This was inspired by the following prompt: “Write about how a person’s perspective on an event from their childhood shifted in their adulthood.“
The disconcerting sound of metal scraping against china continued to echo around the kitchen as Marie gathered untouched food from two different plates. Her husband was busy drinking with his co-workers. Her daughter had been refusing to come out of her room since a week ago. She did not try to convince either of them. Marie couldn’t remember the last time someone was in the kitchen beside her. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know when.
She did, however, care enough to glance towards her daughter’s room. The door was closed shut, but it did not do much to stifle the violent sobbing that came from behind. She considered knocking, then stopped in her tracks because she knew exactly why her daughter was crying, and what happened the last time she tried to confront her about it.
So Marie went over and turned on the TV instead.
Germanwings Crash in French Alps Kills 150.
It was the topic of everyone’s conversations. It was those words that undoubtedly made their appearance on the news tonight. Marie raised her eyebrow, perhaps in interest, or even in the slightest of empathy. It was not clear whether or not she cared enough to listen. It was never clear with Marie Sauer.
Her hand hovered above the remote, then slammed down the button with such certainty that she didn’t look twice at the screen when it went black. She rose from her seat, but it was not the news or what it was about that prompted Marie to make such a decision. The distraction came from inside her pocket, where her phone had been ringing for some time. She had a vague idea of who it might be: after all, she didn’t have a list of people waiting to call her. It was a routine at this point. The same person called her every day around the time she came back from work. When someone was this persistent but patient, it usually meant that they were desperate to meet face to face with her. It was why Marie ignored the calls for as long as she could until today. The urgency suddenly got to her like an ambulance would arrive at a scene within minutes. She picked up the call.
“Is this Michaela Sauer’s parent?”
Marie gripped her phone tighter. “Yes.”
“I’m her teacher. I’m assuming that you know about her situation.”
Situation. Even the teacher refrained from saying it out loud: bullying. It was the word that Marie avoided in every way, not because it intimidated her. It was rather because it reminded her of the girl that abandoned her friend when she most needed her, the girl that left behind a trail of pain, anger, and hate behind her. That’s the Marie Sauer everyone said she was, at least. The Marie Sauer she knew struggled to understand the word. She didn’t know why she had to feel guilty, and it made her uncomfortable. Carrie Leung deserved it. Most do.
“Yes,” she said again.
“Right. I’ve been trying to reach out to you for several days now. Ms. Sauer, it’s the school’s policy to arrange a meeting between you and the…” she trailed off.
“Tomorrow at 5 pm,” she continued as if she hadn’t heard a thing. “That’s the only time Elena’s mother would agree to. I suppose you know who she is? Elena Leung?”
“Are you available at that time, may I add?”
She hesitated before answering. “No… and yes.”
Marie pulled her phone from her ear and ended the call. She didn’t want to go to this meeting. She was being honest: she knew nothing about Elena. The one time Marie asked her daughter about her, Michaela was in no state to tell her anything. And she knew: she had to be angry at Elena. She knew she was the reason her daughter refused to eat. A good mother wouldn’t have waited a week to get a chance to talk to Elena. But Marie was not a good mother, and she knew it. She felt nothing. She had no words for Elena.
She still couldn’t figure out what to say when she drove up to her daughter’s school. By the time she had reached the entrance, she had already forgotten the directions. She refused to ask anyone on campus for assistance anyway. When she finally figured out the classroom was on the third floor, she walked up the empty stairs to head straight for the only room in the hallway that had its lights on.
The two girls sat as far away from each other as the table let them. Michaela, indeed, was leaning away from the desk. She barely paid attention to her mother. That came to Marie as no surprise. She turned back to Elena, who locked eyes with her for the first time. It shocked Marie that she looked so… normal. She struggled to speak, to feel something for her daughter. But she had to turn away from Elena. She couldn’t. She just couldn’t.
Five minutes passed in silence. Then ten. Marie shifted her feet. She took a glance at Elena’s yellowed shirt with a fake brand logo drawn down the middle. She saw her blue jeans, frayed around the edges, clearly worn for years and years. Her hair, more than a mess, was disheveled and uncared for, and it showed. Marie didn’t know what did, or how. She couldn’t explain what it was.
She stopped herself. Elena looked up.
“When is your mother coming?”
Elena shrugged like she was all too used to this, like it was no big deal that her mother wasn’t here for her. “She doesn’t care. She’s probably with her fifth b—”
Her words were cut short when the doors opened, followed by a quick series of footsteps. Her mouth dropped open, and Marie turned around to see why. She froze in place when she did. Next to a woman she didn’t recognize was… Carrie.
Marie pushed her chair away from the desk and stood up, her legs trembling. The last time she met Carrie, she felt nothing but mockery towards her. But more than twenty years later, when they met again as two mothers instead of daughters, it was fear that replaced hate. She took a step back as a bubble of emotions gathered in her throat. Her vision blurred further and further until she couldn’t see in front of her. It was not until a single tear formed and dropped to the ground that she realized she was crying, that she was what Elena turned out to be, that she was precisely what Carrie said she was.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Carrie held her ground without a reply or a single sign of recognition. Marie grabbed her bewildered daughter’s arm and pushed past the woman to open the door. She walked quickly, her daughter following closely from behind. She didn’t stop until she reached the end of the hallway.
“What was that?” Michaela demanded, confused, furious, and exasperated. Marie saw all three in her daughter’s eyes, emotions that she, a little girl, shouldn’t have to experience. But it was so clear to her now. She fell to her knees, cautiously grasped Michaela’s hands, and met her eyes for the first time in weeks.
“I’m so sorry,” she repeated.
“I’m so sorry that I couldn’t protect you.”
“I’m so sorry.”