By Kennedy Coyne
All I see is white. All of the images blend together. I don’t know where I am. I feel weightless, mentally. I’ve never experienced this before. But my head is heavy. It drops down, as do my eyelids, as though some force greater than gravity is pushing down on me. I can’t help but notice something on my arm, almost transparent. Taped. My face feels wet, maybe from tears, but I can’t remember crying. I’m in some sort of distorted dream. I would have to be; I must be.
I live in the solace of my archaic brick apartment just outside of Seattle. Ideally I would have taken all the money I made from Come a Little Closer and moved someplace farther, maybe across the world, where no one would know who I was for the first time in my life, but my mother still has her image to think of, and I, even now, serve as a representation of her. My mother is something of a creative genius, a New York Times bestselling author, who had a daughter for the sole purpose of playing her in a movie adaptation of one of her books. After her first book, rumors stirred about a movie to visually embody her piece of art, her writing. Almost a year later, I was born. Although she would never explicitly admit this to me, it’s always been an unspoken truth. Something no other person has ever done before.
I can’t remember a moment in my life when I was not treated like an object. A woman with her purpose in life predestined. Even growing up as a child, my mother would have outfits tailored for me that appeared identical to ones she wore in old photographs throughout the years. She said it would help me to truly grasp her reality, to be in touch with her own upbringing. But I was lucky, she would say, because her parents didn’t give her the attention she deserved, and she was correcting that with me.
I can hear her voice in this blurred room. I still don’t know where I am, and I feel lifeless, but it couldn’t be a dream if she is here. Her voice instills in me a yearning for escape, and I begin to remember. I was running. I was running fast and then faster. In my hand I tightly embraced a plastic bottle. It looked like water but tasted bitter, burning my throat with every sip. After the first bottle I was convinced it had to be water, but water never tasted this good. I never felt this good. The grass was a shade of green I don’t think I had ever seen before, much brighter, and although it was cloudy, I could feel the warmth of the sun warming my body. It was almost miraculous that it was not raining. I was sure that the sun understood me better than I understood myself. She was trying to hide behind the translucent clouds. But it wasn’t as dull then, in that moment, as it is now. It isn’t sunny anymore, and this light is fake, exuberating heat, as though it is just there, rather than shining down upon me. And for an instant, as my reality sinks in, I cannot breathe.
“Why are you doing this to me?” she cries in that utterly shrill voice of hers. I’m sixteen and after three weeks of working on her movie, I tell her I don’t think I can do it. That I never asked for this. I was all she had, and she was all I had. All that my mother possessed was her writing and me. Her career always came first, and I was simply a product of it, like a piece of writing gone wrong. We didn’t speak to family, as they donned too much negativity on her life, or so she has always said. They never understood her, which was something she never told me but made clear in some of her books. I was raised well aware of my sole purpose as an instrument in portraying her life.
Our existence made us both reclusive, and although I was always in her company, I felt more alone with her than without her. But I was content with being alone, alone with myself, because no one treated me like a real person. Strangers would come up to me and let me know how blessed I was to be related to such an artist, an innovator, and that her work was astonishing, and my least favorite, that I seemed to be just like her. In school I spent most of my time in the depths of books, because I didn’t know how to interact with the other kids my age, and they couldn’t make sense of my miscomprehension of them. Those who tried to understand I pushed away, knowing that they would never be capable of accepting the curious life I was forced to live.
My mother also carried an aura of mystery about her. She encompassed an unattainable disposition that exuberated immense sensuality. I never knew a father, and I never knew my mother to be with a man, nor even want to be with one. In various news articles I found through my own online research, as well as black and white clippings resting in dusty boxes located in our square attic, a plethora of different men claiming to have been my father. I had no doubt she found an attractive man and coaxed him into sleeping with her on a less than ordinary night. When I first heard children at school talking about my absent father, rumors running free, obviously passed down from the mouths of their parents, it was June, and Father’s Day was approaching as peers made cards out of pink construction paper. I went home later that day, eyes moist with tears of confusion, and asked my mother why I did not have a father like my classmates. “Am I not good enough for you?” she responded callously and took a large inhale of the cigarette she was smoking.
