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Fortress of Solitude
I support her through the door, kicking it shut behind me. She laughs and clutches my stained shirt as we stumble though the living room, navigating our way around endless piles of bottles, cans, and cigarettes. When I trip under her weight, she puts a hand against the wall to stop herself from falling, and she lets out a yelp as the dry-wall crumbles underneath her fingers. I catch her, but she doesn't acknowledge me. It's as if I'm not even there.
She looks at her hand, covered in dust and paint. “I can break walls.” Her red eyes widen. “I'm strong. I must be Superman!”
I don't tell her that the walls have been deteriorating for years. It wouldn't make any difference. Instead I sit her on the dingy bed and take off her bright red stilettos. I tuck her in tightly, hoping the blankets will keep her from getting up later. When that's done, I tiptoe to the door, wanting to escape quickly, but her words stop me. “Don't you wanna talk a little?”
Do I want to talk to my mother? Yes. I do.
I want to talk to her about the great grades I've been getting. I want to tell her my teacher published my essay in the local newspaper. I want to laugh about how Jesse's kindergarten concert was awful, but he was perfect. I want to gush to her about a guy in my class, Jeremy, who thinks I'm cute. I want to confide in her that I finally got my period. God, I do want to talk to my mom.
But the drunk woman on the bed is not my mother. She is nothing like a mother.
My hand tightens on the doorknob behind me. One quick pull, and her drunken humming will stop. One fast tug, like tearing off a band-aid.
“Don't go.” She mewls, not unlike a kitten, pulling the threadbare quilt higher around herself. She looks like a bewildered child. Sour, stinging bitterness bleeds onto my tongue. I'm the child here, not her. This is so wrong.
But bound in her blankets, tucked deep into the mountain of pillows cushioning her head, she looks so small. I let go of the doorknob and walk back to the bed, sitting as far away from her as I can.
“Welcome back,” she croons. A too-wide smile distorts her pasty face, and she's looking somewhere to the left of me. I don't respond. She mumbles intelligibly for a while, telling me about the latest happenings at her regular bars and the “nice men” she's met. I'm close to dozing off when her bloodshot gaze shifts focus. She looks directly at me, her eyes softening. “You're such a good listener, dear.” She pats my hand with her clammy one.
I freeze. Is she lucid enough to recognize me?
“You're a good listener, and I'm a good talker. That's why we make such a good team! Right, Superwoman?” She winks conspiratorially, her eyes unfocused once more. “That's how we defeated th' evil Lex Luther.” She's slurring again.“Superman n' Superwoman, together.”
I laugh. Just for a second, I let it all hit me. Then I swallow the sound like thick cough syrup.
She smiles dreamily at my twisted laughter. Then, as she yawns and nestles down into the pillows, I cross the room quietly to turn off the lights. I open the door silently, but before I can leave, I hear her murmur sleepily.“G'night, partner.”
I pause in the light of the doorway and open my mouth to reply, but a battering ram smashes into my chest.
I close my mouth and shut the door softly behind me.
Returning to my room, I see that Jesse is already snoring softly. When I pull back the covers and lay down next to his tiny body, he curls into my side, fanning my cheek with his little puffs of breath. I brush the curls off his forehead before turning my face away. I don't want the wetness on my cheeks to wake him.
We don't deserve this. I know that. But we'll manage.
After all, I am Superwoman.