The earliest memory I have of my Mother was her mid-1990’s pixie cut in the grocery store. Or the department store. Or the shoe store. This is not to say that my Mother spent my entire childhood shopping- no- rather I view her childhood presence as a series of unending errands. The bank, the dentist. The cramped backseat of her Oldsmobile and pertpetually sticky hands, bickering. I view her childhood presence as a four-way split exhaustion of mundane tasks. My knobby knees, my unusual shortness, my tiny knuckles on a grocery cart.
"I should never have had four kids", the bangs of the pixie-cut stuck to her forehead with sweat. Usually in the ensuing, never-ending struggle of juggling of brothers, I was [unintentionally] ignored. A growing stem of a brain, twisting this way and that, left to it's own devices and seeking the tallest stalk to latch onto. Tiny knuckles on a grocery cart- that was always how it began. See, I created the intial distance between us, pretended to linger behind to touch a piece of fabric or stare longingly at the popcorn. The Disappearing Game was an art that had to be perfected. Maybe I would say a few words from the back just to assure her of my continued existence while I shied away, maybe I would say nothing at all. But, suddenly, the second the moon of that pixie cut began to wane, I would turn my heels and run in the opposite direction as fast as I possibly could. With three other children to diffuse, she rarely noticed my swift departure and as soon as her raspy voice had faded into some other aisle, I’d hide. I still have no idea exactly where the fun in this game came into play or if it had ever been fun in the first place but it’s just something I distinctly remember doing, over and over again. Hiding under the table of scarves or behind the paper towels. I’d, quite literally, lose myself.
Now, once I was properly disoriented, I began the great search. The return, the prodigal son's long journey home. Searching the produce sections and canned goods. Panic would slowly begin to take over and then; I abruptly wouldn’t want to play this game anymore. It became the worst game in existence. I’d vow to never do it again. In fact, I was horrible for even attempting it and if I could just find her this time, just this time, I would never dare it again. A blond little sniveling six-year old, turning corners with the squeak of a new sneaker, I’m surprised I was never stolen. Then, eventually, I’d catch a glimpse of her round brown head or I’d hear a chastising “No Ben, we’re eating dinner in an hour” and I’d know, in my heart, that a God existed and had brought us back together again. My prayers had been answered and as I raced towards her I always visualized her, distraught, frantically searching the store for me. She’d probably have gone to the manager by now, the police; she’d probably sent the dogs out after me. Her darling daughter, how could she survive knowing that I’d vanished? I would make that turn and her eyes would widen and shine with tears, she’d throw the groceries to the floor and scoop me into her arms. Only a miracle had brought us back together again, she’d swear. Perhaps she’d make it a national holiday with a clever name such as ‘Found-My-Daughter Day’ and every year we’d laugh over the time that she almost lost me, her shining star. I remember it so vividly, how I would present myself at the end of the aisle, dwarf hands on my hips and closed eyes for the adoration that would (surely) pour onto me only to find her struggling with a brother. She would look at me and say something along the lines of “we’re leaving because someone threw up and the ice cream is melting and I never should have had four kids” and it was clear, over and over again, that she hadn’t even noticed that I was gone in the first place. The next day I’d grit my teeth, rise on the balls of my heels, and start the game all over again.