I’m sitting in this blurred colorless world and again I hear “Why are you doing this to me?” I open my eyes, lifting the invisible weights that are bringing them down, just enough to see her distressed long blonde hair falling over her face, the waves of honey covering half, and her wrinkling hands like a blanket over the rest. Aside from her pale demeanor, she stands out in this room. If she’s crying I know it’s not because of me. Her embarrassment overshadows any prospect of worry.
When I was hardly four years old, I walked into the doorway of the book room in the middle of the night. I’m not sure what time it was, except that our house was almost chillingly still; quiet, with the exception of noises coming from that particular room. It was my favorite place in our hollow house. One thing my mother and I share is our love for literature and poetry, and her library of books exceeded anything a typical bookstore contained. It was undoubtedly the brightest, most colorful room in the house; the shelves stuffed with Albert Camus and Milan Kundera, Joan Didion and Adrienne Rich. There were thousands of books. This night she had the fire burning in the antiquated fireplace, the logs in the pit turning black engulfed in the bright orange flames. She sat with her legs crossed on her dusty red chair, cigarette in one hand and scotch in the other, a square ashtray cradled in her lap. Her face was smudged with black from the mixture of tears and makeup. Everything about this night was peculiar to me, even though I was only a little girl. My mother never sat in that chair, she was always on the couch with Louise, the only other person I knew to live with us, as they were engulfed in whatever books they were reading. And at this point in my life, morning until night was filled with laughter. But this night, my mother sat alone, and I couldn’t grasp why she was acting the way she was, nor did I sympathize where Louise had gone.
I slowed my pace and pulled my arms up towards her and she wrapped me in hers; for a moment we were one. But then something strange, she slapped me across the face. Every time I think back, I can still feel the sting of her dry hand, as though she were releasing her emotional pain to that of a physical, on a face close enough to her own. The only person my mother ever loved, was gone. I was all that was left.
After three hours in the hospital, the nurses in their dull blue scrubs release me. I hear them telling my mother that therapy would be a better alternative for my emotional clearing. She gives them the same response I am too acquainted with, an expressionless stare. Walking, or rather, stumbling through the lobby I see a couple to my left looking at me, both wearing dishonest, condescending smiles. Whispers follow insincere gestures, “She should learn to write about her emotions, like her mother.” And although she remains silent, my mother stands beside me.
What I realize, and I what I think she realizes too is that we are solely two empty, quietly distinct bodies. She drives me home from the hospital in her rusted maroon 1972 Pontiac, a car her father bought her. I never understood why she kept it all these years. She never had a strong relationship with her parents, resenting her father for naming her Charles, because he wanted a son, and resenting her mother for letting him. She puts the car in reverse, turns the brown leather wheel with her magic hands to the right, and shifts gears to drive. Pulling out of the parking lot, she pulls out her dusty brown pack of Camels, grabs a cigarette and holds it as tight as ever in between her wrinkling lips. As she lights it, she mumbles an aggravated “fuck” slamming her right hand against the steering wheel as she barely misses the green light turning red. I’m watching her now, and I hate how perfect she looks, like a still photo. Dressed in earth tones, clothes baggy but delicate, and light, she whispers, “You never understood.” Her words are almost as tantalizing as her appearance, and I say nothing.
A month goes by and still I have no contact with my mom. This happens often, as she’ll turn off all technology for months while she’s engulfed in some sort of writing. But this time, it feels different. I keep checking my messages because, maybe, this time will be different. It’s clear to me now that I want to understand her, better than the understanding I have pulled from the profundities of her writing. That will be the therapy I’ve always needed, to genuinely know the other half of myself. I open the door to my understated gray Nissan Sentra, and climb inside, as though I were about to climb a mountain, lighting a Merit before I start my new expedition. As I drive on an empty road, I realize that I too am to blame for allowing myself to be shaped by my mother. I spent years resenting her rather than trying to grasp the reasoning behind her actions, or rather, lack thereof. Almost immediately as I reach the vacant path, my phone rings, and I let it keep ringing. It stops, but starts again instantaneously. It was the police department, dispassionately informing me about my mother and the fire that burned in the book room.