Sammie didn’t remember when the world began for her. She didn’t know the story of her birth, if it was her mother or father who had been the first to hold her, or if there had even been a celebration. Most times, she felt that she must have begun as a regret. Upon her arrival, the doctor must have apologized to the world for delivering yet another hungry mouth.
She knew that there was some wall that prevented people from remembering back to day one. Perhaps there was a reason God had decided the earliest memories shouldn’t be revisited, a sort of mercy.
Once, she saw a woman sitting on a park bench, looking down at a bundle. At first, she had thought it a package of some kind, but soon realized it was a baby. A little chubby hand worked its way out of the blanket and patted its mother’s face. The mother had smiled in a way that made Sammie feel funny. As an adult, she would think back to that moment and realize it was longing.
Sammie tried to remember a time when her mother had held her like that. She knew no one remembered being a baby, that any memories of warm mother’s milk and soft lullabies never survived infancy. But she was convinced that at the very least it would leave some sort of imprint, like the lingering warmness of a jacket worn by someone previously. She did her best to conjure this imprint and only felt winter.
Part of the problem, she thought, was that they never lived anywhere for long. Her mother would sign into shelters or briefly stay with boyfriends. There were aunts and uncles that she wasn't sure were real aunts and uncles who would allow them to stay a few nights in the living room. Sammie wasn’t sure what her mother was searching for as she dragged her and her brother along. As a child, she thought it was simply part of her mother's personality or an internal voice that forced them to move, like a motor. Now that she was an adult, she wondered if it was love. Or, at the bare minimum, safety. Her mother chased the promise of love everywhere, usually settling for chemical alternatives whenever the high of a new lover dissipated or when good days turned to pain.
She did remember waking one morning earlier than everyone. It was a few days before Christmas and there was a modest scattering of presents under the tree. She tried to open a few with the idea that she could fix them back to their original state. The goal hadn’t been to take away from the holiday, simply expose what was underneath. Even then, she didn’t like secrets. Even then she was learning about the world; she learned that exposing secrets cost a price and it was extracted harshly.
On Christmas day, she opened her gifts again, a little doll and a coloring book. Her mother had smiled, too wide, too forced. “Isn’t that so lovely?” she asked. And Sammie smiled back, mainly because she wanted her mother’s smile to stop being so sad.
Her father wouldn’t be present. He never was, but there was no sorrow in it, just fact. Sammie knew she had a father, because she was old enough to know a woman alone couldn't put the seed of a baby inside of herself. But her mother gave no information about him and Sammie knew never to ask.
Her mother’s name was Summer. She found that out the day a man came knocking, the rap of knuckles against the trailer door exposing how flimsy it was. His fist let those inside the trailer know the knock was merely a courtesy. This had been one of the rare occasions that they lived by themselves, no shelter, no boyfriends. Even though she had hated the last guy, a man named Steve whose nasty temper was always one beer away, she wished he were still there. Men treated the threat of another man differently than when they towered over women. Or little girls.
She opened the door and there he stood with an air of authority or, at the very least, power. He took off his sunglasses. His eyes were so brown they were almost black.
“Is Summer here?” he asked.
She looked up at him, wide-eyed. She heard alarm bells in her mind: authority figures are dangerous.
He saw the confusion in her eyes. “Is your mother here?”
“No,” she lied.
He made some small talk and asked when she’d be back. Sammie shrugged.
For a dangerous moment, Sammie felt him deciding to force his way past. Then, the tension passed and he lit a cigarette.
“I’ll come back later. Maybe she’ll be back by then.” He spat on the ground on his way to his car and slowly made his way down the road.
Sammie felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at her mother.
“Go get your brother. We have to go.”