I’m three years-old and tearing around a playground with another boy, while our mothers smoke cigarettes and gossip. We take it in turns to clamber to the top of the slide, to the top of the world, and then ride it back down again. I tumble along the floor and graze my knee, after somehow shooting off the end of the slide. When I hobbled over to my mother with tears in my eyes she pulls me close and absorbs the pain. I breathe in lavender shampoo as her thumb lick smears blood from my broken skin. When she asks me what has happened I tell her that the other boy has pushed me over.
While she’s shouting and pointing at the boy’s mother I hang off her leg and say nothing, savouring the blanket of love that she’s wrapped around me. I grip it tighter still as we storm away from the playground.
I’m seventeen years-old and have recently started my first real job since leaving school. I’m working a few miles from where I once lived as a child; it’s as if there’s no escaping this place for me. As I’m heading back to work after my lunch break, a middle-aged woman passes me on the other side of the street. She calls out my name but she’s not someone that I know so I stumble on what to say.
“You don’t remember me do you?”
A truck thunders past between us.
“I’m sorry. No.” I think about walking on, I’m expecting her to ask me for some spare change or to offer me a religious leaflet but I stop myself when she covers her mouth with her hand. The gesture is familiar and I realise later that it’s something that I do whenever I’m upset.
“I’m your mom,” she says.
I want to point out that I don’t have a mother. That my mother left me years ago and crumbled, one piece at a time, until she became nothing more than a vague memory that lives on the tip of my tongue.
This lie, the last lie I tell my mother, slips out as easily as the first.
“I have to go. I’m late for work.”
It’s a few weeks before Christmas and I’m in a gift shop buying greetings cards for my family. As I wander down the aisle I skip past the section marked ‘Mother’ without a second thought, without even looking up.
You can’t miss someone that you’ve never really known.
[Originally published in print and online by New Mag, August 2018]