Door StoopCMarie Fuhrman
I remember her left hand on the handle holding open the screen door of my childhood home. I see how thin her skin has become, how the light pink she painted on her nails has chipped. Her right hand is open as if waiting for a gift or a grasp. I am standing outside. I have just accused my mother of not loving me.
Behind my mother, my father sits at our kitchen table, but I cannot see him. I know she has placed food in front of him, and that he is merely staring at it. He will push the plate away and call for her. He will say, where are you? as if she is the only you. She will hesitate, her hand still on the door that came with the house they bought in ‘66. The gray duct tape will hold the tear in the screen. The door will slam when the glass is pushed up, and it will catch the wind when the glass is closed. My mother will remind us of this every time we pass through.
The handle is grey like the sky between storms. There is a ridge running down the center, either side of the ridge is smooth, but the crest of that line is sharp. This my child thumb would have avoided.
My father is in the seventh year of Alzheimer’s and will die in six months. I have returned home to help my mother. When finally I returned home and walked through the front door, my father pointed at me, “You,” he said, “get out.” Mom asked if he remembered me, “That’s Cindy. Our daughter.” Again, he unholstered his finger, repeated the words. So I rented a room in town with a yard for my dogs and a window too high to stare out of. I spent my days shopping, evenings on long runs. I slept with men who had my father’s education and his new disregard. It felt like something I could do. A ridge to run my thumb down.
My mother was my father’s sole caregiver. I had come home because of 2 a.m. phone calls, her voice breaking 680 miles south. She would be sitting at the kitchen table. Medication and unopened bills next to Oreo cookies--the only food my father would eat. She told me she had to lock the door. She had to put a chain around the gate. I need you, she cried.
The door stoop I’m standing on is new. The one of my early childhood was narrow, would never allow this conversation. Four O’ Clocks would have covered the trellis, raucous blossoms spiting Northern Colorado sun. The concrete beneath me would be bare of footprints. Only when my father replaced the stoop did he smooth the mud and ask my sister and me to place our right feet in the cement, dip in our initials and the date, 1980. My sister went first.
When it was my turn to step in the cement, my father had said, “Walk softly, Bug.” He held both my hands. I barely touched my toes to the wet, felt the cool move up my leg. When it was done, he sat me on the lawn, washed my feet with cold water from a thick green hose, his big fingers tickling one sole, then the other. I fell back in the grass laughing. The sky was a faultless blue.
I have often wondered how I will know who I am after my mother dies. When my sister and I clean out the house. Sell the silverware, the dishes, the kitchen chairs. When her clothes have been cleared from closets, Skin-so-Soft poured down the drain. After the phone is disconnected and the house sells and new owners rip up the carpet, replace locks, paint the house a lighter shade of yellow, or worse. Will I drive by that house on Lela Lane, stare past the empty passenger seat through the window to a door stoop where two ghosts stand. Will I recognize the little girl whose name is forever on the step, or the grown woman whose words were a blade I drew and wielded at my mother. Will I afford the emptiness that is mine the same love I demanded of my mother the summer afternoon?
My mother’s lips are always painted. So careful to look nice. Even then. Exhausted, the sleeves of her blouse pushed up to her elbows, bruised skin from my father’s demented grip. My mother’s eyes are green. Her name is Dolores, which means sorrow, and the words that I said to her, the words cut into the transom above a door I could not go through, found her ears, fell to her stomach, took so much of her breath that she could say only three words back to the sentence I spoke because the men and the gym, the miles run, and money spent were not enough to dull the pain of my father’s dying and my need to be her little girl, the one who wanted so badly to come in and be eight again, feet wet, my father’s big arms holding me while Mom wrapped me in a towel. She would put her left hand against my dumb cheek and repeat the words I needed to hear. As if it didn’t show. As if I were the only you and she could love only me.
CMarie Fuhrman is the author of the poetry collection Camped Beneath the Dam and co-editor of Native Voices: Indigenous Poetry, Craft, and Conversations. Her poetry and nonfiction has been published, or is forthcoming, in several journals and anthologies. CMarie is a regular columnist for the Inlander, Translations Editor for Broadsided Press, and Director of the Elk River Writers Workshop. She is Director of Poetry at Western Colorado University, where she also teaches Nature Writing. CMarie is the 2021-2023 Idaho Writer in Residence.
Originally published in Moss: Volume Seven.