I can hear her eating over the phone, a cacophony of rushed breathing and pita bread, as she explains to me why I shouldn’t cut my hair short.
I’m barely listening. I’ve got the phone set on the counter while I cut up vegetables—but I don’t want to offend my own mother.
“I just don’t think you’d be a lady anymore. I think girls are prettier with long hair. And quit that hair dying stuff, you should be proud of your black hair,” she spits.
I’ve always hated my hair. It is a reminder of who I’m supposed to be. The small Portuguese woman, soft and gentle. Loving and dedicated. So I dyed it.
I know how liberating a change of appearance can be. I think liberation is a fear of Portuguese women.
“I hear what you’re saying mom,” I push the veggies into a pan, almost violently, “But I should really go now. I need to finish dinner.”
She huffs, and finally agrees.
An hour and a half had passed already, and still the car was silent. My mother was looking out the window. I couldn't figure out a single thing to say to her.
Liberty, Kansas was approaching quickly, and we had to make a decision or we would be stuck here overnight.
“Mom?” But her gaze was still locked on the changing landscape. “Hey, Liberty is coming up onto us soon. We gonna stay?” Still her eyes were glazed.
I waited for a better answer - but realizing that I wasn’t going to get one, I continued, “You know, we could keep going. I still have plenty of energy.”
My mother looked at me with conviction. “Are we in a hurry?”
I had to stay silent. She sure seemed in a hurry to leave my father. Her things had been packed for weeks, and her decision to move to California was made on a dime. The journey across the country had started less than a few hours ago. I guess I was in it with her until my winter break was up.
Then I would return. Without her.
“I guess, I just thought… we could travel so much farther tonight. I’m not much in the mood to sleep anyway.”
I had to look away from her and the road to stare down at my lap. The light on my phone was blinking. No doubt another text from my father asking if we had made it to Liberty unharmed.
I had a bad taste in mouth seeing the light blink, but I had no interest in answering and making my mother agitated.
“Now be good for your mother,” my father is holding me to his chest outside the front door. I’m frowning into his jacket as I think of leaving him for the journey.
My mother is inside, I hear her yelling for my help to come retrieve the last minute items. I run inside to grab another box and pile it with the seemingly endless packages in the front yard.
“Think there’ll be anything left for me when she gets her stuff out?” My dad’s smiling, but his humor is lost on me as I force a smile.
“Maybe one bed. She always hated your bed,” I’m shoving the boxes into the car.
My father looks broken as I give him a last wave.
My parents don’t hug. But no one expects them to, I guess. Though, I can see even with signed divorce papers that my father already misses his family.
He watches us from the porch with a broken smile.
“Only seventeen more hours,” I chimed when my mother climbed in the car and nearly spilled coffee across the front seat. She tried to smile at me.
The landscape had changed to bright yellows and oranges as we entered New Mexico. The mountains were towering and had every shade of clay imaginable.
“It’s beautiful out here,” my mother finally admitted. I had to smile at her comment.
“And do you think you will be happy in California?” I looked on sadly.
“Maybe. You never know where you’re going to be happy. Your father and I made this same trip to California together when we first got married.” She paused, as if she had realized something. “And now, I guess, I’m going back.”
I nodded slowly. “How do you feel?”
“Dad? Oh thank god, you picked up.”
My father was confused on the other line. “Is everything okay? You sound terrible. What’s going on over there?”
I nearly cried I was so happy to hear his voice. “Mom has gone insane. She broke a bunch of plates in Aunt Debbie's kitchen. Then she stormed out. I haven’t seen her this angry since I was a child... Her and Debbie were fighting, and…”
“Hey, just wait a second. Calm down. Do you need me to fly out there?”
“No! No, no, no. I can handle this,” I croaked. “I just… No. I just need to leave.”
I walked down the hallway to find my mother.
She was sitting in her new room. Boxes were piled like unopened memories around her. She was cradling her legs on the floor, her dark hair covering her face.
“Jean?” she whispered to me. “You’re not going to leave, are you?” The insinuation brought out anger in me.
I had stood by her side even through the worst of times. I comforted her, as if I were her mother. Now, I’m not sure if I can forgive her.
I packed up my things that night. And went to bed not sure of what my family would become, or had become.
Nine in the morning and the plane had arrived. My aunt was confused at my early departure. I hugged her as if she were the world. The departure wasn’t because of her.
My mother hugged me and told me she would be home soon. I stared at her.
“Home? This is your new home,” I stated cruelly, and immediately wanted to take it back. So I started over.
“You told me when I was eight years old that you were leaving my father. You threatened to leave many a time, and you told me twice that you would never be back. I started to mistrust you when you would show up the next day crying into my father’s arms. This may be the furthest distance you traveled away from your family, but to earn my trust if you come home again… then you can never leave.”
I started crying then and hated myself for it.This women had made years of my life hell with broken promises. But this women… was also my mother.
I hugged her, and so much hope was in that hug I could have choked.
“I’ll miss you.” I cried into her shoulder and she held me there until I had to leave.
When I let go of her I could see all the sadness I felt in her eyes.
I cradled the phone up on the hook, and looked outside for a bit. Dinner was almost ready. I could hear Jacob coming in the door and dropping his keys.
“Sweetie?” he peeked around the corner. “Ah, Sopas. It smells good.”
I smile and look at the roast, then freeze in realization. I’ve been making Portuguese food all my life, lived and breathed Portuguese.
I look softly at the food. Unable to know whether to feel happy or sad.
The landscape underneath the plane had been much less intimate than in the car. The journey away from my father took longer than the journey back.
I longed for some drastic conclusion to my family’s story. But still can’t find one.