Never Be Robbie
Written with my Thursday night writing group with the prompts: he died ten years ago, I just want to win something, surrounded by her men, don’t get up stay there, many ways to escape, to this day, pictures of last Christmas, the look of panic was still present in her eyes, it wasn’t pretty, trust you like a snake
Robbie died ten years ago, but I can still see the look of panic frozen in Mama’s eyes when I gave her the news. They all claimed to be so brave—Mama’s men—her three brothers, her five remaining sons—but they insisted that I —the youngest in the family and the only girl—I had to be the one to tell her. “Trust me,” Jamie said. “It will be better coming from you.” Right, I thought, I trust you like a snake. I was only 17, and you sent me out there to face her like a sacrificial lamb.
They knew, they all knew, Robbie was her favorite, and they all knew why.
She was in the yard, tending the vegetable patch, painstakingly pulling the nutgrass that always sprouted between the Swiss chard and the artichokes. I was scared, creeping up as quietly as possible, my gaze fixed on her hands, bare in the dirt, red from too much hot water, scrubbing dish pans and counters, floors and windows. She turned suddenly. “What’s the matter, Laurie? Why you crying?”
She spoke carelessly, still focused on the dirt, on the weeds, on the thick healthy chard leaves, such a beautiful red in the afternoon sun.
“Don’t get up, Mama,” I whispered. “Just stay right there.” She looked confused when I sank down beside her, and I saw her look up over my head at the men all watching through the window. The one face she always sought—his wasn’t there. “Where’s Robbie?” she blurted, and I had to tell her. She was never the same.
There are many ways to escape, and I admit it, I took one of the more stupid paths. Pregnancy, marriage, abortion, divorce. It wasn’t pretty but it got me out the door. I haven’t looked back. I think of that first funeral so long ago, Mama stoic-looking, surrounded by a strong male presence. Fine, I thought, now they show up, a united front to back her as she marched behind the casket. I was left with my aunts, put to work in the kitchen.
I look at the photos they sent from last Christmas and there they are, forever as always, her entourage of men beside her.
I don’t know where my father is. I don’t know where he’s been for years. I just know my father was not Robbie’s father. They all knew it, but I had to figure that out on my own. I don’t know who or why but that man, Robbie’s father, that man was her favorite, I’m sure of it. It doesn’t matter how obedient or loyal or good the rest of us will be, we will never be Robbie to her.
Even now to this day, when I haven’t be back there in years, I think of her and I wish I could win something: a hundred dollars from a lottery scratcher, a trip to Tahoe in the church raffle, a stuffed cat at the midway. No wait, a poetry contest, publication in a magazine. Yeah, that’s what I really want, I guess, something that I could point to, something I could show her, to say I’m worth it too.
Photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash