5-ThereThings you should know:

  • Before my mother was the world’s best lesbian, she was the world’s best Jehovah’s Witness. She quit one to become the other; the two are not compatible.
  • Before my mother was the world’s best Jehovah’s Witness, she was the world’s best stay-at-home mother. She quit one to become the other; the two are not compatible.

1987: Transitions.

Returning was a homecoming of sorts. Back then in these mountains, my mother lived with grandparents, rode horses on weekends, and worked at the A&W. The grandparents were gone now, but my new stepdad was here. He meant she could again stay at home. It would be worth the move. But staying home was different when a husband returned each night after work. “Be careful what you wish for,” she joked one Tuesday while setting the table before he opened the door.

Dinner to serve at 5:30. A house to keep quiet. Family prayers. Family Bible study. Family service.

Service definition: Knocking on doors at 9:30 on Saturday mornings to discuss Jesus.

Soon, kids hide in bedrooms. Soon, kids drink in cars.

1993: There.

Setting: A small town in eastern Oregon. Two teen girls in sensible shoes stand outside a door, waiting. One needs to nurse a hangover.

Sarah: Do you think they are home?

Me: I hope not. Let’s just stand here and waste time.

Sarah: Why do you think they painted the house shit green?

Me: To go with the pee yellow trim.

(Woman answers the door).

Sarah: Oh. Hi! Ummm, so, my name is Sarah and this is my friend Tiffany. We were out this morning talking with our neighbors. (Pulls out a brochure with a panda and tiger on the cover. And fruit. There was always fruit). Have you imagined life on a paradise Earth?

Woman: I am sure this is much more important than the color of my house.

Repeat every Saturday until I quit.

1994: Sarah.

The boy she once wanted had engravings by Hogarth needled into skin; tattoos bought and paid for like a good American. His poet hair reminded her mother of Jesus—the mother who, like mine, asked closing doors, “Would you consider a scripture on how you can live forever on a paradise Earth?”

1995: In Motion.

I made sure to call my mom from a payphone when I only had four quarters. Four quarters. Four rings. Then her voice.

After I broke the news, silence. Finally, “So, what you are saying is you moved to Arizona and left your pants in Oregon?” On and on until the purchased minutes turned into dial tone.

1996: Then.

Two weeks before I gave birth, my little brother called.

“She left me. She just left me here.”


“Mom. She left.” Then a waterfall.

She left a note.

The stepdad raged: “One of the reasons I joined this religion is because this is not supposed to happen.”

After she drove away with her in the Subaru with the dream catcher, my brother moved in with my grandmother, then in with my dad.

Mom traded floral skirts for flannel. She hung pictures of her grandson. She hung pictures of wolves.

2015: Here.

My attempt to friend Sarah was not accepted, because I now am of the world.

World definition: Those who celebrate Christmas, accept lesbian mothers, and use excessive profanity to describe the garden’s squash bug population.

Sarah smiles in the profile with him—the one she first rejected. The one, she once confided, who threw plates. She forgot the poet; she remembered her god.

1983: Before Here and There.

Before my mother loved him, and then her, there was him. My father. Not a good husband. A great accountant. An Olympic drinker. A reliable co-worker. A decent summer dad.

Once, I hid under their bed, counting her tears that I could not see, and the counting put me to sleep.

After the awkward family discussion on the couch, their room became just my mother’s. My father had an apartment across town. On Saturdays, he bought fried chicken from the deli for my brothers and me, and we played in a park we did not yet know.

That winter, I read Where the Red Fern Grows and cried. My mom noticed the puffy eyes and then one gray Sunday she rented the VHS from the neighborhood 7-11. We covered ourselves in blankets, closed the blinds, and the television glowed.

Tiffany Hitesman resides in Idaho, where she teaches First Year Writing and Nonfiction at Boise State University. Her essays have appeared in Proximity and SIAR.

Photo by Frank Dina