That home was haunted. Not in the way some places are haunted, where you feel yourself being watched by shadows. It was haunted by memories that were obvious from the scars on the walls. Closet doors with padlocks on the outsides and deep, furious scratches on the inside, as if an animal had been contained within. Walls that had been scribbled on in permanent marker that couldn’t be hidden by a few coats of paint. You could feel that people had suffered in that house, you didn’t have to know the stories. My mother said it reminded her of her childhood home, and that was why she hated it. My father bought the property all the same, telling us all that it was an investment, and there was a good chance the land itself would be worth millions someday.
Each morning that I woke up in that house, I felt cold to the bone. The windows were drafty, the doors were poorly sealed, and there were cold spots in the house that could make you shiver for minutes after you passed through. You could tell the doorknobs had been pulled and slammed enough times that they’d started to loosen in the door, and when you tried to turn them they would slip and slide around in your hand as if they had a mind of their own.
“My father used to beat the shit out of my mother every single day of her life,” my mother said to me once. We were sitting by the back window and she was sewing up a hole in my jeans. She had never brought up my grandparents before. But ever since we moved into that house, she’d started speaking of her past more every day. I didn’t know what to say to her when she told me this, and I wish now that I had said something. I sat there dumbly as if I hadn’t heard her. I have so many regrets about that now.
My father never beat my mother, not physically. All of his abuse was verbal, and he didn’t spare any of us a tongue-lashing when he was angry. He’d taught my brother to be the same way, and when he would yell at my mother, my father would simply pretend he hadn’t heard it. When I was young, I would sometimes wonder why he ignored my brother’s outbursts, but over the years I came to realize that he and my brother were the same. To tell my brother to stop chasing my mother around, loudly, aggressively yelling until she was backed into a corner, would be to admit that it was wrong when he did it himself.
It was never clear to me before the day she left how silent she had been in all of her pain. She had always seemed so normal to me, always calm and accepting of whatever happened to her. But her letter painted a different image of who she really was inside, an image that never truly developed in my mind until I watched her walk out the door with a suitcase and a taxi waiting on the street ahead of her. You might think I would regret staying quiet, or that I should have asked her to stay. The truth was, from the day that I found her letter to my father, it was a waiting game. I counted the days until I knew that she meant to pack up and walk out of our lives because I knew the suffering that she had endured. That was the thing that really made me feel guilty — the idea that she had stayed despite the anguish it had caused.
As I watched her leave, I felt like some part of me was left as well. She walked out of the door, down the walkway, and climbed into the taxi without looking back. I imagined that she was me, and I was walking, suitcase in hand, toward a new and better life. I don’t resent my mother for leaving — sometimes I even judge her for not leaving sooner. Once she’d driven out of sight, it felt like a ticking clock had begun. How long would it take me to leave?
Story fanatic. Published in the Camosun College literary journal Beside the Point. Former Senior Staff Writer at The Martlet. Current and future freelance writer.