To Be Forgiven

by Bonnie E. Carlson

She dreaded having to make the amends, but it ate away at her.

“It’s time,” her sponsor said. “Put on your big girl pants. You’ll feel better when it’s done.”

In previous attempts at sobriety, Laurel had never gotten to AA’s steps eight and nine—make a list of people you’d harmed and make amends to them all. “All” was unimaginable, but Mom? Just start there, Laurel. how badly could it go? After all, you’ve been sober almost two years and spend time every weekend helping her now that you know about her Parkinson’s diagnosis.

So Laurel drove north from Scottsdale to upscale Carefree where her mother, Joanne, lived. She rehearsed what she planned to say all the way there. Not just an apology, but how she’d changed.

She arrived and her mother let her in. Laurel’s voice caught in her throat when she took in her mother’s appearance. Face all pasty, gaunt, hair askew. The Parkinson’s was progressing rapidly.

“You should have just let yourself in,” Joanne said, still in her pajamas at noon. “Why’d you make me get up?” Her voice was soft and raspy.

Oh boy, here we go.

Joanne hobbled into the kitchen, her posture stooped, rail thin.

Laurel asked, “What do you need me to do today?”

She spent several hours, making her way through Joanne’s list. She dusted and vacuumed, did three loads of laundry, emptied the dishwasher. Then she drove to Safeway and CVS, buying groceries and refilling prescriptions.

At four, housework and errands finally completed, she heaved a big sigh. It was showtime, time to sit down and get it over with. But dammit, where was Mom?

Napping. Shit, now she’d be all pissed off that I woke her.

After Laurel gently nudged her awake, Joanne said, “Damn you, Laurel. I just fell asleep. And you know how much friggin’ trouble I have sleeping.”

“Sorry. How about some tea, Mom? There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

Joanne dragged herself out of bed, gray hair matted and tangled as a bird’s nest. “By the way, a young man called here looking for you the other day.”

Laurel’s eyes narrowed. “What did he want? Did he leave his name?”

“Just said he wanted to get a hold of you. I wrote his name down somewhere.” She rummaged through a basket of junk on the counter. “Okay, here it is. Ryan Murphy.” She handed the scrap of paper to Laurel.

But Laurel didn’t need to look at it. Oh, dear God. Her legs felt wobbly.

“Who is this guy? I gave him your number and when I asked him how he knew you he said something about being your son. That’s crazy.”

Laurel’s mind shattered. What could he want after all this time? How did he find her?

“Did he reach you?”

Laurel shook her head, thoughts racing.

“Who is he?”

Laurel slumped onto a chair. “Nineteen years ago, that bastard who abused me, Rick Murphy, got me pregnant.” She paused, her breath ragged. “And forced me to have the baby.”

“Wait, you had a kid? You never told me that.”

“I was drinking, deep in my disease. Rick threw me out, kept the baby. Wouldn’t let me see Ryan even after I stopped drinking. I finally gave up—”

“You mean you abandoned him?”

The conversation roared downhill from there. Laurel battled to keep her emotions under control.

Joanne egged her on. “I can’t believe you walked out on a poor defenseless baby.”

Laurel tried to keep her mouth shut, but a thick, red rage bubbled up in her. “Shut up, Mom. You have no idea what you’re talking about—”

“I raised four kids—”

Bile rose to the back of her throat. “And look how they all turned out! A drug addict, an alcoholic, a prostitute, one in prison. Great job, Mom!”

“Maybe I wasn’t the best mom, but I never abandoned you kids.”

That’s when Laurel lost it. “What are you talking about? You absolutely did! That night you went to the bar and left eleven- and twelve-year-old boys in charge? The fire? Child Protective coming? How about sending us to Aunt Alice’s house the next day without even telling her we were coming? Have you conveniently forgotten how we ended up in three different foster homes, while you carried on with the latest lowlife jerk? How is that not abandonment?”

Joanne’s nostrils flared. “That wasn’t my fault,” she sneered. “I told the boys not to cook.” She pounded her fists on the table. “Stupid neighbors had no business sticking their noses in where they didn’t belong—”

“Mom, the fire department saved us from the apartment burning down! That’s how Child Protective got there, not because of neighbors being nosy.”

“Well, if my sister had just agreed to look after you kids for a few weeks it would have all blown over. She owed me that.”

“Sending four kids across the country to a relative’s house on a Greyhound—by themselves!—without even having the courtesy to let your sister know we were coming?” Laurel leapt up and paced. Her arms waved and spittle flew from her mouth, as she poured gasoline onto an already raging inferno. “That’s fucked up, really fucked up! I was gone for almost two years!”

Joanne opened her mouth to respond but Laurel cut her off. “Shut up. I’m not done. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, you refused to believe that I got sexually abused by one of the older boys in the foster family—”

“I still don’t believe that! You just made it up to try to make me feel guilty. You always were a liar. If that happened, why didn’t you tell right away?”

Laurel’s reptilian brain kicked into gear. “Because I was scared! Because I didn’t think anyone would believe me! Because I thought I’d get in trouble!” She was shrieking now, frothing against this pathetic, sick old woman. “Because I was just a kid whose mother didn’t care enough about her to not leave her home with two irresponsible brothers. A mother who couldn’t get her shit together to be a half-decent parent. Who cared more about partying than taking care of her kids. And, you have the nerve to criticize me for abandoning Ryan?”

Joanne thrust out her chin. “You have no clue how hard it was to raise four kids by myself!”

The inferno had unleashed a lifetime of Laurel’s venom and resentment. “Who asked you to have four kids? You weren’t equipped to take care of even one!”

At that, Joanne jumped up from the kitchen chair and charged toward her.

Afraid her mother might hit her, Laurel dodged out of the way.

Joanne yelled, “Get out of my house! Now. Before I call the police.”

Laurel grabbed her purse and marched out to her car. She sat in the car trembling, hands too shaky to even start the car. Hot tears of rage sprang from her eyes. She knocked her head on the steering wheel over and over. Her stomach roiled. Why did she think this would work? What an idiot she was for even trying, for thinking her mother might forgive her. That they could ever come to a place of peace. Her mother was the one who should be begging for forgiveness! Here she was, sacrificing her precious weekend time to help this wretched woman, and all she asked for in return was forgiveness. Understanding. Acceptance that she’d done the best she could with what she’d been given. Laurel had had no idea how to care for that innocent little baby. How could she with a mother like that?

Instead, she got judgment and rejection. So much for amends.

Every inch of her body felt bruised and every pore screamed, “I need a drink!”


Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing