Resentment crept up her back and settled behind her ears. Tingling pricks of aching need pushing at the thin membrane.
She knew it wouldn’t take much. How could it? She had built her exterior with leftover fragments of need, longing, wistfulness, and the grit of “never giving up.” Small edgings of hope and love--a thin-soldered line bursting at the seams.
“Renee!” She screamed into the hallway of their small two-bedroom home. “How many times do I have to tell you to clean up the toothpaste if you spill it? This isn’t hard!” She jerked toilet paper from the wall. The roll spun its layers into the floor. She growled. She would have to clean that up, too.
Tiny feet moved in the hallway. Soft thuds of frustration in facing the same argument. Again and again.
“I did!” Renee stood at the door, her head barely clearing the door, her eyes wide with fear. Tyana whipped around and squatted to her level. Those large almond-shaped eyes asked for forgiveness before her mouth could form the words.
“Oh yeah? Then what’s this?” Tyana pointed. Her finger was crooked from arthritis that had begun to settle into her joints. She longed for the day when she had played the piano without pain. Or worked on a car with steady hands. Hell…when she could thread a needle without needing two sets of glasses. Or even when she could stitch a person while bouncing through the desert without flinching. Or nicking.
Renee pushed her foot into the floor and twirled her leg. “Mommy. I didn’t do it. I swear I didn’t.”
“So did some kind of fairy come in here in the middle of the night and do it?” Rage rattled in Tyana’s chest. The push and pull of the last fifteen years. All the time she had spent in a uniform, waiting or hoping for something to change—looking for a way back to her family.
But that way was riddled with an MEB board, VA testing, piles of paperwork, and a diagnosis that often still left her reeling. She could handle the PTSD. Well, at least she thought she could. Who didn’t have PTSD at this point? But the TBI often left her lonely and vacant. Constantly wondering if what she remembered was real. Or a figment of a memory she had twisted into her own thought. Her own reality. Separate from everyone else’s.
She knew it was hard on her family. Which translated into: She was a problem for her family. Of course, they never said that. But she felt it in her husband’s sad eyes. She saw it in Renee’s as her young mind worked to understand what it meant to have a “holey brain.”
Renee stood for a long while in front of her. Her small body shifting from one foot to the other. Her eyes down. Her heart racing.
Tyana knew what was coming. But knowing didn’t stop the pain when the words steeped into her chest.
“No, mama. You did it. Remember?” Renee refused to look at Tyana. Respect and honesty were such fine lines for a small body to walk.
“You said you wanted to teach me a lesson and that I had to get up this morning and clean it.”
Tears pooled in the corner of Tyana’s eyes. She wanted to break the mirror. Or to run. Anything to get away from the shame she felt.
How could she be a mother like this?
How could she be a partner like this?
How could she ever be herself again like this?
Renee deserved better. And the fact that Tyana knew this ripped her in two.
“I’m sorry,” Tyana whispered. She pulled Renee’s chin gently up and begged her eyes to meet hers.
“Renee. Honey. I’m sorry.” Renee nodded. A nod that showed how used to this she was. And how worn she was in the pattern.
“Sometimes Mommy just can’t remember, and well…I shouldn’t have yelled at you.” Tears fell down her face and she lowered herself to her knees—just in front of Renee, in some hope that she had lowered herself enough. She opened her arms and her daughter fell into them.
Renee’s small body held years of pain. Pain that no child should ever have to bear. Tyana wondered if there would ever be a way she could make it up to her. Make it better. Make her brain whole again so her sweet child did not have to carry such a burden. Or that her patient husband did not have to feel so alone.
Renee walked from the room, her head slightly higher. A spring back in her step. And Tyana pulled a wet cloth from the bathtub to wipe away the toothpaste.
Tears rolled down her nose and onto the countertop.
“Hey, babe. What’s up?” Ryan said. He rubbed his eyes, working the sleep out of them.
“Oh. You know. Just the usual.” Tyana created blue circles on the counter. The toothpaste seeped deeper into the pores.
“What happened?” Ryan put his hand over hers. The mere touch made her want to scream.
“I happened! Just like I always do.”
She threw the rag into the sink and kicked the cabinet. The door swung open and back against the frame. She gripped the edge of the counter. Panic surged into her throat and forced her breathing into short, raspy hiccups.
“What am I going to do?” she asked through her gulps of air. Fresh sobs filling the staccato void.
Ryan moved closer to her. He lifted her chin and pulled her eyes into his.
“What are we going to do.” He pulled her into his arms and exhaled. Then took another deep breath. She worked to align herself with him. She gripped the back of his shirt and forced her body to submit to his calm demeanor.
“We are going to do this like we do everything else. Together.”
She sighed and melted into him. The worry of tomorrow ate at the edges of her brain. The fear of what was to come stuck on the roof of her mouth.
But for one moment, she chose to believe.