Sunday, May 06, 2012


I sat in the car on a winter night, waiting while my mother delivered two sleds on behalf of my Brownie troop to a local orphanage. I looked up at the rows and rows of dark windows and wished I could live there.

Mostly, I wanted to be away from my mother. She was angry a lot and it usually came out of nowhere. You’d say one thing and she’d be blasting you, yelling, accusing you of being spoiled and sometimes she hit you, but it was the anger and the yelling I dreaded.

So I was eager when they said I was going to boarding school.

My mother was quiet as we toured the school, my father doing most of the talking, charming the nuns. This was his kind of place. My mother wore her simple black high heels and the suit with the small black and white checks and lipstick, and her purse. She didn’t sparkle when she dressed up. It was almost like a man dressing up.

My mother wrote to me every week in boarding school. Always a small white envelope, blue ballpoint pen and her round, even, loopy handwriting on small white sheets of paper – two pages, front and back.

Letters were laid out in the morning after breakfast when everyone went to the hall for assembly, a vast, high-ceiling room with alcoves and lead-paned windows. I could imagine in olden-times people dancing in this room in long dresses. The letters were laid out on two wooden radiator covers, and it was always good to spy an envelope with my name on it.

We read our letters standing up in the buzz of the crowd as people gathered and then took their places, head nun up front, everyone in several rows, standing with their class, in a horseshoe shape around her, hearing announcements.

My mother would tell me in her letters when they were coming to visit. It was about once a month. I didn’t want them to come. Not much. I envied the girls whose families were abroad. That seemed more grown up.

when my parents and sisters were due, on a Saturday morning, I sat waiting for them where you were supposed to in the curved wooden window seat in the Ante Room. It was a small room that looked onto the round open space outside where cars pulled up. I sat in the window seat, looking out the old-fashioned windows until the big gray car pulled up. Even just seeing it made me a little carsick. It had red leather seats that gave off a sweetish smell. Inside was my father in the driver’s seat, my mother beside him, my two little sisters in the back seat.

We went to the Grosvenor Hotel in the nearby village. My father talking with gusto, my mother in the background, minding children.

Sitting in the dining room for lunch, something that takes so long because my father is telling me how Napoleon’s army marched through Europe and he uses the salt and pepper shakers to demonstrate where they went. He is only talking to me and I have to pay attention though I wish he would just stop.

Afternoon they take us someplace outdoors where we walk. The sky is gray. There are ruins. My parents read the plaques. We walk. Maybe I run with my sisters. But this is never a place I want to be. I would prefer to be with my friends back at school.

Only at night do I miss her. Only at night, alone in my bed in the dark do I want my mother to come. I want her to come and kiss me goodnight and I cry because she is not there and will not come. Not every night, but sometimes.

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