I started drawing pictures the very first day my mother left. My grandmother suggested it, no doubt, in order to distract me. “Draw me something,” she said with tears in her eyes. Tears that predated mine since in that moment I didn’t truly understand what leaving meant. Or how long she’d be gone. Or what it meant when adults told me it had nothing to do with me. But she’s my mom, I’d think. Who else does it have anything to do with? I drew my grandmother a picture of a flower with arms coming out of its stem. She liked it.

A few days in, it occurred to me that I should make each drawing about something that happened that day, so they could be a sort of visual diary my mother would catch up on when she came back. Surely she’d want to know what I’d been up to. I tried to make the situations realistic. Russell pulling my hair during the pledge of allegiance. Dawn and me playing hopscotch barefoot, getting chalk on our feet.

While at first it seemed using my actual day for inspiration was the way to go, after a few weeks with no her in sight, I decided I should try to make the pictures more alluring, perhaps influencing a more speedy return. I drew a portrait of myself sitting quietly on my bed studying and wrote “Not Causing Any Trouble” at the top, incase the intent wasn’t clear.

More time passed, and none of these tactics worked, so I decided to go another way. I drew a picture of Thom Yorke at the dinner table with Dad and me. He wore a Radiohead t-shirt and I drew a thought bubble coming out of his mouth that said, “Baby’s got the bends.” Thom was mom’s favorite singer. Surely she’d be bothered to find out that Dad and I were getting up to this kind of day to day excitement and would come back to join us. 

Nothing. 

The last picture I drew before giving up was a threat. Me on a rocket ship with Saturn in the background. She’d said it was her favorite planet because of its rings. I sat in the rocket looking out the window and directly into the center of the page where I figured my mother’s gaze would rest. I gave her plenty of time, my engine idling, and waited as long as I could, and when she didn’t stop me, I hit the accelerator and took off.

8 Comments

  1. Jack O'Connell

    I lolled at “Not causing any trouble”. You’re really funny. The story seems really sad too. I like the funny and sad together. Maybe some of the sentences could be tightened by cutting words or phrases. There are a few locutions that add words but maybe don’t add energy: “a sort of” visual diary, “while at first it seemed” “it occured to me”.

  2. Bud Smith

    Oh wow. This really hit a nerve. I don’t see much that needs to be done here. You nailed what it feels like to be abandoned and the only thing I could think was that I was proud of the little girl for being proactive and trying to bait her mother back into the family through this fantasy. But at the end I thought there was a deeper sadness because in leaving the house to go to Saturn to spite the mother, the child must have also abandoned the father without even considering his pain (and how could a child be responsible for the pain of the adults). Anyways, I thought maybe that could be a bittersweet ending — maybe the child gets to Saturn and the mother doesn’t show up there but the child is now separated from her grandmother and her father! Everyone is alone and must go on the journey of life alone.

    I have a book recommendation for you. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. I think you would love it based off this piece you have written and I think reading it would help you on the journey of finishing this piece. <3

  3. Kara Vernor

    Really well done! I love how this progresses so naturally, and the ending is immaculate, imho. She’s gone from denial to bargaining to anger–and that anger is so sad but also so realistic. Kids hurt themselves in so many ways to taunt an uncaring or unable parent to intervene–like a game of chicken that the kid usually loses–and as I read it, that’s the phase she enters with her trip to Saturn. Bravo. I agree with Jack that there could probably be a little sentence tightening along the way that’s just typical of a next edited iteration, but otherwise, this really works.

  4. Benjamin Niespodziany

    Wild to be listening to the new Thom Yorke song (“Her Revolution”) and see his name mentioned! A sad piece with such strong visuals. It breaks my heart but I’m really drawn to the idea of a piece of art calling someone home. I love the idea of beginning with these micro drawings (daily routines) and expanding further and further until it’s a rocket past Saturn. Very nicely done.

  5. Traci Mullins

    Rachel, this is so poignant in its portrayal of how a child often feels to blame for a parent’s death or any form of abandonment or abuse. It hurt my heart to see her sitting there trying absolutely everything she could to bring her mother back. At the end, I got the impression that she was almost saying “F you” to her mother by flying off and abandoning her in turn. Well done.

  6. Saxon Baird

    Oof. Heavy. This piece is so well-balanced and economical. It gets into the conflict quick and builds well, but steadily, bringing the frustration and smothered sadness/anger of the young person along with it.

    My only actionable comments are minor details. First, the narrator seems very young (drawing pictures to bring Mom back) but sometimes it hints at a greater awareness that is at odds with the youth of the younger narrator its describing. In other words, its as if the older narrator of today is projecting certain realizations and the intelligence of perspective onto the younger, less aware younger self.

    Some examples, “I didn’t truly understand what leaving meant” but then the young person assumes that the mother leaving (a sentence later) has to do with the narrator. If the younger narrator is naive enough to not understand what leaving meant and to be distracted by something as simple as being asked to draw something, then I feel as if the younger narrator wouldn’t have any clue that mom was leaving for good, but would just assume it was a trip to the store or wherever adults go. Feels like you could strike these few explanatory sentences:

    “I started drawing pictures the very first day my mother left. My grandmother suggested it, no doubt, in order to distract me. “Draw me something,” she said with tears in her eyes. Tears that predated mine since in that moment I didn’t truly understand what leaving meant. I drew my grandmother a picture of a flower with arms coming out of its stem. She liked it.”

    Then in the second graf, I think the “occurred to me” could be struck, but rather just simply stick with that the young person is beginning to realize that mom has been gone longer than usual and wants to keep her up to date with whats happened.

    “A few days in, I started making each drawing about something that happened that day, so they could be a visual diary that my mother would catch up on when she came back.”

    Lastly, this presentation as the pictures as a diary then becomes at odds with what the pictures then become which is not a diary catching mom up on what she missed…but a letter of sorts to lure mom back or a magical way of “influencing a more speedy return.” Maybe its not big deal but this sudden switch slightly confuses and complicates the conceit.

    These are small things I wanted to point out. I hope you don’t mind the specific edits. I only offer them because the story is so great and nearly complete imo as is. Really great.

  7. Silas Reeves

    Beautifully written and echoing a sense of sadness, maybe with a bit of bold optimism as the narrator begins her voyage to her mother? Love the escalation of the stakes. The search for the mother and then the eventual decision to go boldly forth independently is reminiscent of the natural progression of a child leaving the shadow of their parent, although the way you’ve described it is more vivid and deeply felt.

  8. Bill Merklee

    I love the framing of the story with drawings. The ending is perfect, how it ties back to the title, that she and her mom are destined to leave. My only suggestions: The first lines of paragraphs 3 and 4 could be more direct, or someway to convey growing desperation. I also wondered about the grandmother, as she drops out after the opening. How is she interpreting and reacting to the drawings? Great work.

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