Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Like a Fish Out of Water (10/24/13)
TITLE: The House That Mother Built
By Leola Ogle
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She’s in the center of the room, glaring, arms crossed. “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t let Marta help you with this, Caroline.”
“I’m capable of packing the few remaining items I have here. Besides, Marta hasn’t stopped crying.”
“Crying? What does Marta have to cry about?”
Because Marta loves me. I spent more time with her, our housekeeper, than I ever spent with you, Mother. I think these things, but don’t say them. I slowly survey the room, a kaleidoscope of emotions playing through my heart and mind.
“Did you know this room was my sanctuary when I was growing up? This and the stables.”
“Those nasty stables and horses! I blame your father for that.”
I sigh and rub my temples. “I wish Daddy would’ve lived. I’ve missed him every day since I was eight. He’s the only one who made me feel like I belong in this family.”
“Pfft! That’s nonsense, Caroline. Of course you belong in this family.”
I stare at Mother with a mixture of sadness and compassion. She doesn't have any idea. “When I was little, I would tell myself the hospital gave me to the wrong family, that somewhere there was a mother who was searching for her daughter.”
“Caroline, if you’re trying to make me feel guilty it won’t work. I offered you every opportunity your brothers and sister had.”
“I wasn’t good at sports or popular like Marcus and Lionel. I wasn’t beautiful and petite like Elise. You started her in beauty pageants when she was a toddler and dragged me along to help her get dressed. Do you know how lonely I felt? I never measured up, didn’t fit in. I felt like the square peg trying to fit into a round hole.”
“It’s not my fault they were popular and successful and you chose to work with dirty, nasty homeless people. I tried to talk you out of marrying that director of the homeless shelter. What a waste!”
“His name is Jonathan, Mother. He’s the best thing to happen to me.”
“You’re just jealous of your siblings, Caroline. How is any of that my fault? And I suppose you think I should ask your forgiveness. Isn’t that what you Christians do?”
I swallowed, choking back the tears. “Elise is in rehab, Marcus has an alcohol problem, and Lionel is on his third marriage. And I forgave you years ago, Mother, when I realized my value wasn’t in measuring up to your expectations. I feel sorry for Elise, Lionel and Marcus. You put such pressure on them, on all of us.”
For a brief moment there was raw pain in Mother’s eyes, but she clamped her jaws and shook her head. “That’s just like you, Caroline – gloating in these minor setbacks with your siblings. You’ll see, they’ll be okay. They have my blood.”
And you always made me feel like I didn’t have your blood. I was gangly and awkward and you acted embarrassed that I was your daughter. The tears came then despite my efforts to hold them back. “Mother,” I choke out. I’m that little girl again wanting to belong, to be loved. “I love Elise and Marcus and Lionel very much. I pray for them every day. And I love you, Mother, and pray for you.”
Dare I hope there’s a softening, a tenderness in her eyes? Again she shakes her head as if to clear her thoughts. “I don’t need prayer. Look around you, Caroline. Do you see this house, the acres it sits on, the riding stables, tennis courts, gardens, and pool? What more could I want?”
“Oh, Mother!” It’s a whispered moan. I grab the suitcase and duffel bag and leave the room.
“Your husband didn’t even have the dignity to come inside to help you?” Says Mother, following me down the stairs.
“You told him he’s not welcome in your home, remember?”
Marta is standing at the foot of the stairs, hands clasped and tears streaming down her cheeks. I sit my things down and embrace her. “Thanks for loving me,” I whisper.
I walk outside to Jonathan, my heart breaking. Please say you love me, Mother.
Jonathan clutches my hand as Mother watches us drive away from the home where I never fit in.
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