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  • Writer's pictureKayla Williams

This is Where I Need To Be


It was 10 o’clock at night and cold. I was 6.5 years old, hopping out of the comfort of my grandfather’s car with my mother. While driving to our drop off point, I was excited because I saw my dad on a payphone in front of the supermarket across the street from our building. I wanted to run and hug him — the typical reaction of a child seeing their parent. As I began to pick up speed and run to him, my arm was yanked back. I remember the striking look on this woman’s face vividly. I can’t say my mother’s face because she didn’t look like my mom for a second. At that moment, she looked at me and mouthed, “Don’t say a word.”

From a child’s perspective, it looked so innocent.


I didn’t notice how odd it was for him to be on a payphone in front of our building.


I didn’t notice the sound of a women’s voice on the other end of the phone.


I didn’t notice how the blood left my father’s face when he saw my mother.


I didn’t notice the hurt in my mother’s eyes that laid underneath her anger.

1988, three Mondays into January, is the day my mom’s beautiful face made her debut in my father’s life. It was Martin Luther King’s birthday, and as they tell it, everyone was out in droves. With a fake mole on her cheek and her best friend to her right, my mom walks into a party, the party my dad happens to be at with his best friend. The events played out like your average young adult love story. Awkward introduction, intense bonding, and a moment of, “will I ever see this person again.” It is not complete without a conflict, which is fulfilled when a pushy female piranha tries to steal my dad away. Luckily, my dad’s best friend would not let that happen, and my mom and dad ended up dancing all night. I’d have to thank that friend one day for my existence.


I obviously didn’t know this story firsthand, but I heard it told to me often enough it felt like mine.


I heard it once, at a family friend’s barbeque surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and I laughed.


I heard it again, sitting on a plastic-covered couch at my grandma’s house, and I smiled.

I heard the tale end walking past the kitchen to get to my room, as my mom was on the phone with a friend or family member, I think. I had no reaction.

I heard it 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I, in my dad’s office chair and my mother, feet tucked into her body on the left end of the falling apart brown loveseat, and I cried. We both did.

After the incident with the payphone, I found my mother cried a lot, and as her default “best-friend,” I’d be the one consoling her. It was always for the same reason. It was always about my dad. As young as 8, I vividly remember the conversations we had about whatever the latest issue was in their marriage’s soap opera. Every week, I would tune in with a fresh cup of tea and PJs and wait for the theme song to play. Every time it started, I swear it would feel like Dejavu, and it always ended in the same manner. It went a little something like this:


****


“I don’t understand why he always does this, like am I not good enough?” my mother asked.

Thinking deeply, eight-year-old me pulled out the most wise words and responds with, “You are more than enough, and if he doesn’t make you feel that way, then maybe it’s time to just focus on yourself.”


Seated on opposite ends of the sofa, my mother’s head is tilted back. I can’t see her face.


“I always talk about everything with you, and I shouldn’t,” she said.

I knew exactly what she meant. I knew too much, but I didn’t mind. So, I tell her that.

“I don’t mind; I would rather know what is going to happen before it does so that I can prepare myself.”

The silence took up space in the middle of us, and I didn’t know how to tell her that being her “best friend” was painful for me. Even if I wanted to know, knowing created flips and turns in my stomach. Knowing gradually built up a distaste for my own father. I didn’t know how to tell her that. I was naturally hopeful that things would change and be harmonious one day because no matter how bad it got, I didn’t want it to end. Their dysfunction was comforting for me. It’s all I knew.

I watched as my mother’s mind seemed to toss back and forth, and her next words came in like a whisper.

“But I’m your mother. You shouldn’t know these things,” she said.


***


She was right; I shouldn’t have known these things. I shouldn’t have known the ways she hurt and the ways my dad inflicted it, but I did. Every year that passed, the desire for my parents to remain together weakened but the wanting for my mother to be happy increased. I didn’t understand why she stayed. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the example she was setting for me. Was I supposed to stay even if it makes me feel like shit? Was I supposed to sacrifice my happiness? Nothing about the decision to hold on to her marriage makes sense, and when I would ask her why, she would always say, “I just feel like this is where I need to be,” and the conversation would be over.

I wondered if she stayed out of obligation, comfort, or fear. It’s not uncommon in dysfunctional relationships. Many women stay for all kinds of reasons, reasons that are sometimes out of their control. Beyonce stayed to make her marriage work for their growing family. Pink stayed because the love was too strong to give up. Hillary Clinton stayed out of obligation and responsibility. Camille Cosby stayed out of commitment. Tina Turner stayed out of fear. They all stayed, and we may never understand why.

As a child, I would look at my mother and feel to my core that she deserved better. I even prayed for it, and one time I thought my dreams came true:


***


At 9 years old, washers and dryers are what I remember most. The pink neon sign in the front of the Laundromat that read Open in cursive and the broken-down vending machine where I would receive my rare treat of Coca Cola. There were high tables meant for folding, but I spent most of my time sitting on them, watching my mother wash the customers’ clothes that dropped offloads. There was this tall man, the color of toffee candies, with the walk of my mom’s favorite actor, Denzel Washington. His name I don’t remember, but he came by once, with a red laundry bag. I observed as he walked casually toward the back of the room, where the transactions took place. I couldn’t tell you if he was attractive or not, I was 9, but he wasn’t unpleasant. I watched how he talked, smiled, and laughed with my mother. I noticed how my mother’s eyes softened on his. How she seemed to enjoy the little banter. It was different than how she talked with my dad. He became a usual after a while. One time he turned to me in the middle of their ongoing conversations and said,

“Wow, you are just as beautiful as your mother. How old are you?”


I put my head down and smiled, “I am 9.”

I found out a few years later who he was and what he meant to my mom. Despite the connection they shared, it didn’t change that she still chooses to wake up next to my dad.


***


Over the years, I would still contemplate the value my mom placed on herself. I thought her choices stemmed from low self-esteem. As a child, I knew things, and that knowledge made me feel obligated to make it better. All I saw was her hurt, and I thought logically, if something keeps hurting you, you confront it, and if that doesn’t work, you walk away. Yet, it’s been 32 years, and she still lays, sits, and laughs beside my father. It confused me, and she knew it did, but she always said, “One day, you will understand.”

Now, I lay still in the bed of a man I love. Coming down from a bout of laughter that now feels like a memory. I recognized a woman’s name in his phone that shouldn’t be there, and a conversation that I was told wasn’t happening. I felt like a different woman. I felt like my mom.

I noticed; how the blood left his face when he saw mine.

I noticed the hurt in my eyes that laid underneath my anger.

All the feelings in the world came over my body at once. I thought I would know exactly what to do if this happened. I wouldn’t hold on to someone who shows me repeatedly that I mean nothing to them. I wouldn’t be among the countless women who choose to stick it out with partners that only know how to hurt. I wouldn’t be my mother. When that time comes, I thought I’d know what to do.

Surrounded by four army green walls and one flickering light, I visualized grabbing my orange overnight bag and walking away. Yet, the thought made me sadder. Instantly at that moment, it made sense. All those years ago, as a child, it never clicked. Now, as a 23-year-old woman, I looked into the green eyes of my first love and thought, “I just feel like this is where I need to be.”

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