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The Letter in the File Cabinet
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When Dad died, it finally afforded opportunity to rifle through everything left over from the move my parents made in 2008 from my childhood home. A snoop, I had already gone through boxes and files when I’d visited their new house. Twenty minutes here and there when my parents ran to Lindy’s for groceries.

On one snoop occasion, I had found a file in the file cabinet in the basement. The file was a file on me. Cards, and report cards, receipts from my college tuition my mother had paid. But one thing that astounded me, was a return address from my friend Lisa’s mother. Lisa and her mother had been our neighbors in Woodland Hills, California. When my family moved to Germany for three years, then to Peoria, Illinois where my parents were from, Lisa and I had written to each other. Twenty-years as penpals, we finally met in Berkeley when we were in our early thirties.

The envelop from Lisa’s mother contained a letter with handwriting I recognized as my own. Typically my letters to Lisa were written on lined-notebook paper, numbering near twenty front and back each time I wrote. Typically they were rants about my mother, stories about school, and weekend escapades when I wasn’t grounded. This letter, I realized scanning, told the story of the night two chums and I drove around town with three black basketball players from Bradley. We’d gotten high. Stunned, I could feel the angst of my teenaged body–adrenaline coursing my veins, my breath quickening. My memory catapulted back to an evening I sat on the pink and white tile counter of the bathroom, applying Maybelline Mascara from the pink and green bottle. The stairs creaked, and I tensed. Mom’s wedding ring clanked on the iron banister. My eyelashes were already long, but with the black mascara, they were twice as long and lush. I was breaking into a sweat, but forced my self to remain calm.

“Where are you going tonight?” Mom asked. Out of the corner of my eye, I she was blocking the door to the bathroom.”

“A movie,” I lied still applying mascara to my lashes.

“Have you been driving around with black guys, while smoking pot?”

I caught the flinch before I pierced my eye with the mascara wand.

“No. What makes you ask that?”

I had watched my brother lie to my mother since the time he uttered his first words. Consciously, I knew there would be a time, a good time to save lying to my mother. Lying about eating the last of the cookies, why I was late walking home from school, weren’t worth the effort. I had saved my lies for a time when she might not suspect otherwise.

Mom stood like a statue in the doorway. My breath, caught in my chest, I feared I would keel over from lack of oxygen. Neither of us spoke.

“Be home by 11,” she said.

I didn’t rebuff, and waited as her mother’s wedding ring on her right hand clanked on the banister, until she was gone.

Standing in the basement of my parents’ house, I wondered how many other letter’s Lisa’s Mom had confiscated. Sent to my mother. The letter in my hand spoke volumes. Why hadn’t she just told me she knew, how she knew. That she had evidence. Was she as scared of me as I was of her? That had never occurred to me while growing up, tip-toeing around her, her moods, her inability to ask a straight question. To tell me what really was on her mind.


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