One Christmas morning, a couple handfuls of years ago, my dad and I woke up to find that my mom was gone. Not gone like she is now. As in dead. Just gone. Not in the house. I was living in Chicago at the time and, having given my Jeep Liberty to my mom after it had been towed for its third time, would use Zip-Car to go visit my parents in Bourbonnais, Illinois on holidays. For this particular holiday I had requested a red Mini Cooper, and I saw it in the parking lot of their apartment area when I moved the flapping blinds to see if her red Jeep Cherokee, the one I learned to drive in, was out there in its usual spot in the driveway. It wasn't.
It took a while for us to wrap our minds around her car being gone. Even longer to fully believe that she actually wasn't in the house. Was she hiding somewhere? Was she laying on the floor in a spot that maybe we didn't check before? Is this supposed to be for fun? Like, for Christmas fun? My mom was known for doing wacky things on holidays. One Easter she snuck into the backyard of my gramma's house, where she and my aunt and my cousins were inside crowded around her kitchen island talking. She was wearing rabbit ears and carrying an Easter basket full of eggs, hopping around like a bunny and dropping the eggs throughout the yard. As the story was later told to me, it took a long time for people to notice she was out there, and once they did see her out there, they didn't quite understand why she was doing what she was doing. My mom went home mad that day. I don't even know if she went into my gramma's house. I could see her just going back out through the fence she snuck in through, probably lighting up a cigarette once she got into the Jeep. Probably feeling a little hot behind the eyes.
It was definitely Christmas morning, and she was definitely not there. My dad and I both arrived at this firm fact at the same time.
"Yeah, she's not here."
We got in his car and drove around town looking for her Jeep. We drove past some of the dollar stores she liked to go to, through the mall parking lot, through the Target parking lot, past my gramma's house. There were a couple hotels in town and we drove past those too, but not with the level of high investigation as we did the other locations. Why would she be in a hotel? It's Christmas. That's literally the saddest thing either of us could think of. Sitting alone in a hotel on a holiday, let alone the biggest and best of holidays there is ... why?
Every other Christmas there were cookies, and some classic movie on TV (classic to us meaning, like, Uncle Buck or something). There were lights, and different kinds of things in the house that weren't usually there. Festive things. And all of this was the result of my mom being there. These things would just fly out of her. When maybe no one was really sure what my mom was about, what she liked, or what she thought about, did, etc - holidays would firm it all up. Would temporarily fill a hole that sometimes seemed too scary to think about. She was, if nothing else, a mystery - but Christmas presented some clues. She tried. She tried on holidays. And she tried on Christmas. Other things could be sad, or mad. Even violent at times. But never Christmas. Christmas was a day where you could have this life that maybe you could have all the time, but just didn't.
I left that night to drive back to the city. I didn't want to sleep in an anti-Christmas sort of environment. My dad probably didn't want to either, let alone by himself, but that didn't occur to me at the time. A few days later, when the vice-grip that Christmas tends to have on a person's emotions let up a bit, I called him to see if he ever found out where my mom had went that day. Turns out she had gone to a hotel. One of the ones we had driven by. She didn't say why. He didn't really press the issue.
Not too many years later, after my mom had died and I went back to Bourbonnais to help clean out her stuff for my dad, I found a scrap of paper in her junk drawer in the bathroom, along with a bunch of other scraps of paper, pill bottles with other people's names on them, and a ceramic squirrel. Most of the other scraps of paper had shopping lists on them, or little reminders to do things, but this one in particular stood out. It said:
"No one to make comments. No one to make me feel bad."
I knew exactly what she meant. And I know what she means now. It's fucking embarrassing to try. It's embarrassing to care. Wouldn't it be nice to just stop?
(Previously published on Total Bozo Magazine - 4/12/16)