My father dies and my mother begins to lose years like leaves until she free-falls through time and drifts into 1985, landing in the middle of what she will later refer to as her “decade of despondency.” Today, my mother sits in a recliner in her room in a Florida assisted-living facility while I stretch out on her twin bed as we talk, something I do every day on my way home from work.

My mother’s mind is back in Illinois, and she is worried about her daughters who have become strangers. One is a thousand miles away at college, the other is me and I’m dating a “troubled boy” and riding around on a motorcycle, sneaking in late at night. My dad’s small business isn’t doing well; they might lose the house. God only knows what I might be doing.

My mother is most upset today because her husband has become distant. He has a friend now, a woman, and my mother doesn’t think he would have an affair—he’s too honorable for that; he’s a good man—but intimacy is fragile. She feels it slipping. He never comes home. Where is he? It’s almost dark. She begins to cry, and I sit up, move to the chair beside her, and put my arm around her.

I wonder who she thinks I am. I want to tell her that it all turns out more-or-less okay in the way that life does and doesn’t, but there’s no way for me to tell her anything that doesn’t end with Dad dying. And nothing about my father’s death is all right for either of us. I cannot watch him die in front of her again.

After a while my mother falls asleep in her chair and the room dims. I should leave. My sons will be home soon. One is applying for colleges, the other is drifting, deciding what to do next. A third is failing math. Saturday, the back patio smelled like weed. There is so much I don’t know. My husband lost his job and he’s home, worrying about money. Our dog has a tumor in his chest. 

I close my eyes and shed my fifty-something skin and join my mother in 1985. I fill my throat with tequila. I climb on the back of the troubled boy’s bike, and I tuck my fingers into the waistband of his jeans. He warms my hand with his own. We are seventeen, and we make $3.35 an hour, and we wear our sunglasses at night. I press my cheek into his back. His father is an asshole and the boy is always angry. He holds my heart in his teeth, but he hasn’t bit down yet. We drive by my house. It weeps under the weight of my parents’ unhappiness. But on the back of his bike, we are washed clean. I will go anywhere he goes, and he goes everywhere, too fast. Our small town spins away as we spit up gravel and speed into the black. Anything can happen. We throb with hope.

Later, as I drive home from my mother, I think of all the other years she could have returned to: learning to swim in the river with her father (“no one ever loved me more than him”), her early years teaching (“it’s magical to watch someone’s face open when they learn”), their honeymoon to Canada (“oh, Laurie Ann, it was as if we were one then”), the years when my sister and I were infants (“I felt so needed, so alive”), or even the last couple of decades when she and my father settled into a new intimacy, caretakers of each other who held hands and listened to jazz in the evenings after Wheel of Fortune.

Why must we return to the times in our lives when we were most raw? I could not imagine a world without my father in it, but here I am on a Tuesday, driving a small silver car alone through a suburb. I see him everywhere. Yesterday, it was an aisle over at Walgreens, his black windbreaker brushing past me, my hand raising and then falling. Soon, my mother will die. My sons will leave. All of this is impossible.

It is dusk and night keeps on coming. It occurs to me I may be in the middle of my own decade of despondency. But how would I know? Anything can happen. I roll down the windows. I turn toward home.

Laurie Rachkus Uttich’s work has been published in Creative NonfictionFourth GenreThe Missouri ReviewRattle; River Teeth; Superstition Review; Sweet: A Literary Confection; and others. She teaches at the University of Central Florida and leads creative writing workshops at a maximum security prison in Orlando. Email her at [email protected] or say hello on Twitter @laurieuttich.

Photo by Christina Brobby