Green Light Means Forward
By Joanna Waite
MMy dear Emily, I can’t imagine what you’ve been thinking. What I have put you through, these past months, I can imagine my running off was not well received or possibly, not received at all. I need you to understand that I love you. Recently, I feel as though I may not have made that as clear as I should have. Know that, if nothing else, it does not matter who I am to anybody or what anyone thinks of me (it has taken me many years to finally build the courage to understand this) so long as you can understand that what I am does not in any way change how I feel about you or your grandmother or your father. It must be a shock, not least to you who has known little if anything of what the events from that night must have made you realize.
I understand if you are angry with me or if you wish to cut me out of your life. My reasons for writing this letter are not to try and convince you to side with me, with all the pressure I am sure you are receiving to do the opposite. Or even to make you understand why I am this way. It simply wasn’t my choice either. And I spent many years denying it even to myself, to my very thoughts. But I found I couldn't any longer. I couldn’t give up my love for her a second time. Just know that, should you want it, my love for you will always be constant, and I will always be here, should you want me.
Your very loving,
She reread it, once, then three times. Emily had waited for weeks, then months to receive this letter or some form of explanation. Something. But nothing came until nearly half a year after her mother disappeared into the dark that night. Maybe she was waiting until Emily was safely away at school, living on her own with no one else to check the mail and throw away any scrap of paper with her mother's writing on it.
Maybe she thought Emily needed time to think and understand.
She was right, Emily did. Though it hurt more than she can say that the woman who combed her hair and tucked her in at night, for all the years she was growing up in this confusing world, didn’t send something sooner. Some proof that she was still existing in this world as more than the memories Emily had, as more than the occasional bit of perfume she would notice if passing too slowly by her room.
Emily remembers that time in life when you are opposed to the entire world. You know, when you realize that the world is not built for you, that your freedoms will only become smaller. She put up many fights. With her parents, her school, her classmates, and nearly all of which, her mother calmly agreed with. She joined movements, marches, and went to inappropriate parties. Attempting to raise the anarchy she felt inside, but in the world around her. She thought it was natural. Because her mother must have known, but only brought her water and aspirin on the nights she came home when the sun was making its first appearance.
She seemed almost disappointed, on more than one occasion. When Emily had neglected a party or a march in favour of putting on a dress and a smile that lit up her face, to please her grandmother and her many friends. It was quite the opposite of what all other mothers seemed to approve of. Her own mother, with her never-wrinkled dresses, the perfect blond curls, and tinkling laugh. So unlike the laugh, Emily would hear, sometimes, after a glass of wine at home, and a joke from her father.
Booming, some may call it.
But never with many around. With others, she was different than at home.
Emily put the letter in a drawer. She had to get to class.
She tried to put it out of her mind as she walked underneath the red-leafed trees on the school walkways.
It was easier at school. Not so many reminders, or her father’s deafening silence. But now, in a hall filled to the rafters with students, in sweaters, and jeans, skirts, and dresses. She could not think of anything else.
That piece of paper was burning a red hot scar through her thoughts to the girl. The girl thought her mother's constancy was a character flaw. The same girl who grew to accept that constancy as a part of the woman she loved. She had begun to appreciate it as one of the things she most admired as she watched all her friends' families torn up by inconsistency. The constancy was less irritating and turned into a reassurance that, at least, this wouldn't change.
This constant turned out not to be the steady reassurance she had grown to need. But something to hide behind.
The letter took her back to a spring evening when she watched the person she thought was her mother, shatter.
She wasn’t in her classroom.
She was at her grandmother's party, which now felt fake, unreal. Sitting in a darkened window seat, the murmurings of a party in the distance. A glass clinked, and her dress slipped through her fingers and across her legs like running water. She pulled up her feet, shoes thumping one then two onto the floor below her. She looked behind her, worrying someone might hear, and disturb her. But no, the music swelled, and the footsteps worked in time to it.
Emily smiles. Her eyes droop as she turns to look out the window, at the low, sparkling lights, at her mother, hands over her mouth, shaking.
At... her mother falling to her knees.
At someone rushing to grab her, no-wrap her in their arms. A woman... gently kissed the tears on her mother's face.
Now the girl in the auditorium is remembering everything that followed. How she thought nothing would. She thought they might slip away unnoticed and like most everything else that was unordinary, unconventional, or even uncomfortable, would just not be mentioned again. That she would float off as if she had never been there. How instead, everything was split straight down the middle. Her life, her opinions, and her entire family.
She is remembering how her grandmother used to dote on her. When she sat straight, wore a dress, remembered her manners, she was her “perfect little granddaughter”.
She is remembering all the times she didn't want to cross her legs or wear the same dresses like everyone else and how it was met with all reasons why everyone would think it strange, or unladylike, or not right for a little girl to do. How she would stick out like a sore thumb. But maybe she didn't mind being the sore thumb on a hand of perfect fingers. At least she would be noticed.
She is starting to see why her mother was so dependable, so unfaltering, so perfect.
Perfection was an art.
She hid behind welcoming smiles, a stream of dinner parties, and unfaltering politeness no matter how much Emily was sure she disliked them.
She never misstepped, misspoke, or ate with her elbows on the table.
Maybe it wasn't because that's who she was.
She is remembering her mother, in a dozen perfect dresses, at a dozen dazzling parties, stepping out, away and looking like she might be anywhere but there.
The class had ended ten minutes ago, but she was sitting in the back, staring out the window towards the trees that dotted the walkways.
She left only after the professor turned out the lights, not realizing she was still there, a shadow at the back of the grand room.
As she left the building rain began to drop from the eaves of buildings, and the leaves of the trees onto her forehead, her face.
"How dramatic," she thought. Just like the weather to be like this. The rain began to pick up in a frenzy.
Books over her head, sprinting, she reached the crosswalk in front of her apartment building. The light turned green, and she hurried forward towards the door of her building. As soon as she unlocked her door, before she lost her nerve before anything else could cross her mind she went to the phone standing on the table by her couch.
She stood for a moment, the fall rain dripping from her face, and then she picked up the receiver and the buttons blinked green. She dialed.