The air got a little thinner in my Malibu. Was I having a panic attack? I rested my head on the steering wheel and took a few deep breaths. “You can do this, Erica,” I repeated to myself, not entirely convinced. Moving back home was a HUGE step backwards. I had already jumped feet first into life when I decided against all the Michigan universities, unlike my high school peers. I applied to the private Windsor University, which was 45 minutes south of Chicago, and was accepted with an almost full ride. 5 years, my diploma and $5,500 in loans later, I moved to Chicago in hopes of becoming the next hotshot protegé.
Except I had no idea where to begin. The job at Henderson came a week after I signed the lease on my apartment. The studio was cute but the price tag came from living a block from Midtown and a short ride to the downtown district. Principal Palmer, a sweet, older Chicano woman called me after finding my resume online and convinced me to come in to help “revitalize the school with youthful educators”. That plan was ultimately short-lived.
Juice tapped on the window, startling me slightly. “You ok?” he said, leaning on the top of the car.
“No,” I said, opening the door and getting out. “Maybe it won’t be so bad. You are an adult. It’s not like they can control your life anymore.”
“If it were that simple…” I said.
My mom, Jasmine, was conceived at Woodstock. My grandma Kitty had a hard time letting that place go, even in her old age. It was the same place she met my grandfather. “Honestly, sweetie, I’m not even sure Arthur was Jasmine’s father. We kinda just went with it,” she told me once, to my horror over my late grandfather. A few years before, she had taken a nasty fall in her home and broke her hip. Immediately, my mother went to her aid and convinced Dad to let her stay with them. A few days later, Dad busted her with a joint and Grandma decided assisted living were better suited for her “lifestyle”
Dad had just returned stateside from Japan with the Army when he met my mom. Dad loves to tell the tales of how they would argue all night long, since they could not be more polar opposites: he, the rational, straight as an arrow Black soldier and Mom, a biracial wild child of the flower generation. Somehow, it worked, since they were married within the year and she was pregnant by the following spring with my sister, Jessica.
Mom was out the door and hugging me tightly before I could gather myself. At 45, she didn’t look a day over 30 and she behaved as such. “My baby!” she said, hugging my neck tightly. She pulled away and we gave each other the once over. She wore a pink floral sundress with more freckled cleavage than I was comfortable with and she was barefoot. Her long, ginger hair was piled high into a bun on her head, nearly matching the one I sported. It was like looking into the future: I could see where I got the freckles on my nose and cheeks and the gap toothed smile. The wild curly hair my sister and I sported was birthed from her but was auburn brown. My mom was still drop dead gorgeous and I was still capable of feeling like the ugly duckling.
I could hear Juice’s jaw hit the ground. “Mom, this is Juice, James. Juice, my mom.” She invaded his personal space for a hug, but by the look of pure adoration on his face, I could tell he didn’t mind. “Hi, Mrs. Harper,” he said, smiling a toothy grin. “Please call me Jasmine,” she said, putting her hand on his face. Ugh. “So…how long have you and Ladybug been dating?”
I shook my head slightly when he looked at me, in reference to the pet name. “Oh no, Ladybug and I are just friends,” he said, resisting the urge to burst out laughing. I pinched him on the side. “I don’t see why not. He’s very handsome,” she said, directing her attention to me. “Mom…”
“You two come inside before you start unloading. Your father is excited to see you.”
My room was gone. I shouldn’t have been surprised; I hadn’t been home in almost three years, but here it was. The lavender carpet that Jess and I took 2 days to decide on was gone, replaced by smooth, cherry wood flooring. The matching blue and lavender wallpaper had been stripped and the walls were painted dark red. One of the full walls had been converted to a full mirror. My mother had turned my room into a yoga studio. “Mom…what the hell?”
“Oh Ladybug, I’m sorry. I needed a space for my class.”
“And you couldn’t use the den?”
“Your father was not going to part with his library, even though he hasn’t read a book in a year.”
“I’ll have you know, I read often,” Dad said, coming down the hall behind us. “I made up the sofa in there for now.”
“You guys could have mentioned I don’t have a room anymore.”
“Don’t worry, Bug. I’ll share the den with you for as long as we have you.”
“Daddy…” I managed. He threw an arm over me and squeezed my shoulder to him. He was always my relatable parent, when I needed a break from my aberrant mother.
Moving in was fairly simple, since I sold all my furniture and belongings that weren’t worth the trouble of keeping. Between the four of us, it took less than an hour. “Let’s whip up dinner,” Mom said, patting Dad on the bottom. They shuffled into the kitchen and began cooking, as Juice and I sat at the counter. I noticed how Dad wasn’t limping anymore, which he had been doing for the past six years. Dad started work with a city contractor after he left the military and an improperly placed shelving unit fell on him. This led to worker’s compensation, a settlement and a back injury. “Dad! You’re not limping!” I said, raising myself to look over the counter.
My father, 6’5 and 240 lbs of a government trained machine, blushed. He and my mom exchanged glances at each other before he responded. “Your mother…has me participating in her…yoga lessons.” The idea of my dad wearing man leggings and downward dogging sent me into a fit of laughter. “YOU’RE taking yoga?” I said between laughs. “It’s actually good for flexibility and rehabilitation. You should try it,” Mom interjected as she dropped vegetables into the hot skillet. Dad grabbed her and pulled her into a deep dip, making her giggle loudly. “And I’ve never felt better,” he said, raising her slightly and planting a kiss on her. “Damn, get it, Mr. Harper,” Juice said. I had to punch him in the arm.
“You sure you’re ok driving back alone?” I ask as I walk Juice to the door. It was already dark and it would be well after midnight by the time he got home. “Yeah, I’m cook. I’ll call you when I get in. Thanks for the leftovers!” he yelled to my parents over my shoulder. I hugged him and he jogged back to the truck, leaving me to my childhood home. I went back inside and stood in the foyer momentarily. It was bizarre to be back here for longer than a visit. “I’m so happy you’re back, Ladybug,” Mom said, hugging me from behind. I smiled slightly. I had to get readjusted to the fact that my mom was a hugger. “I’m gonna…turn in. Long day,” I said, kissing her on the cheek and going into the den.
The drapes in the den did nothing to keep sunlight out so I had a rude, 7am wake up. After about 30 minutes of tossing, I decided to get up. No job meant a lot of free time. I unpacked a few bags of my clothes when my stomach began rumbling. I figured my parents would want to go to breakfast then go see my sister, so I decided to wake them up. I walked down the hall toward their bedroom when I stopped at my former bedroom and pushed the door open.
No amount of time or preparation could prepare me for what I saw. Dad, bare assed, thrusting behind Mom in some strange yoga pose that I then decided I never wanted to see again. I couldn’t contain the sound of disgust that came out of my mouth. I heard them yell my name behind me but I was already out of the door and down the street.