The dirt on my face itched, and I couldn’t scratch it.
“Callie,” I called into the kitchen. “Callie, come scratch my nose.”
My daughter, all long skinny legs like her mom, loped into the living room in jeans that were too tight for a fourteen year old. I’d told her that before, but now was not the time to start up that argument again. She scratched the tip of my nose, then nudged my bandana back over my sandy blonde hair. I gave her a wink that she repaid with a smirk, and I continued into the bedroom.
The queen size mattress was bare, and sitting on a box spring that was sitting on the bare carpet because we hadn’t bought a bed frame for it yet. I placed the box of clothes onto the floor next to the bed, then stood up and stretched. I groaned, and then scolded myself for making the old lady noise. I would not allow myself to feel old. Not today.
When I walked back into the living room, I found Callie using one cardboard box as a chair and a second as a table. She had opened the kitchen supplies and was making two peanut butter sandwiches.
“Ooh, sweetheart, don’t sit on that box,” I shooed her up even as I gratefully took the sandwich she handed me. I found the folding card table and chairs that we’d made it out with and set them up as she attempted to un-squash the box she’d sat on. I glanced up at it, and immediately wished I hadn’t. Gary and Alison’s stuff was written on it.
“Oh, not that box,” I signed, and slumped into one of the folding chairs. Callie looked up at me, then glanced to the side of the box. She sat down in one of the chairs. The two of us ate our sandwiches in silence for another minute before she said,
“I don’t know why you don’t just throw that one out.”
I glanced up into her sandy brown eyes, the same eyes her father had, and felt a weak smile crawling across my face.
“Honey…” there was something I wanted to say, but I had no idea how to put words to it. I looked away from her.
“I’m serious, mom. You don’t need that anymore.”
“Callie, your father…”
“Is a dick, mom.”
I had to smile at that. She had more of me in her than I liked to admit. I walked to the box she’d been sitting on and opened it carefully. Callie had packed it- I hadn’t wanted to look at any of the things she put in it. At the very top of the box, atop an old tablecloth, was our framed wedding picture. The glass was cracked.
“Oh,” I said, taking the item gently in my hands. I didn’t feel the tears on my eyes, and I didn’t give them permission to fall, but the next thing I knew they were dripping onto the golden frame and my nose was running.
I sniffed and wiped my nose on my sleeve, which caused a huge sob to bubble up out of my chest. I felt the dust, makeup and tears mixing on my face. My shoulders bobbed, and I clutched the frame to my chest. I sat on the carpet in the living room and sobbed.
My face felt hot- in the back of my head, I was ashamed that I was crying over him again. Hadn’t I’d sworn I was finished with that? I clenched my teeth, my breath coming in hissing gasps. A warm arm wrapped around my neck, and I felt Callie, my teenager, holding me against her chest the way I’d held her when she was a child. I couldn’t help but laugh at the image, though the closeness brought a thankful hiccup of joy to my lips.
“Mom…” Callie said, her face just a little red. She was better at fighting back tears than I was. “I can’t blame you. I mean, look at your hair. I’d be crying too.”
I laughed, a deep stomach laugh this time, driving away the last of my tears. “You shut up. It was in style. And so was that dress. With the sleeves, good god, I looked awful.”
“You looked beautiful. You look beautiful.” Callie amended, taking my face in her hands and forcing me to look directly into her eyes. She smiled, and I mimicked it.
“Thanks,” I said quietly, standing from my place on the floor and placing the picture on the card table. “Agh, jeez… I swore that wouldn’t happen anymore.”
“And it won’t!” Callie said. She spread her arms and turned around in the bare living room. “Look at this! A place to ourselves! We don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
“Yeah,” I said, and suppressed the urge to look at the photo again. “God, I can’t believe it’s all finally over.”
“No, it’s finally beginning.” Callie replied, and I turned to see a fierce smile on her freckled face, her straight teeth bared. I walked to her and put my arms around her.
“How the hell did you get so strong?” I asked as we hugged, biting back another sob.
“I had a lot of practice,” she whispered, and added, “and a good role model.”
“Good role model?” I chuckled, and ran a hand through my own sandy hair, and was suddenly reminded of the gray I’d spotted last week. “I thought I taught you better than to sit on boxes. You cracked my picture frame.”
“Yeah, I did, but not by sitting on it.” I pulled away from her and studied her face. “I punched it. While I was packing it. I didn’t think you’d be upset about it.” I laughed again.