September 1, 2015

Life or Something Like It

by Rebecca Chatterpaul
November 1, 2004

The low-ceilinged barbershop smelled of stale roses and of dreams slipping away…

I kept my face blank, or at least, I tried to. I leaned on the broom I’d been using to sweep up the hair and other debris from the floor after an especially long day at the barber shop, and allowed the scent of shaving cream, soap, dyes, and old memories to assail my senses as I tried I take in all my mother was saying to my three sisters and me.

I couldn’t believe it. NO, I didn’t want to believe she’d allowed herself to be taken in by my father’s silver tongue and winning smile once again. That man had brought us all nothing but stress and heartache for as far back as I could remember. Somehow, he’d managed to perfect the art of looking busy, when, in fact, all he ever did was lie around all day, listening to the sound of the grass growing along the side of the house, trying to cover the rotted side boards and peeling paint, in an effort to hide our shame.

He continued to walk tall as my mother’s 5’7” frame seemed to lose an inch or two as she was forced to carry the weight of raising the children, keep the barbershop going, and try to recover the money my father’s drinking buddies owed for their haircuts.

If she’d listened to us, she would have kicked him to the curb when he “borrowed” the money she had saved up in the mason jar that was hidden under the bed they shared, or the time she asked him to get back some of the money she’d paid Sticky Finger Eddy to fix the roof, but instead, he’d run off with the money. My father had beaten Eddy almost to a bloody pulp, but had said he’d not recovered the money. It was money he then spent on some two-bit hussy he’d picked up at a cheap little motel down by the train tracks.

When I’d first walked into the shop this morning, I’d noticed the light in my mother’s eyes, and as the day wore on, I could tell she was just about bursting with news she wanted to share with us kids. She was only waiting for the right time to do it. I wanted to take her in my arms and dance her around the shop like she did with us when we were kids, just so we could all share in that happy, unrestrained, full-bodied laugh that had become almost as rare as her smile.

Earlier that day, my sisters had all walked around wearing silly grins, but now, looking at them, I knew they felt the same distress I was feeling.

It had always been my dream – no, more like an oath I’d made to myself – to get my siblings, myself, and my mother as far away from my father as I could once I turned 18.

I had been planning to tell them this today. When I saw my mother’s face earlier that day, I’d felt it was an ideal time for us to share, to come full circle, to be complete as a family. I still had some details to work out, but I figured we could work out the fine points along the way…

Now, here she was, telling me she was about to marry my father. We were all almost grown; we didn’t even carry his name. Now, here she was, telling us this…

I was two days away from being 18, but I felt like crying like a 6-year-old.