dinner on the counter
thrift store later??
I come home to her loopy cursive letters on the door, mentally preparing myself for the frozen
pre-cut vegetables and the takeout box of cold rice I end up seeing on the counter. I empty the
box into a glass bowl, stuffing it into our barely functioning microwave that has to be pried open
with the “grandfather spoon”. The warped brass spoon is one of the many compulsive purchases
Mom made at the thrift store when it was on the verge of closure. Now the bent utensil clutters
our drawers with the rest of its long lineage— a reminder of how discounts, odd family
heirlooms, and gently-used signs can break a family.
I grew up in the walls of the thrift store, and according to Mom, at age five, I outgrew my asthma
by learning to breathe through the stale scent of dusty items. At age eight, I started wheeling my
own cart of doll clothes in taped plastic bags and half-used sticker sheets. At age ten, I got my
first loyalty card, which looked enough like a credit card to make you look rich in elementary
school. But, at age eleven, you learn to demystify the places you deemed magical when you were
younger. The store was in an awful location, sandwiched between a cigar shop and a faded
Indian takeout store in a ratty, off-the-mill strip mall. Each punched-out star on my hollow card
reminded me I was mortal. Life was finite, and yet, I kept coming back every Sunday. But Mom
found a way to push meaning into objects that screamed of deprivation, objects we didn’t need
but that if we adjusted our lives, we could accommodate them.
[she told me gardening shears could work in winter]
This house feels claustrophobic, with every crevice and every corner filled with decorations.
Everything here came from someone else. I imagine that, at some point in time, these objects
held a part in someone’s life, that they forged this deep connection, and then suddenly the object
was just too different, too worn, too out-of-place to be a part of that person’s life. I live in a
house of things that could no longer be in people’s lives. All stories rest here except the ones
with happy endings.
[she told me to read old magazines in spring]
I learn about my mother in pieces. She lived in Colombia with her older sister but immigrated to
the U.S. with her aunt and uncle when she was seven. She waited for her sister, who never came
but sent money in gradually ceasing payments. She made paper boats out of magazine scraps,
wrote spirited poetry, and often got into petty fights with the kids in the neighborhood while her
aunt and uncle struggled to make ends meet. In one of her old teen magazines, an article,
“Transitioning to Adulthood” tells one to cut ties with the past that holds them back. My mother
vowed to never marry—especially if she could use money that would otherwise be spent on
“settling down” to buy a motorcycle and drift across the country, consumed by neither marital
nor maternal responsibilities. Instead, she grudgingly met her future husband early at nineteen.
Conceived on the night of the housewarming party, I became not a symbol of hatred, but even
worse: boredom. My mother never craved the comforting constraint of our home. How its walls
slowly closed in on one if they merely stared long enough. When Mom was home, he was out.
When he was home, Mom was at the thrift store. They worked their schedules around one
another until the house belonged to us.
If we were close, and I was older we would sit on the porch with green tea, discussing how the
august breeze could come and go so quickly, rifling nothing but the sun-bleached hair down our
backs. I would tell her not to mourn him before he embedded himself for the second time. Now
our house feels empty because it aches for a lost presence. Every time we went to the store, I
remember us parting ways with separate carts and coming back to check out, eyeing her
disapproval at my barely filled cart, upset that I didn’t feel so inclined to coat this house with
other people’s stories so we wouldn’t have to live in ours.
[she told me tulip seeds could bloom in summer]
Mom had a kid with a guy from work once. He was a part of her secret world far away from my
own. Late nights spent together, soft muttering from outside the front windows of our home,
lingering conversations on the blackest nights. He must have made her happy. Happy enough to
sleep in on Sundays, at least. I remember the outline of a man: tall, fair-skinned, smiling. If I
think hard enough, I see the slight swell of her belly before hushed sobs around a small, sleeping
frame. Promises that were never made but somehow broken. I think of tulips framing her face
and tall man telling me I looked too much like her. For a second, I wished he was Dad, and I
contorted his features until my heart grew heavy. That night, I felt close to someone who had
hurt me. With the biological basis of attachment working against me, I cried myself to sleep that
night, thinking of a happy ending. Thinking of Sundays at the thrift store.
[she told me butterfly wallpaper could look prettier in fall]
No one is the same after they become a parent. But what about those who say goodbye earlier?
Mom took on longer hours. To keep this house, she said. To live a better life, she said. In the
daytime, I would believe her when our freshly-papered walls colored our floors. At night, I'd stay
awake just long enough to know she’d come back. We lived under the same roof but in different
worlds, one of gardening shears and worn magazines, one of tulips and butterfly wallpaper that
could cover it all. The clutter in our house aches with despair as if it just cannot alleviate the
inherent sadness of this home. As if it isn't big enough, proud enough to do my job for me.
“Transitioning to Adulthood” doesn’t talk about that specific moment when you go from girl to
woman, but I know it’s at this moment that I feel myself carding through Mom’s past as
milestones on my fingers. Seventeen years old is the nearly imperceptible difference between
being a daughter and being a mother. It’s when our milestones mesh that I understand a mother’s
pride. Like usual, I’ll engrave those milestones in my gut as if they promise an eternity of
gratification. And like mother like daughter, we'll learn to believe them, even if antique items
line every crevice of our house, and I don’t even have to look inside our fridge to know it’s
Sitara is a 16-year-old from Massachusetts. She is a prose editor for her school's literature and arts magazine and loves to write short fiction and poetry. She's also passionate about neuroscience and psychology. When she has free time, she's usually around her cat and dog.