I remember how my mama cradled me that night. I couldn’t sleep alone with the roar of Daddy’s car as it sped out of town still hanging between my ears. I remember her clinging onto me, fingertips digging into my skin as my back warmed against her belly. The bed still felt too cold, too big for our two small bodies. Her chest trembled, jerking as staggered breaths ran between her lips. I didn’t need to check to know her pillow would be wet for a long time.
We lay there for hours, awake and holding onto each other. It was only when her sobs melded into the patters of the rain splattering our windows that I felt my eyelids droop, heavy with the weight of packed suitcases and a Goodbye. With the ache in my heart, I let myself succumb to sleep, sheltered in my mama’s arms. Only now do I wonder who needed the other to overcome the howl of the storm that night.
I’ve lived nearly half of my life since that night. My mother never looked back, and neither did my father, never looked behind him, the smell of gasoline trailing his getaway until I couldn’t follow the tail of smoke any longer.
Until it all faded into the sky.
I sat there in my brother’s room, staring at the highest window of our house until the night engulfed our little corner of the earth. I wondered how the stars could still shine tonight. Could they not feel the earth tearing itself in two as I could? Did they not feel the fire that burned through me, coursing in my veins like the blood that he abandoned the moment his foot hit the gas pedal? Did the stars not weep for us? My lungs blazed until Mama peeled me away from the window. I didn’t realize I wasn’t breathing.
Warm arms enwrapped me, barricading me from the audacity of the night sky as we rose up to our feet, stumbling into harsh reality. My fingers latched on, cementing to her waist as she steadied me, and I felt myself lean into her strength. I held on because she was all I had.
She hasn’t let go of me since.