Mom made me stay with her that summer. Her name on the forms in-case-of-emergency, next-of-kin and, finally, under-supervision of, she’d signed me out of the psych ward just in time to finish my final papers and graduate magna cum laude among the cherry blossoms.
She gave me the bigger room, the queen-sized bed that filled it, sideways, facing the lake. She took the brass daybed in the other room. We shared a bathroom with two doors. I didn’t want to be there, of course, but I didn’t want to be anywhere.
There were no closets in the bedrooms. Mom kept her outfits on a clothesline in the abnormally damp basement. I kept underwear in a plastic bin under the bed, my folded jeans and t-shirts on the bookshelves on the sun-porch that also held my philosophy texts: Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger. Mom wanted to throw them away.
“These books. These books are what did this to you,” she said more than once, although she had other opinions, too, what was wrong with me.
When she was at work I would open my books, which smelled like me, me before, the pot mom didn’t know about, my brand of laundry soap, crumbs from my peanut butter sandwiches. I’d scour my own highlighting for clues to how my brain functioned before the lithium. When my eyes got tired, I sat on the old-lady furniture and watched the console television. I ate cold leftovers from original-model pieces of Tupperware, with no burp left, and took long baths. Some days, I sat on the bed in my temporary room and watched the lake through the windows. Once or twice I saw someone pull himself up on a surfboard, yank at a rope attached to a sail before taking a jumping fall into the water.
I left the bathroom doors open when I bathed. Even if I shut a door, Mom always came in, without knocking or calling out. She went through my room to the bathroom, saying it was faster, although each had a door and the rooms were the same size long-ways. She thought nothing of opening the bathroom door, sitting down on what, to my disdain, she called “the pot,” and starting up a conversation while I soaked, as if I were the hairdresser and the toilet were the styling chair, as if I could hear her.
Once, she walked in just as I was getting out. I’d taken the towel off the bar but not yet pressed it to my body. She stopped in the doorway.
“You have such a beautiful body,” she said, really looking at me for the first time in years, before hitching down her hose and underwear. “You should be happy.”
“Thanks,” I said, slipping back into the water, as if it were murky or full of bubbles, someplace I could hide.
Tiff Holland is the author of the novella-in-flash “Betty Superman.” Her poetry and prose have appeared in The Mississippi Review, Frigg, Karamu and many other journals.