My mother was standing there in the kitchen.
This time, she was on her tiptoes, balancing on an overturned plastic mop bucket. It was blue and barely holding her weight. She’d found a rope somewhere, and it was knotted around one of the ceiling pipes, the other end hanging loosely around her neck in noose formation.
Of course she’d learned to tie a noose.
I’d always threaten to leave her, and she’d always find a way to get me to stay. When she found out I’d applied to colleges out of state back when I was a kid, I found out she’d burned my acceptance letters with her cigarette lighter. Of course, I didn’t find that out until later; Mother told me I must’ve been “too retarded” to get into any schools.
When I told her I was planning on leaving anyway, that I had to get out of this horrible town and this disgusting house, that was the first time she said she was going to do it. She took ten Tylenols right in front of me, one by one, telling me she’d take the whole bottle, even as I was screaming for her to stop, on my knees and pulling on her leg like a toddler wanting candy.
And then she stopped. I hugged her, burying my eighteen-year-old face into her doughy, sweaty flesh, thinking if I held her tight enough she wouldn’t do it. And it worked.
Every time I tried to leave, after that, she did it again.
One time, when I was around twenty-five, she actually sliced open her wrist with a steak knife and I panicked and called a cab to the hospital. She ended up being fine; it was just a surface wound with lots of scary blood. I came home and scrubbed the blood off the white linoleum tile with bleach and I didn’t try to leave again for months.
I looked up at her now. She had blackish tears running down her face. She looked ridiculous with all of that makeup on. Her eyes were all done up in navy blue shimmer, outlined in thick kohl. Like a teenager. The red lipstick made her mouth look like a gash.
She only did it so I’d think she was really going to do it. Like she’d done all her makeup so when the cops came to find her, she’d still look beautiful. She was probably wearing brand new underwear, too.
In my forty years of life there had never been a time where I felt like my actions were not going to directly affect my mother. She’d forced me to believe that every move I made, she’d know about. It was like I was her voodoo doll. If I made the wrong decision, she’d feel the pain, like needles stuck right into her abdomen.
Today I was going to leave, or else I knew I’d be stuck here forever.
Mother was whimpering and I wished she’d just shut up to make it easier. She was embarrassing herself, and me, although no one else was in the room. She tugged the white rope back and forth across her neck, making her fat rolls there turn red and rashy. She teetered on the mop bucket like an overweight, amateur tightrope walker, her chubby feet squashed into strappy black sandals.
I picked up my duffel bag and checked my pocket for my keys. I had everything. I was done playing the game. I opened my mouth and it finally came out that I was leaving forever.
“And you would do that to your poor mother?”
I stared right into her eyes, filled with red and black and tears.
She tightened up the noose. I lifted my bag further up onto my shoulder and I turned on one heel. I reached the threshold of the kitchen doorway and heard Mother scream like a child.
“Goodbye, Mother,” I said, managing to keep myself from looking back at her.
When I finally reached the front door, I took out the keys, closed the door behind me, and locked it.
Sometimes I think that I heard the sound of a blue mop bucket overturning onto the floor, but most of the time, I convince myself it was just the sound of the deadbolt.
Kelly Syring is a writer, set decorator, and designer in New York City.