Short Story Station
Constant as the Day
It’s what your grandmother used to say: Constant as the day. You probably don’t remember that, though. She died before you were old enough to appreciate her wisdom. It just means that certain things in life will never change—no matter the consequences.
I saw you go in there this afternoon, into your bedroom closet, the way you’ve done a thousand times before. This time was different. The air lacked its charge, that spark your presence always added. I guess I expected this moment—God knows most of the family had already accepted it. But acceptance doesn’t come easy to a mother.
That you’d be the one to deny me grandchildren—that had been established long ago. I know, I have three other children. There will be plenty of little ones running around the house again one day. It’s just so far from what I imagined for you.
I always blamed myself—though deep inside I know it’s not my fault. Did I neglect you in some way? Is the divorce the determining factor in the road you chose? Just remember, your father left us. I didn’t have a say in that decision.
Still, here we are.
You lie on the floor inside the closet, the way you’ve done since childhood, when you’d sneak inside and fall asleep while hiding. I remember the frantic search that first time. We scoured the house and the yard looking for you. Nobody thought to peer inside the closet. Maybe we’d been subconsciously afraid of the bones we hoped would remain hidden.
It’s there beside you, that dirty spoon and stub of a candle. You didn’t even last long enough to pull the needle from your arm. At first I saw those as tools of the devil. Those were the things that changed you from a happy little girl into the brooding young woman so filled with darkness. It didn’t happen overnight, though.
The pallor of your skin is highlighted by the deep purple where blood has pooled against your left cheek, the tell-tale sign it no longer flows through your body, keeping you warm, keeping you alive. Everything for you has stopped: Your heart, your mind, your potential.
Not to sound morbid, but I pictured this moment a hundred times over the years. Even before I touch your face I know what awaits my fingertips.
The first time you overdosed I blamed myself. The second time, I blamed God. The third time, well, I realized that God was just as sad as me. It’s why I always looked in on you, seeing you on the closet floor. I’d count the times your chest would rise and fall in a minute, hoping that one minute would lead to a second, then to another, until you’d open your eyes.
I don’t know what happened today. Or maybe I do know. Either way, I just couldn’t look in on you this time. I didn’t have it in me to count one more minute.
I made plans for you. I know, you had your own ideas. But mine were better, healthier. My plans saw you falling in love with a nice boy, a boy you’d want to hold on to forever. I used to think Jeffrey Kellen might be that boy, the way you used to look at him whenever he’d happen by the house—always at dinner time. But then he went away—Iraq, as I recall. When he returned home in that bag, I just knew that was probably it for you. You were just too delicate to cope with another loss so close on the heels of your father’s leaving us.
I hate that you’re cold now and there’s nothing I can do to warm your body. You just don’t understand how unnatural this moment is for a mother. I hate you as much as I love you.
I wasn’t a mother until you. And you weren’t expected, either. No, ma’am. Your father and I, we had no intention of parenthood so soon into our marriage. We’d planned the first ten years of our time together—the way musicians plot out their intended rise to world domination. We were meant to see Europe, Asia, maybe hit the lower forty-eight. But then you changed all that—to the delight of my mother. Then came the other three; and your father, he decided he was still young enough do Europe—with the babysitter.
You don’t look like you. Not now. The soul is gone, and all that remains is a shell, a husk, a thing to be discarded, removed away like some secret family shame meant to stay hidden.
Inside your closet I crouch beside you, stroking your hair, tracing your cold lips with the tips of my fingers, the way I did when you were two and three and four years old and couldn’t—or wouldn’t—fall asleep. It used to drive your father crazy. “Just leave her be,” he’d argue. “She’ll get tired on her own.” He was in love with me back then. He saw you as a sort of competitor, a threat to his time alone with me.
I would have died for you.
But you wouldn’t let me.
That you’ve broken my heart is a given. But that’s the curse of parenthood. We give you life, invent notions of what and who you’ll be; and you turn our worlds upside down, becoming a junkie without aim, without reason, without a thought for what you’ve done to us—to me.
I resent you for the call I must make. What am I supposed to say to those people? How do I phrase such a conversation? Do I say, “Hello? My oldest child has passed away from an overdose. Would you please come and retrieve the body before her siblings get home from school?”
The thing that amazes me the most is the calm tone of my own voice as I say those very words into my cell phone. It’s almost a matter-of-fact discussion between me and the woman on the other end.
“Lynnette,” I say, when they ask the name of my deceased child. “Lynnette Grace Priner. We named her after my mother and her father’s sister.”
They care nothing for the intimate details of your existence.
“Heroin,” I explain, when they ask of a potential cause for your demise. “We tried rehab—twice.”
Again, this last bit of information means nothing to the voice on the other end of this conversation.
Twenty-one years—that’s all we’ll know of you in this world.
I want to cry—I need to cry—but that’s just not happening today. Not now, at least. You’ve drained me of my tears since that first time I knew you’d chosen this path. I just don’t have it in me to shed one more.
Perhaps when we put you in the ground…
I’ll miss you—the way a parent ought to miss a lost child. But I will not be bound by emotional necessities. You’re gone and nothing can bring you back. Please don’t think me cruel, but I am alive. I am resurrected from the grave. I need no longer to pine for a wayward daughter. Nothing more can happen to you in this world. Your death is my salvation. It is a burden removed.
I am free to live once more.