Here is a photo from my senior yearbook. It was the first year we had a girls' cross country team and the only reason we got one, was because the girls' gymnastics team got canceled after they all got caught drinking on the bus on the way home from a meet.
We stand in the dining room and watch as the two-tone brown Suburban crawls up the hill of our block and a half long driveway. We're waiting until it's gone. As if she can somehow see what we're doing in the house from the car. None of us doubt her powers.
As soon as it's gone, we all get a little giddy. She only went to the store, so we don't have much time to breathe and relax. I do my impersonation of her. I'm really good at it. "Tuh-REES-ah!" I screech at my cousin in a nasally, exaggerated Chicago accent. "Take off your glasses so I can slap your face." I don't voice what's missing in that statement - "...At least your glasses are worth something..." We laugh nervously and talk shit about her behind her back. It's all we have and we won't have it for very long. She'll be home soon.
She is confusing. Usually, she is harsh and mean and alternates spitting out insults and orders. I have developed skills in order to function within all the crazy. I practice lying, (I'm an expert) and being invisible. I know that whatever I do will never be good enough. I try to do everything very well. Things are cleaned as quickly and with as much detail as possible, I cook all the crappy food she likes to her satisfaction, and I try to make sure my cousin isn't too defiant. The goal isn't to get her approval, (that will never happen) it's to keep her out of my face. I blend in, I don't establish eye contact, I am charmingly self-deprecating. I don't need to give her any reason to knock me down any more than she already does. All of these things I do to survive in this world, will fuck me up later on, when I'm an adult and I try to function in a healthy environment. It will take me years to shed those behaviors.
Other times, she can be fun and nice even. It's almost worse than if she were consistently mean. Because then I have to feel guilty about hating her and wishing a horrible debilitating accident on her. I am incapable of carrying a grudge and I start to open up, to even trust her for a minute. An hour later she'll get bad again, just as quickly. "You lazy, rotten, lousy, stinkin' , ungrateful..." And I will have to sit there and take it and feel like an asshole for letting my guard down.
There are things that I have. Things that are mine that she can't get to. Those things are my albums, and books and running and writing. I write everything down. I have to. It's the only way I can keep it straight. She will never admit what she's like. Never. Not even to herself. Not even when she's old and it doesn't matter anymore. Not even when all is forgiven...Mostly. So, I document it for myself. So I know that it happened and I'm not making it up and as a reminder to myself the next time she is nice to me, not to trust it. It won't last.
One of my cousins gives the signal. She's on her way back down the hill. We're all in a tizzy, trying to turn off the TV and put away any food we were sneaking and tidying everything as much as possible and then all retreating to our rooms. We have no idea how she'll be and no one wants to draw attention to themselves. Just in case. I go to my room and find my hidden notebook to write this down too.