I knew she was home, though, and I knew I was in trouble. I dumped my backpack on the floor and walked through the kitchen cautiously. Better to get it over with fast.
As I reached the bottom of the stairs, a strange smell met my nose. That couldn’t be—cigarette smoke? Neither of my parents smoked. I was starting to get alarmed, and took the stairs two at a time. The reek was stronger on the landing. Her bedroom door was closed, so I tapped lightly. No answer. I opened the door and edged inside.
My mom was lying in bed, under the covers. In one hand she held a lit cigarette; on her bedside table there was a half-drunk glass of brandy.
Oh god, I thought. I am the biggest asshole ever.
My mom has never been given to dramatics. Half of our dishtowels read “Keep Calm and Carry On,” and her personality closely resembles that of the Dowager Countess Violet on Downton Abbey: proper, austere, with a secret sense of humor and poorly hidden heart of gold. When she was upset with me, she said things like “You’re on thin ice!” accompanied by a glance cold enough to thicken aforesaid ice by several inches. So what could drive her to take to her bed, cigarettes and alcohol her only lifeline? Four simple words:
I was a teenager.
Thirteen, to be precise, and full of hormones that were giving me bright ideas, like wearing scarves as shirts to parties and hooking up with boys in the vestry. Of my Catholic school. Where my mom was a teacher.
Now, even given all that, her reaction might still seem extreme. I chalk it up to two things: 1) My freakishly good behavior up until that point, from infancy right through adolescence, and 2) the number of teens (my friends included) she had witnessed careen disastrously off course over the years. Kissing boys was the first step down a road that, in my mom’s experience, led straight to hard drugs and truancy. This was the beginning of the end.
To no one’s surprise but my mom’s, that was not, in fact, the beginning of the end, but I did make myself a real nuisance for several months. Luckily for everyone, the next year I was off to boarding school. As it turned out, when left to my own devices I was pretty much the same person as my mom (and the Dowager Countess): prim and proper as a posy. The rest of my teenagehood went off without a hitch.
But I’ve always known I owed my mom an apology for driving her to drink. Parents of teens, be comforted that your son/daughter will someday feel the remorse I now feel. Maybe. Here goes:
Remember that time I said “I hate you”? Well, it was actually a compliment. If you had allowed me to finish my sentence, it would have gone, “I hate you, because you are much smarter than I am and you always know what I’m up to, and you’re not letting me have any fun, but I know you’re only doing it because you love me, and I hate that the most, because then I feel guilty, and the thing you wouldn’t let me do becomes way less fun. So yes, your tactics are working, even though I resent them. Grr.”
I thought I hated you, but I knew you loved me. I still made decisions that placed my own feelings in front of yours. You made decisions that placed what was best for me in front of both our feelings. Thank you for being the adult I thought I was ready to be (but clearly wasn’t).
I’m also sorry for: The lunchroom incident, the “skort” incident, the concert incident, and that time with Amy. Which you’ve hopefully forgotten about by now.
There are lots of other things I owe you an apology for, but since you don’t know about most of them, I think it’s probably best that we just let those sleeping dogs lie.
Your Daughter, a.k.a. Your Former Teenaged A-Hole