Georgiana and I tangled ourselves in each other’s arms on the stairs to the loft. We were sitting in the only place we knew to sit whenever our Mama and Daddy fought. Mama was throwing things and cursing as usual, but this time Daddy was threatening to leave her. I wondered if he would leave tonight. I shuddered thinking about him walking to his Mustang in the rain, suit soaked as we said goodbye. My sticky fingers grabbed onto Georgiana’s hand in a tight grip until my knuckles turned white from the strain. The air smelled like home, like cinnamon and brown sugar from the peach cobbler at dinner, but I was far away.
“Why do they hate each other so much?”
Georgiana whispered, “They don’t hate each other. They just hate how the other one acts. They love us, and that’s all that matters.” I tried to accept what Georgiana was saying, tried to let the words pour over me. She had always been a shining idol for me, a guide on teachers, crushes, and trampoline tricks. Mama was all red rage and holes in the wall and Daddy was all fake smiles and distant dreams. But Georgiana? She walked in the door, and everyone shimmered in her presence, like a mirrorball. But somewhere inside I knew she was lying, that she wanted me to stop squeezing her hand so tight.
Mama had never loved Daddy, not for as long as I could remember. She loved her Bible and her white kitchen, and maybe she loved us. I couldn’t always tell. Daddy, well, I knew Daddy loved his family. It was all he talked about besides his expensive suits. He told us every day that we were “Delta dolls” and that “with kindness anything is possible.” But lately, I don’t think he loves Mama, at least not like he used to. I think he realized that he couldn’t save her. Sometimes I wondered why he ever fell in love with her in the first place. Mama wielded a cruelty I never fully understood. She wasn’t vicious in the heat of the moment–she was vicious for fun. She’d hit us if we forgot to say ma’am or had what she called a “devilish look” on our faces. Sometimes she’d hit us for no reason at all. I sometimes feared it would spread to me, like wildfire. I didn’t want to gain her virus of violence, her early morning slaps across the face and her affinity for words like “Jezebel” and “possessed.” Someone told me that opposites attract. That’s the only explanation I’ll ever have for my parents’ union.
“Why do you think Mama is so mean?” I asked Georgiana. I heard the cacophony of plates thrown against linoleum and words that can’t be unsaid. I became paranoid that Mama had heard my question, the one I’d been dying to ask for most of my young life. But I had to know what Georgiana thought. All I wanted was to love my mother.
Georgiana thought for a long time before looking at me. “All I know is that Mama is haunted by something. You’ve seen her wandering around the halls at night like a ghost. She never sleeps, never smiles. I think she’s holding fast to something.”
I started to cry quietly, scared that someday I too would become a ghost. What if I too disappeared into nights that never ended and voices only I could hear? What if I too traded reality for a realm of shadows and Biblical spirits? What if I too thought fury tasted sweet and love tasted sour? After all, Mama was half of me. What if Mama’s madness was inside me? What then?
Georgiana rubbed my back as I wept, moving her hand in circles and whispering how much she loved me. The screaming continued, but my hands stopped shaking and I began to slow down my crying. If I did turn into a ghost, I believed that Georgiana could make me human again, could make me love again with her loud laugh and constant eye roll, her bad puns and her hugs. Mama didn’t have anyone she truly loved. She was isolated from everyone and everything, trapped inside her own mind. She felt alone in the world, like an animal backed into a corner, I knew that.
My words tumbled over each other and my heartbeat quickened as I dared to dream. “Maybe Daddy will take us with him. There’d be no yelling and we could have ice cream for dinner! We could listen to our music loud in the mornings and he’d pack us treats for school.”
Georgiana looked scared at that moment to me, the first time I’d ever seen her look small. Her lower lip trembled and she fidgeted with her braids. “I hope so. I really really hope so.”
We went to bed late that night, staying up with a flashlight under our grandmother’s pink quilt. We spoke of what it would be like if Daddy moved us to New York City, or California, or anywhere outside of our small town. We spoke of the future with certainty, praying to Jesus together before we went to bed. We still believed that any God could be both all-powerful and all-good. We didn’t know that Daddy was to be killed in a car accident a year later. He got T-boned in his Mustang taking a right at the only stoplight in town. We didn’t know that we’d never talk to Mama again after we moved out. We didn’t know a lot of things. But we were right about each other. We’d call every day, send annotated poetry books and chocolate boxes in the mail, and visit the other whenever we could. We’d learn that Mama’s madness could be outrun, and Daddy’s love could be embraced, that good and evil is a choice and not a condition.