“I hate my mother,” Tracy said, to the landscape passing her by at sixty-five miles an hour. Tracy was running late, she had missed her brother’s Boy Scout troop at the church, and now they had to drive all the way out to the camp. James Island, actually Wadmalaw Island just past James Island, was an hour in the wrong direction, she needed to be headed to work in Goose Creek.
Simon turned to her and raised an eyebrow.
“But, “ she said, turning towards him, loosening her death grip on the steering wheel briefly. “I love my brother.” Simon returned her easy smile, one corner of his upper lip curled up and his mouth opened a smidge to reveal the colorful bands on his braces - Simon’s smile. A faint color came to his cheeks, then he returned his attention to his Nintendo DS.
“Did you remember to pack your wax?,” Tracy asked, aware of the discomfort the new braces were still giving him.
“Donna did,” he replied. Her mother had packed the wax, but Tracy had probably bought it, as she had the braces. Donna had signed the permission slip, and taken Simon to get his yearly physical, but Tracy had foot the bill for camp and the doctor. Simon had no idea, their mom had ditched him to go on a cruise with a stranger, but it was enough for him Donna had packed his bags.
Simon had been a late addition to Donna’s life, and as much as she loved him in her own way, he really was too much for her to handle. He had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder shortly after birth. The doctors said they didn’t know why, and simply passed her onto a social worker to help her get services. Donna got a list of providers, but the only person she called was her eldest child, Tracy, who just happened to be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Tracy didn’t actually get the call from Donna, it came from the Red Cross, because at the time she was on deployment in the Mediterranean. When her Division Officer told her she had received a Red Cross message she had become immediately afraid something might have happened to her father, or maybe one of her brothers, then remembered she had also made sure to give her mother the information in case of emergency, as well. Now, she was torn between fear and embarrassment, because an emergency to her mother was not having found enough change in the couch for a pack of cigarettes.
When the Radioman handed her the sealed message, his face was emotionless. Tracy stood there a moment, started to peel open the envelope, but decided to wait until she was back in her division office, where there would be more privacy. Tracy walked fast towards the front of the ship, navigating ladders, a fancy name for dangerously steep metal stairs, to the cargo deck. The black non-skid rising to meet her eager feet as the ship plowed through the Atlantic waves. Tracy ungracefully dropped in to a large swivel chair that had it’s wheels removed, she tore into the envelope and stared blankly with wide eyes. She was glad she had waited.
The message was brief and demanding.
HAD BABY THREE DAYS AGO, HE HAS SEIZURES ALL DAY LONG. NEED HELP. MOM
With that message her life was turned completely upside down. Requests were sent up the chain of command, she sought out signatures to be released on emergency leave from the bridge to the lower depths of the engine room, and in a week she was back stateside. None of the people that approved her request asked Tracy if this is what she really wanted to do. She would have told them heck no, what did she know about babies, what did she know about anything other than maintaining equipment, and standing watch. Luckily, no one asked Tracy why her mother couldn’t handle it by herself, she wouldn’t have known what to tell them.
Tracy and her two younger brothers counted themselves lucky to have gotten out of childhood alive. Tracy, being the oldest, got the majority of Donna’s maternal instinct, and motherly affection, by the time the boys rolled around, well, Donna had grown tired of the mother gig. As soon as Ben, the youngest was old enough for preschool, there he was dumped, and Donna got a job. She didn’t need to work, Tracy’s father was a policeman and provided a decent life for his family. They wanted for nothing, but for whatever reason Donna felt she had something to prove. But nobody cared what she was proving, they were latchkey kids, and they were miserable.
And the three of them were miserable until their parents divorced, an action provoked by their mother, and then they became completely unglued. An action the children saw no reason behind. Their questions were answered patiently, and no real reason was ever given. The children were reassured there had been no infidelity, but the children didn’t care about that, they just saw their family dissolving, just because it could. Their father moved down the street and took up residence with their widowed grandfather, and a few days later, Michael, the middle sibling followed. Donna refused to deal with his acting out, so he was removed from her freedom equation, because she just didn’t have the patience.
Sadly, Donna may have a genuinely good reason for dissolving her family, but nothing she ever said in her own defense made sense. She talked about her husband, as good a man as he was, was domineering and miserly, and she needed her freedom and she needed to spend money without feeling guilty. Maybe she had been trying to say her husband treated her more like a father would, maybe she was trying to say, she didn’t feel like an adult anymore. But these are not things kids need to hear or try to understand, especially when the middle class decent life you gave your children is wiped out by divorce lawyers, and there is now no money to spend guiltily, or otherwise. In trying to become and adult and take charge of her own destiny Donna actively thrust her own children’s future’s out of her way, so she could better focus on herself and her own needs. So, now, two years removed from her family, Tracy was the one to be burdened by her mother’s consequences once again.
Luckily for Donna, Tracy’s ship was closer to the United States coast than to Europe, her six month deployment had been drawing to a close, so she got a helicopter flight from the ship to Virginia, and from there took a commercial airliner into Charleston International Airport. From the airport, it was just a short taxi ride to the apartment where Donna had been staying while Tracy was away. Donna eagerly opened the door, put Simon into her arms and then was gone.
Simon fit into her arms perfectly, and she shrugged her sea bag off her shoulders without disturbing him. They looked at each other with clear crystal blue eyes, and Tracy delighted in his slightly turned up nose, and the dimple in his chin.
“Mom’s gene pool is real shallow,” she whispered to him, she smiled at him, and then he began to twitch in her arms. Tracy sat on the couch, startled, holding him until he stopped, at which time he closed his eyes and dozed. She started at the sound of something falling outside the door. She put him in the bassinet next to the couch which still had the Goodwill price tag on it, and walked over to investigate. In front of the door lay a stroller, a car seat, and what appeared to be a diaper bag, Tracy pulled everything into the apartment in a pile and sighed.
She then walked into the kitchen, and frowned when she saw the full sink, and set herself to frown harder when she opened the refrigerator. She had apparently come home just in time, there was half a bottle of Coca-Cola, and three prepared bottles on the door, and not much else on the shelves. She turned her attention to the counter, which was littered with unpaid bills and random post-it notes. Tracy swept them all into a neat pile and went through them one at a time, deciding to wait for Simon to rouse himself, she would give him a bottle, and then they would go food shopping. She had two weeks of emergency leave to make things right, but she was going to allow herself the rest of the day to let things sink in, a week ago she didn’t even know her mother had been pregnant.
So, thirteen years had come and gone and Tracy was still covering for Donna, and her selfish irresponsibility. She didn’t mind though, she did love her brother, disability or no. In fact, she counted Simon as one of her biggest blessings, she could hardly think of where she would be now, if God hadn’t given her exactly what she had needed in the disguise of a baby boy with some seizures.