid to our hands. With another boil order for the state of Texas, we couldn’t be sure that the water in the tap was safe to clean up with.
I heard the whir of the air filtration and central air condition intensifying above our heads as it sensed our presence. Momma had made me a bologna and cheeze sandwich on crisp bread for and a toona salad on wilted lettuce for her. I could tell that she hadn’t had much to trade this week from the sad sight of the lunch, but it made sense. She wasn’t up to contributing to other households when she could barely take care of herself at this point.
“How’s your head today?” I asked with a mouth full of processed fake cheese and squishy meat.
“Hm?” she mumbled with a mouthful of faux fish.
“Your head, Momma? Anymore, you know,” I motioned with my hands the way that she always did, “Whispiness?”
“Do I look that way?”
“You just look . . . different today.”
“Don’t worry, Liam.” She patted my arm again in her matter-of-fact way.
“Momma, can I ask you something?”
“Really, Momma. Why are we doing all of this? You’ve never asked to go to the coast before. I thought you hated the beach, honestly. Ever since I almost drowned up in Alaska, I mean . . . I thought your were scared of the water or something.” I stumbled over my words.
She looked outside the cool, glass dome at the sand thoughtfully, and once she’d finished chewing her bite, she turned on the bench and looked into my face.
“You know that I love you more than anything in this world, don’t you, Liam?”
“Well, yes.” I failed to keep the look of shock from my face. As kind and generous as Momma had always been, we rarely used the word love. On birthdays or when celebrating major achievements, that word was acceptable, but today, on any old Saturday, she offered it up like it was easy to say. Like it was something she told me every day. “I love you too, Momma, but this is all so . . . out of character. You’re worrying me.”
“I know that my life won’t last forever. It has taken me some time to recognize that you will need to be prepared for some special challenges when that time comes.”
I hung on her words. Why was she talking to me about dying? The doctors didn’t ever find anything from all of those months of scan, and she seemed like she’d been doing better besides some fatigue. How long had this been going on?
“I want to see the ocean before I go and . . .” She hesitated and broke eye contact for a moment, and then, with her gaze set out on the mountains, she said, “And you need to know the truth about who and what you really are.”