I half expect Will to pull up to my house with the words “Free Candy!” spray painted on the side one day. A large rectangular hooptie of a vehicle. Dusty ebony in color. One single window at the rear. My friend and I mount ourselves into his creeper van.
Will agreed to join me on this journey. An adventure of sorts for a couple of teens. We have planned a drive, from Fife to Eatonville, to knock on what I suspected was my mother’s door.
She isn’t expecting us.
As a matter of fact, she hadn’t seen me in 11 years. Like many kids, my parents divorced when I was still very young. When they parted ways, they distributed their belongings as well. You get the couch, I get the car. Those dishes are mine. I never did like those drapes anyhow. You take this kid, I’ll take the other. And with that my baby sister and I parted ways – the same as our parents. We didn’t live far from each other, always within an hour of one another and yet somehow the distance between us was vast.
Sometimes during public transit routes I’d wonder if my mother or sister were on the same bus. Would I recognize them? Would they know me? Or would we sit side by side, knees nearly touching none the wiser?
I received the address we are heading towards from a cop. I only knew what I was told of my mother. She had a reputation — a nasty drug habit that I could only assume meant she likely had a warrant out for her arrest. My friend Jamie, a big lug of a fella, who always had a whisper of gasoline aroma lingering thanks to his job at the local BP gas station, knew enough to know that there are files for these things and likely an address was included in this file. Due to his petrol peddling, he also had a close enough relationship with one of the local officers that was familiar with most of us kids thanks to the D.A.R.E agenda. You know the one, where they told 5th and 6th graders that Mary Jane was a gateway drug. We gave him my little story, this straggly 16-year-old girl, just looking for her rumored to be meth addicted mom.
The officer raised one eyebrow, sighed and then smiled that smile that said, “I really shouldn’t be doing this but you’re good kids,” as he took a few moments on his computer and then jotted down my mother’s last known address.
With large quad shot Snickers mochas in hand, we puttered out to the outskirts of Eatonville. Each mile closer resulting in a rising anxiety inside of me. I spent the entire drive digging through the vaults of my memory, trying to recall my mother’s features. She, in a bright yellow shirt tied in the front as she dusted the living room. Her laugh that came easy. The crescent moon shaped indents her nails left in my small arm once when I was misbehaving. Her petite frame. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. A face my dad would sometimes say mine resembled. I found myself hoping that it wasn’t her address after all, hoping to arrive and knock on the door of a stranger.
Eventually we found ourselves winding down unfamiliar tree-lined streets, double yellow adorned concrete, becoming firm gravel. The distance between houses expanding the longer we drove. Pebbles clicking to the shooooossh of dirt under the tire. As we rounded the bend, there it was. A shack, really. Maybe a motor-home with archaic, sloppy additions. Several cars sat abandoned on the surrounding grounds. Three excited dogs bounded towards the van, eager for the attention of whomever had come to visit.
My heart thrummed in my ears as I tapped on the door.
A man answered, I was sure I would have to introduce myself, announce myself by name and confess that I was in search of my mother.
“Uh, yeah! Hi, um, I, is my mom here?”
“Yea, she’s out right now. I think she went fishing at Ohop.”
“Oh, okay, cool. Is it far?”
“Nah, a few miles that way,” he pointed lazily towards the way that we came. “You can wait inside if you wanna. She should be back soon.”
“Um, hold on a sec?”
He nodded in acknowledgement as I strolled back over to Will, who had been waiting patiently in the van.
“Dude, it’s her house but she’s not here. That’s her husband, I sorta remember him. He says she’s fishing.”
He considered it for a moment, “You wanna wait? I can stay here?”
“Yeah. Don’t go though. Okay?”
“For sure,” said Will.
As I glanced back looking for an out, he gave me a look of assurance. I shoved my hands deep into my pockets, as I approached the door, “My ride is gonna wait outside, but I’ll wait. If that’s cool.”
Mike, my mom’s husband, let me through the door. I had a vague memory of him in my youth. In the movie reel of my memory, he drove a yellow truck but I didn’t recall any real interaction with him.
“Man, she’s gonna be so excited to see you.”
He plopped onto a well-worn chair and motioned to the couch. Inside was dimly lit and just as petite as I expected from the exterior. Blankets and linens covered the windows and were draped from the ceiling both sagging and whimsical all at once. A collection of snow globes lined one wall, a pack of wolves residing in one, bits of make-pretend slow drifting by their paws. In another, a fairy perched atop a mushroom.
We sat there in silence for what felt like an eternity. All this time daydreaming about reconnecting with my mom had brought me to this moment. I was sitting in her home, my stomach flopping and churning inside of me while I considered what to say. Hyper-aware of my surroundings, I drank in the details, steeping in the unfamiliar. I looked to the patterns of each swooping fabric above, dark spots of dried moisture marking some in the corner. The couch was velvety to the touch from the blanket thrown upon it. I focused on the drip, drip, drip from the kitchen faucet, and the dogs kicking up dirt as they played on the side lawn. The sound of another vehicle finally approached and I inhaled deeply.
My mom came in with a burst of energy, took one look at me and hugged me deeply. I was several inches taller than her, but she wrapped her arms around me, her fringed leather coat swaying where it could between our interlocked embrace. “Oh my god, Jackie, oh my god” She repeated, as though she had found a long lost, sentimental treasure.
She didn’t let go for a long time.
Jackie Fender (Casella) has been a resident of Tacoma and surrounding areas since she was just a glimmer. She’s a freelance editorial writer with columns among the pages of Tacoma Weekly, the Weekly Volcano, City Arts Magazine, South Sound Talk, Post Defiance, South Sound Magazine and the South Sound Users Guide. Jackie is a self professed creative community enthusiast and strives through various projects to foster the positive growth of the Tacoma community culture. Other creative/community endeavors have included Tacoma ART BUS/Duchess of Downtown Tours, Wrist Magazine, Art on the Ave and non-profits Peace Out and Puyallup Main Street Association. Fender was awarded the 2018 AMOCAT Award for Outreach by an Individual. You can follow her personal musings at jackiefender.com.