Mom was seated in the dining room chair that was as much a part of my father as the limbs of his body. In front of her was an open book on the table. A knife was placed in the crease of the binding to hold it open. She had a jar of peanut butter and a spoon. A half peeled banana laid next to her book, evenly sliced. I knew she was occasionally topping pieces with peanut butter. Mom was oblivious in her personal heaven.
I was bent over a suitcase counting pairs of Maya’s pajamas. My sister sat next to our mother, obsessed with something I couldn’t see on the other side of the table. Maya was still and silent while I tried to fight the panic which fluttered like a bird trapped inside my ribs. I fluctuated between packing clothes for my daughter and obsessively consulting a flimsy calendar thumb-tacked to the wall. I circled dates and drew lines. Like complex equations which could only be solved by folding and sorting piles of laundry.
My sister was going on vacation and taking Maya with her. I repeatedly asked about dates of departure and arrival, yet she remained silent. Not giving me the answers I needed. Finally, her voice spewed details about 6:00 AM coffee, watching TV, the times showers would be taken, and menus for each meal. I needed to know if I should pack Maya hiking boots or party dresses. How many pairs of pajamas? When would she bring my girl back to me so I could be waiting at the airport? My frustration became anger and my voice erupted in a roar that even I couldn’t understand. Yet no one seemed to hear.
My mother continued reading. Maya stood motionless in front of me. My sister began to sing a hymn I remembered from church as a child in a clear, sweet voice. Her heart sharing something important to her. I wanted to be patient. But stress was constricting my throat while I stared into my daughter’s suitcase. Contempt joined in and the emotions became snakes battling over my throat. I was furious at my sister who seemed to be failing to understand the true meaning of a vacation. At my mother who stubbornly continued to read, interrupted only by the occasional ecstasy of peanut butter from a spoon.
My sister’s song suddenly morphed into screams full of admonitions about the danger of the Christian Devil and the glory of Christ. I was afraid and my trembling hands abandoned the small piles of Maya’s clothes. The room was brightly lit, yet my daughter became invisible. I searched gently for her with my hands. I found her small middle left bare by an undershirt she had outgrown years before. Maya leaned into me. I tore my eyes from my mother and sister and melted into my girl.
Maya complied in silence. I was equally terrified and at peace. I called to my mother. Needing her to notice. To share this moment of terror somehow entwined in peace. She glanced up briefly, without seeing me, then returned to her banana and book.
I pulled my girl closer and stared at the white bow on the undershirt stretched tightly across her torso, wondering how it had become small on her so quickly. I brushed a long strand of golden hair from her shoulder before searching for her eyes. Her gaze fluctuated between her grandmother, her aunt, and me. Maya suddenly smiled and laughed. I realized she was looking at my mother. When I turned, anxious to share in their moment, it was already over. And not meant to be shared.
We were four women tangled through genetics and love. Alone yet together. Reading the same book, but never on the same chapter. Mom went back to her peanut butter. My sister continued her frightening song. I gazed into my daughter’s suitcase. Trying to make certain she would have what she needed on a journey I could never share.