Remembering What it Was Like to Be Seventeen


Chavisa Woods

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 123 in June, 2010.

I call you mother 
and you are things like memories
that have nothing to do with that word

like the first time I snorted
coke through a rolled up twenty...
the first time I snorted coke through anything
or took it any way

but maybe that does have something to do with that word,
that was sort of a motherly moment for you

you watched me in silence, allowing it,
letting your two lines sink in
and there was care in your watching

it was like a marriage
come to think of it

you watched me with a watching that was like you were watching
me get married

I was seventeen
and my hands were shaking
and that old boy,
a friend of yours, pushed the mirror at me excitedly

as you watched me beside me
I think you even touched my shoulder
and there was sadness in your watching
and there was assurance in your watching
and you seemed sort of to be lovingly laughing at me with your eyes
for being scared, you seemed to be laughing at me a little for being scared

like I imagine other mothers sort of laugh at their daughter's fear with sadness in their eyes 
at weddings

I think you even told me I didn't have to do it
but I did it anyway

my hands were shaking when I took the bill,
that's probably when you told me I didn't have to do it

I bent to the mirror
and I remember that moment so clearly
you watching me beside me
me beside me
I was standing on the other side of myself

whispering something in my ear
in a language I could not speak
and those words had everything in them
that had anything to do with the word mother
and my name

those words had a hammer and trees and your blood caked around a hole in the wall
my face reflecting in a creek and fires and piss and beer cans
and our trash eating away the skin of the Earth

and I translated those words into remembering
the fact that I have a minor hereditary heart defect
from my father's side of the family
and I wondered if I should take an aspirin first

this didn't seem like an appropriate moment to bring it up 
and I doubted you had any aspirin, anyway

so I put my nose to the bill
and the little line seemed so long and thick

I wondered if I would live through this

but you had done at least twice that much 
and you looked fine as you ever did
and you had lived through so much more
and I was your daughter
so, I thought,
I can live through this too

I sucked it up
and the room shook
but my shaking stopped

and then your hand was on my back
sort of patting me
and you looked at me
like maybe you just really recognized
me as the word daughter
for the first time
or maybe like I had just married you

and I was filled with the feeling
that you were my mother
so I could live through anything

and would

but right then, I had to go to play practice
so I got in my car all freshly coked
and sped to rehearsal
where I was directing
the homecoming show

my heart was beating
in my feet
while I watched the potatoe girls
in the gymnasium
sparkle and point
at the invisible adulterer
who would probably never
even in the name of love
even after
he broke all of their hearts

I wanted to tell them
he's not going to stop
no matter how much you sparkle
and the way you are dancing right now
I don't really care if he stops,
I can kind of understand
why he would do that to you,
I don't think he's going to
think it over

but the blue glittering was nice
and for some reason their horrible dancing
or maybe it was just the recording they were sinking to
made me want to cry

made me want to pull a sequined dress over my shaved head and go reeling around the town crooning, "Stop in the name of love. Stop”

when I headed back out to my car
I was coming down
and sweat was dripping from my palms
down off the tips of my fingers
like a syrup-like liquid representing transcendent sadness

and the one teacher I respected
hobbled out on her broken leg
which had put me in the director's chair
to ask me about a costume change

 (I worried she had noticed something ‘funny’ about me)

she stood next to me yaking
then, in my car, she saw a pack of cigarettes on the dashboard…
she ghasped, "You? I never thought you would SMOKE."

she asked me if they were mine
and I told her, clearly
without shame or fear,
"yes, they’re mine.

I smoke, sometimes."