Madeleines were all the rage when I was born—something about the endearing qualities of the Christmas cookie. I always saw them as bland, raked-over things made with leftover batter, but the world saw them differently. Or, at least, everyone on my block did.
My mother used to say I was the spirit-child of Madeleine L’Engle. Her name meant “angel,” she told me—a vision she saw in my dimpled cheeks and batty eyelashes. I always replied with brazen disregard: “Well then why not call me L’Engle?” She would sigh deeply with a pouty lip and then huff away to do the vacuuming and bathroom cleaning.
Still, there’s something to be said for the name. Before you meet me, you might think of a sweet little tween with a floppy skirt and ditzy squeaks, but at the very least, you’d figure innocence. My mother, I think, hoped to craft my future with my name—assuring I would always be the saintly daughter with a sweet and gentle disposition.
Little did she know her hopes would rupture. Now here I am: dressed in tattoos like poxes, half of them from chaotic drunkenness, a quarter from intentional rebellion, and a quarter I don’t remember getting. I wear mostly black, I sleep on a floor, I drink three-day old coffee from 7-Eleven, and I work at a gas station. I pick unfinished cigarettes off street corners and finish them with stolen matches. I drink handles of liquor—I don’t care what kind—in alleys after dark.
I am everything my mother never wanted.
The reason I’m telling you all this is because, for the first time in 10 years, I want to go see her again. We had a falling out you see. It had to do with drugs and boys (doesn’t it always), and she just couldn’t handle it. One day, she broke down and told me to get out. I did. And that was it.
I don’t suppose I really want to see her as much as she deserves to see me. I owe her that, don’t I? She gave me the name, not because she thought she could make me, but because she had high hopes for me. But I don’t have dimples anymore, and my eyelashes are hidden by grimy black hair. I’m a disappointment.
Do you think I should just knock on the door? Or maybe call—like from a payphone? Or should I forget it altogether— I’m good at being unseen, unnoticed, self-indulgent. I’m good at not caring. Every time I think about her, I worry. And when I worry, I smoke. And drink. And shoot up. Then I wake up in some god-forsaken corner of the world and realize she’d never want to see me. The hardest part is realizing I’ve done this to myself.
It’s raining today. Like cats and dogs. So hard, I can’t even light up. And I don’t want to drink. And I think: now’s the only time to go.
So I walk, soaked through to the bone, so hard the ink on my arms and neck is almost running away. I climb the front steps to my house, and I steady myself in front of the pale blue door. I remember it being smaller. And smiling when I saw it, my hands sticky with ice cream.
The rain floods down my face like a waterfall as I reach to ring the doorbell. My dad said it never rains in Texas. Ding. Dong.
Seconds tick. The rain picks up. My hair hangs, soggy and black, the cleanest it’s ever been. And then, amidst Mother Nature’s chaos, the door creaks open.
“Can I help you?” she says—a woman I’ve never known. I pause. “No,” I stutter, my mouth open, catching all the water. “No, thank you. Wrong house.”
She doesn’t invite me in, so I stumble, aimless, to the tree in the front yard where I had my first kiss, next to the garden I planted with Mom. And I sit down in that swamp of a lawn, and I cry. Though you never would have known it.