Every year on the anniversary of Tim’s death, my mother hosts a family dinner. After seven years I no longer feel sorry for her.
Oh kiddo, my bartender, Karen, says to me, though she isn’t that much older. Her bar near Washington Square smells like bleach.
My father told me people thought my parents were selfish when we were born. Manhattan was no place for children, but the reality was they couldn’t afford to move. Karen tells me those days were rough. I wonder what days she means.
A few witnesses told the police that a man on the street asked Tim for money. Some witnesses said Tim was drunk, or he was laughing. No one tried to intervene, the police said. There are two flights of stairs in the Lexington Avenue stop at 125th; Tim had probably broken bones being pushed down them. He was beaten to death at the bottom, his face so swollen and disfigured that the medical examiner warned my father, who came to make the ID. Maybe you should’ve done it, Karen once said to me. I didn’t go back to her for two weeks.
After Tim, Mom started saving newspaper clippings. The clips seemed to have no commonality. She stuffed them in white envelopes and lines the inside of her desk in the study. She ordered in all the groceries and called every deliveryman “Asahd,” an inappropriate racial epithet that she claimed not to remember when my father and I confronted her. She read only memoirs or the non-fiction pieces in The New Yorker. She began an active hatred for The New York Post, sharing this distaste with passers by on the street. It’s trash, it exploits people, she tells them, poking the cover.
Over deli sandwiches on the fourth year, I asked Dad to talk to Mom. He said to me, Your mother hurts.
I slouch over to Karen, who serves me Pabst Blue Ribbons with a shot of whiskey. Around one I slide off the barstool, the two wet fives too generous a tip given the student loans I live on.
At night I wrap myself tight in my bed sheets, even if it’s hotter than hell outside. I imagine the sheets are a thousand arms. I am the surviving daughter, the sister of a ghost.
In one of our last conversations, Tim told me about packing up his room on the day he moved out. Our mother had begged him to stay with tears in her eyes, and he told her to relax, he’d be back next week for dinner. “You’d think I killed her,” he said to me. He smiled as he spoke. “You would think I killed the old lady, but really I was doing her a favor.”
Two weeks after Tim told me this, he lay in his own blood for twenty minutes before EMTs arrived. She still sets him a place at the table.
Wynne Kontos is a licensed masters social worker and editorial assistant at Teachers and Writers’ Magazine, currently receiving her MFA at the New School. Her work is featured in the anthology, Love Sick: Teens Reflect On Growing Up with a Parent Who Has Cancer and Moonlit Wing, with interviews on the New School Blog and the One Story blog. She has performed her work with the writing collective Lost Lit and at the 25 East Gallery in Manhattan. She lives and works in New York City.
Featured image via Pixabay.