I was maybe six. I was playing outside, in the backyard, with my little brother. Dad was at work and Mom was . . . well, wherever she was. Look, she wasn’t a drunk or anything. She was just terribly sad. When I was a teenager, Dad took her to the doctor and she started taking pills and she seemed to do better. I don’t know. It was always hard to tell with Mom.
Anyways. My brother and I were playing outside in the back yard. Mom was somewhere. Maybe watching TV in bed, maybe drinking, maybe napping. Whatever it was, she’d be gone until it was time for her to make dinner.
And I mean . . . she had told us. She’d told us not to play around the old dog house because there was a bee hive in there, and Dad hadn’t gone out at night to get rid of it yet, while the bees were all asleep. So these huge-ass bumble bees would come shooting out of that old, peeling blue doghouse. These bees were big as my thumb, and they’d sounded like helicopters as they buzzed over the green lawn. Mom told us not to play around the old doghouse, to stay near the garden at the back of the yard, yaknow? She said the bees wouldn’t get us there or something.
Well. She didn’t really say why, actually. She just said: “Don’t play by the doghouse.”
But we did, and of course my stupid brother had to go get stung. He grabbed at a bee, or stepped on it, or something. One minute he is making the bwah bwah bwah noises he used to make when he blew spit bubbles, and the next he was screaming. Loud enough to rip the paint clean off the house. Then there were bees everywhere — a whole buzzing cloud of black and yellow — and they kept stinging him. His face and legs and arms swelled up. He almost looked funny, like a bunch of overcooked beets, but I knew Mom was going to be pissed. So I grabbed my brother and pulled him away. I probably got stung too, but I don’t really remember.
I do remember telling my brother to shut up, be quiet. Mom probably heard all that screaming and she was going to be mad. And we didn’t want to make her mad.
Of course he didn’t shut up, he just kept screaming and bawling. Even if I shook him, he didn’t stop. He was only three, though.
Finally one of the neighbors over the fence asked us what was going on, was everyone okay? She took one look at my brother, jumped the fence, scooped him right up, carried him into the house.
Our neighbor took him to the kitchen, and tried to calm him while she called 911. Once she did that, she asked us where our Mom was. I said Mom was in the bedroom. The neighbor knocked on the bedroom door so loud that I cringed. I thought for sure Mom was going to spank me. Or worse, stop talking to me. She did that a lot when we were kids. When we did something she didn’t like, she wouldn’t talk to us. It was like we weren’t there. She did that to me for a whole week once, when I couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time. I was too old to be doing something like that anyways.
When Mom came out of the bedroom, she had her make-up on and everything. She acted very surprised and upset, but when she looked at me, I knew she was pissed. Her lips were pulled into that thin line, the line which made me feel like I was nothing. Her lips were like that all the way to the hospital, and in the hospital waiting room.
The neighbor didn’t come with us to the hospital, but I wish she could have. My mom kept saying things like: “Now how will I explain this to your father?” And: “I told you not to play there! This is all your fault!”
But when the neighbor was there, Mom had been nice. She’d held my brother and comforted him. She’d even asked if I was okay.
That’s when I knew, though. I mean, I didn’t know, not consciously or verbally. I was only six. But I began to understand how much my Mom just didn’t care about me, or my brother. Not the way a mom should.
Because before the neighbor had fetched Mom, while she held my brother and put ice on his stings — the neighbor had been so tender. She’d cradled my brother as if he were the most precious thing she’d ever held. And I was jealous of my brother because our neighbor held him like that.
I don’t remember my mother holding me like that. Or holding my brother like that. Not once. But maybe I just don’t remember correctly.
Still, I began to understand something was wrong that day, while I was sitting in the hospital waiting room with my Mom.
I knew she didn’t love me. Not the way most moms love their kids, at least.
And it felt like what dying must feel like.