You Were Such a Good Actor
written on May 10, 2008
The bright summer sun beat down on your small body; the warm breeze tousled your sun kissed hair. You played continually not wasting a single second of the day. Bicycle rides to the store five miles away, water fights with the sprinkler in the front yard, and runs through the cornfield with the dogs without a care in the world…except one. It was a responsibility that no child should have to carry, but at Grandma’s house you pretended that it wasn’t there. You played Power Rangers and fought the evil villains trying to take over the vineyard. When you had defeated them, you would climb the neighbor’s tree and “borrow” their oranges, but it was always there in the back of your mind. That responsibility sat with the knowledge that you weren’t really the pink Power Ranger saving the world.
To distract yourself, you swam in the ditch down the street and splashed at the water while singing your favorite song. As you dripped your way back to Grandma’s house, you stopped on the corner next to the peach orchard to play with Mrs. McCarthy’s dogs. Then, you jumped yourself dry on the trampoline until you were so tired that you had to sit down. You watched the country sun set on your summer and finally let yourself remember that you weren’t really a Power Ranger.
You made sure to talk the whole car ride to town. You didn’t want Grandma to know that you were sad, so you told her that you were looking forward to sleeping in your own bed, seeing your friends, and starting the third grade. When the car stopped in front of your apartment, you didn’t want her to leave, but you knew you couldn’t ask her to stay. Quickly, you ran through the door so she wouldn’t see your tears. You couldn’t be selfish, and you had to be strong.
You turned from the door to see your mother sitting on the couch. Her brown eyes were bloodshot, her curly hair was greasy, and her frail body was bruised. An overwhelming sense of anxiety filled your body, but you quickly dismissed it. You walked to your room and lay down on the white twin mattress on the floor. You stayed awake for hours wondering if she’d be there when you awoke.
The next morning you slipped on the new pink tank top and pleated navy blue skirt that Grandma bought for you. You pulled on your size five Mary Janes and buckled them over your size six and a half feet. They were tight and hurt, but you had to look nice for school or the teachers would be concerned about you. Carefully, you brushed your hair and sneaked into the kitchen. You found some stale cereal and old milk that didn’t taste too bad.
After eating, you knocked on your mother’s bedroom door, but she didn’t answer. Slowly, you opened the door so it wouldn’t creak. The room reeked of smoke and mildew. Your heart filled with panic as your eyes searched for movement. You saw the slight rise and fall of the bed sheets and calmed your heart. You debated whether to wake her or to let her sleep. “If I don’t wake her now, she’ll never get up,” you thought to yourself as you walked to her bedside. You could feel her ribs through her thin skin as you gently but firmly shook her body with your eight-year-old arms and said softly, “Mama? It’s time to get up now, Mama.”
“Leave me alone,” she hissed as she jerked herself away from your touch and rolled over.
You wanted so desperately to say, “It’s the first day of school, Mama. Won’t you walk with me just this once?” but you knew that you should leave her alone.
When you reached the door, you wondered what it would be like to get a hug and kiss before you left for school, but you shut the thought from your mind as you put on a fake smile and opened the front door. You didn’t want to dwell upon such thoughts. Instead, you made sure to add a little skip to your step as you made your way to school so no one would worry about you.
All day, you thought to yourself, “I wonder if she got out of bed yet? Did she eat anything today? Will she be there when I get back?” You kept these questions to yourself as you skipped and played and learned. You smiled at the new girl, Julie, and asked if she would like to sit next to you at lunch. You helped Miss James pass out the textbooks. Politely, you thanked her when she told you how sweet and responsible you were, but you couldn’t help thinking that she was wrong. If you were responsible, you would be at home where you were needed. You felt guilty for liking school and not wanting to go home. You never told anyone that you felt that way because you didn’t want to bother them. Instead, you pretended that everything was fine for their sake.
You wished Miss James a nice day, told Julie that it was nice to meet her and you looked forward to being friends, and picked up a few candy wrappers scattered on the school lawn before leaving for home. As you walked, you said, “Hello,” and “Good afternoon,” to everyone you passed leading them to believe that you were perfectly happy, and they smiled. You fooled them all; you were such a good actor.