Take Back the Night

My mom has rheumatoid arthritis. It’s so bad now, that she’s sometimes in a wheelchair. A walker, a scooter, the like. Assistance, she always needs.

I hate assistance. I deplore dependence. I hate sitting when I can stand. Riding when I can walk. I don’t even like to use the back of a chair.

Sometimes I want to ask if she’ll forgo the motorized cart at the grocery store. Be strong, I want to say. Even if it hurts. Hobble along without assistance. Be strong.

*

Marion folks don’t seem to like light. The streelamps are sparse — unbearably far apart, and a rare soul uses their porch light. One night, I stood at the corner of our circle block and counted. Three houses out of twenty-three had their porch light on. Three out of twenty-three.

I wonder what they deem the porch light for. Halloween only?

I thought a porch light was for luminosity. Lighting up the community, sending signals of warmth and safety to all. It’s like no one cares if I’m out there. No one is behind me, making sure I’m not scared.

*

I moved to Italy post-college. Despite not speaking the language, and not knowing anyone, I had a grand ole time. I went out almost five nights a week. I took three buses across Milan to attend dance classes, where the only thing I (barely) understood were the number counts. Uno, due, tre, quattro! (Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.)

One night, I was walking a couple miles back to my apartment in the pouring rain. The tram had stopped running. I couldn’t really afford a taxi. And I had these LEGS! Off I went.

I called my mom on the way. It was daytime in America, and I felt like having a chat to pass the time. “What are you doing?” she asked. “Just walking home,” I replied. She paused, did some calculations, and figured it was not a normal walking-home time.

“Kelly, what time is it there?”

“It’s four. Four a.m.”

“KELLY! YOU SHOULD NOT BE WALKING HOME AT FOUR A.M. ALONE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY! YOU SHOULDN’T BE WALKING HOME AT FOUR A.M. ALONE ANYWHERE!”

That did it. That pissed me off. I screamed through my Nokia, through the night, across the continents.

“WHY, MOM!? BECAUSE SOMEONE MIGHT WANT TO HURT ME!??

FUCK THAT! FUCK THEM! FUCK THAT!

I’m not SHAVING MY LIFE because SOMEONE might want to hurt me! Fuck THAAAAAT!”

And. I. Hung. Up.

*

I have forgotten so much about my mom. I see her now, in her current state and I tend to forget her strength. That she raised four kids — in so many ways — alone. That she let me go with little fight when I decided to flee home.

I reached into my t-shirt drawer the other day and pulled out an oldie. I’ve cut the neck off, and it’s more fitted now than I love, but it still works for dog-walking. I threw it over my head, and then stopped. April 2001, it reads. University of Illinois. Take Back The Night.

The day of the walk comes flooding back. I was chanting, and rowdy, and quick on my feet. My strong women friends were all around me, chanting, and rowdy, too. And there was someone else, walking quietly behind me — struggling to keep up, but occasionally raising a small fist in the air.

My mom.

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