Peace by Piece
Peace by Piece
On my bike ride to my parent's house for my obligatory weekly visit, the humid air stinks of garbage from the trash truck rumbling ahead of me. I hold my breath to pass the truck and turn the corner.
All up and down my parents' street, you can hear the sounds of living in a Philadelphia row house neighborhood: a garage door squeals upward, plastic Big Wheels scrap the sidewalk and bump over cracks in the pavement, a skateboard rumbles across blacktop, a jump rope slaps concrete in a steady rhythm while preteen girls chant the singsong rhymes that are intuitively passed down from schoolyard to schoolyard, generation to generation.
I have hardly jumped off my bike and flipped down the kickstand and already, my mother's radar kicks in. She fiddles with the latch on the screen door and comes out onto the porch. I move the groceries from my basket to the bottom step and chain my bike to the railing. Somebody recently painted the railing shiny black, but you can still see the pockmarks from rust under the new paint.
At the top of the steps, my mother and I lean toward each other, my fingers on her arm just above her elbow. Our cheeks brush, our lips pucker the air in what passes for a hug and a kiss.
I hold up the grocery bag. "Chicken breasts, wheat bread, and orange juice were buy-one-get-one." I know how to shop for bargains because, as a teen, we lived from paycheck to paycheck - or less the weeks my father blew his pay at some corner bar.
My mother thanks me and reaches for the bag.
"I got it," I say.
She shrugs, making the pursed, tight, linear thing she does with her lips. "Are you dropping weight again?"
This could be her all time personal best. It usually takes her at least until we get inside to mention my weight.
"It's just these black shorts."
"It's too hot to wear black."
There is a tone to my mother's voice, and if I point out that she is wearing a sweater, mine will have a tone right back, and she will accuse me of being flip. I am not always my best self with her, nor is she her best self with me. This time, I take the high road and bite my tongue. We have not had a serious knock-down-drag-out fight since the Sunday afternoon a few years ago when I told her I planned to move out and rent Lilly's third floor apartment. I would like to keep it like that.
Even before my decision to move, some of my mother's comments had made it clear that she had resented Lilly ever since Lilly took me under her wing in her highschool English class. I idolized her, read every book she read, and researched every college she recommended. My mother cannot understand our friendship, which, in a way I get. Sometimes it mystifies me, too.
Lilly and I lost touch after my high school graduation. Two years later, she was the last person I ever expected to see at the eating disorders clinic support group. Lilly had always seemed so together when she taught me in high school, always so steady. She looked so out of place at my first meeting among the fragile girls with sunken cheeks and sharply angled bones. When I realized it really was she and asked what she was doing there, she said with poker-faced lightness, "Not getting my toenails clipped."
I tried to bolt from the room with a flimsy excuse about being in the wrong place. She took in all 90-something pounds of me in one of those appraising up-and-down glances that always let her students know just where they stood. "To me it looks like you're in exactly the right place." Her pressed together lips suddenly looked unnervingly like my mother's.
The Sunday afternoon, I told my mother about my plan to move to Lilly's, her lips and teeth clenched so tightly, it was a wonder any words got through. "Good gi