Mama…Mama is dead. I ignore my father and weep. Eventually, he picks me up off the grass, walks me to the car, and settles me in the back seat of his BMW where I lie down. The smell of leather fills my nose, tangy and damp from my clothes. He drives slowly, and I hear him sniffle and snort. I hear the soft skritch of his hand passing over his week’s worth of stubble as he wipes his face, clearing away the tears, making room for the next wave of hot salt grief.
I can’t breathe for the sobs, for the raw weight of grief. Mama is dead. She was the only one who understood me. She was my intercessor between me and Daddy. When he wouldn’t listen, she would talk to him for me. Sometimes I wonder if Daddy even likes me. I mean, he’s my father, so I know he feels the patriarchal emotion of protective love, but does he like me? For who I am? Does he understand me? Has he ever tried?
And now the only person who’s ever understood me is gone. Gone.
“Pull over, please.” I’m scrambling to a sitting position, scrabbling at the window button, at the locked door. “I’m gonna puke—”
He’s over the rumble strip and on the gravel shoulder and slowing enough for me to lunge out of the still-moving car and into the tall, scratchy grass at the roadside. Vomit pours from me like a hot flood, burning my throat, convulsing my stomach. My eyes water as wave after wave gushes through me, and my nose drips. Daddy doesn’t help me, doesn’t hold my hair back. He just watches me from the driver’s seat, the engine idling. A Michael W. Smith song plays softly from the speakers, floating to me from the open door. “The Giving.” I hate that song. I’ve always hated that song. He knows I hate that song.
I kneel on the gravel and the grass, heaving, panting. I stare over my shoulder at him. The grief in his eyes is like knives. But it’s lonely grief. He’s in his own world.
So am I.
I spit bile, wipe my face on my sleeve, and kick the back door shut. I slide into the front passenger seat, click my seat belt in place, and then angrily punch the stereo off.
“Grey, I was listening to that.”
“I hate that song. You know I hate that song.”
He calmly taps the CD player back on and touches a button to skip the song. “It’s my car. I’ll listen to what I want.” He hasn’t skipped the song, it turns out. He skipped back to start it over. Even in the midst of grief, he still has to be completely in control.
The car is still stopped, so I unlatch my belt and shove the door open. “Fine. Then I’ll walk.”
“It’s five miles, Grey. Get in.”
Something explodes inside me. I turn to him and snarl; it’s an animalistic, guttural, wordless growl. “Fuck you,” I say.
He actually gasps. “Grey Leanne Amundsen—”
I ignore him and start walking. A car passes by with a loud whoosh and a belated gust of cool wind. He gets out and cajoles and pleads and commands. Then he tries to manhandle me into the car. His arm goes around my waist, and he drags me to the passenger door. I stomp on his instep, jerk free from his grip, and then—before I know I intend to do so—I punch him in the jaw. My fist clenches on its own and flashes out, connects with his cheek. He stumbles backward, more surprised than hurt. My hand aches. I don’t care.
“What’s God’s plan now, Daddy? Why? Why did he let this happen? Tell me, Daddy! Tell me!” I’m slamming my fists on his back.
He catches my hands in his. “Stop, Grey. Stop. STOP! I don’t know! I don’t—I don’t know. Just get in the car and we’ll talk about it.”
I wrench my hands free. “I don’t want to talk about it. Just leave me alone.” I say it calmly. Too calmly. “Just…leave me alone.”
And…he does. He drives away, leaving me on the side of a highway, miles from anywhere. In that moment, I hate him. I didn’t think he’d just leave me here even if I did get out of the car. Another sob slips from me, and then another, and then I’m bawling again. Miles pass under my feet slowly, so slowly. Eventually I call Devin, my closest friend, and she comes to pick me up.
She’s my closest friend, other than Mom.
Who’s dead. It hits me all over again.
I slip into Devin’s car and slump forward against the dashboard. “She-she-she’s gone, Devin. She died. Mama died.”
“I’m so sorry, honey. I’m so sorry, Grey.” She leaves the radio off and pulls away off the shoulder, back onto the highway heading away from the Medical Center of Central Georgia and out to where we live.
Devin lets me cry for a long time before she speaks. “Why were you walkin’ on the side of the highway?” Devin has the perfect southern belle accent down pat. She cultivates it, I think. I’m always trying to sound less like a mid-Georgia hick, but the accent creeps in sometimes.
“I got in a fight with Daddy. He…he always has to be in charge. You know? Everything, all the time. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t. Everything has to be his way. Even when we were fighting, he had to control what I did and what I said and what I felt.” I sniffled. “I…I think I hate him, Dev. I do. I know he’s my Daddy and I should love him, but he’s just…he’s a jerk.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Grey. From everything you’ve told me, he is kind of a jerk.” She glances over her shoulder as she changes lanes, and shoots me a sympathetic smile. “You want to stay with me for a while? Momma and Daddy won’t mind.”
“Let’s grab your stuff,” Devin says, trying to be cheerful.
Daddy is in his study with the door closed. That tells me a lot; Daddy never, ever closes the door to his study unless he’s really upset or “deep in prayer.”
I pack a bunch of clothes and my toiletries in a bag, grab my duffle bag of dance gear, my stash of allowance cash from the drawer of my desk. I look around my room, and it feels like it’s for the last time. On impulse, I snatch my iPod and charger off the desk along with the charger for my phone. I go back to my closet and shove all my clothes into the suitcase, bras, panties, dresses, skirts, blouses, heels, sandals, all of it shoved into the Samsonite case until it’s overflowing and I have to sit on it to get it closed. I had planned to pack more thoroughly but for some reason I just know. This is it. The end.
I take in the posters of various dancers on my walls, the Broadway playbills from the trip to New York Mom and I went on for my sweet sixteen…it all seems juvenile. The room of a child. A little girl. There’s even a shelf in one corner full of American Girl dolls from my childhood, all dressed neatly and sitting in a row.