My mom shifts her grip on the steering wheel, easing into a curve until the sun-drenched horizon disappears behind thick conifers. The car vents paint a steady rose across our cheeks. Mom and I embrace the heat, and she swivels a vent to the left of the steering wheel until the hot air blows her hair around like dust flurrying in a sunray. I study her from the passenger seat and swallow the silence between us, chew it over, and spit out words she might not want to hear.
“Mom, I think I need to go see a therapist again.” I bite the inside of my cheek, wait for a reply.
Thickets of pine trees blur my view through the front windshield, but the sun dips lower on the horizon to the west, and I shrink myself to fit the shadow my mother has cast over me.
She glances at me, then furrows her brow. “What do you mean?” She tilts her head, eyes on the road. What I mean is my chest cradles anxiety all day, and you can see it in the way my Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor never dips beneath 100 bpm. What I mean is when words leave my mouth, I’m always catching at their tails, trying to pull them back before someone else hears them. What I mean is I crave being alone and so drift outside of the gravitational pull my friendships once had. This depression is the way I close my blinds against my mother so she doesn’t see how her anger burns my bones. But how do you tell someone you paperclip your lips together and sink into your bedsheets for 24 hours without also telling them they are the reason why, sometimes?
Instead, I say, “I don’t know, I just think I’m getting, like, depressed again.” And I know she recalls her own trauma because her jaw clenches, her hands fold beneath her thighs.
I think I glimpse the ghost of a bruise against her cheek just as the sun dies. The moon dozes above us, and I imagine the oceans she lulls to sleep before a storm strikes.
I prop my elbow against the window, let the cold soak into my arm. It’s less that I have something to be sad about and more that I have forgotten how to feel anything other than the edges of my nails digging into my palms. The face I put on hovers centimeters above my own, a mask of smiling lips and dimples and rosy cheeks.
I loose a sigh. She keeps driving and the night swallows anything outside her headlights, but I know the twists and dips of this road. She presses the gas a bit harder, and everything whizzes past except the night sky. We ease into the driveway, radio still quiet. We park.
She curls her shoulders up to her ears, her lips twisted as she turns down the radio. “I don’t understand how. You don’t have anything to be depressed about right now.” She says this, and I am reminded of the timer she puts on trauma. Freshman year, my father shot so much heroin it stopped his heart until paramedics revived it. Three months later, she couldn't understand why I still didn’t trust him, thought I should be over it.
“I don’t know.” I shrug, fit together the grooves of my teeth, and lock my jaw. We stare at each other for a moment before she leaves the car, our silence stretching like the void between two planets that can’t feel each other’s gravity anymore. The universe keeps shrinking, but somehow we keep drifting apart.