Read My Life as a Book Online

Authors: Janet Tashjian

My Life as a Book (5 page)

BOOK: My Life as a Book
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Forcing My Parents to Admit the Truth

I pick a bouquet of coneflowers from Mr. Parker's garden for Matt's mom to persuade her to let me go on vacation with them. I also help Matt sweep his sidewalk and water their container garden. I even help carry his mother's six bags of groceries into the house. But when Matt finally gets an answer, his mom says no.

Matt and I plug his sister's old sunlamp into the outlet on the side of the house to try to set the grass on fire.

“Is it because Massachusetts is so far away?” I ask.

“No. I think she decided against it after talking to your mom.”

“My mother told her I couldn't go?”

“I think so. Sorry, dude. I tried.”

Matt's sister Tanya comes running out of the house and asks if we're insane—she says that it's drought season and we could start a fire that might burn for days. In the middle of her speech, I tell Matt I have to leave. Ever since Tanya started babysitting around the neighborhood, she's been impossible. Bodi runs alongside me when I skateboard home.

As I slalom between the traffic cones I set up in the street, I imagine a giant-size sunlamp I could use to interrogate my mother. Since I don't have one, I climb onto the roof of the garage with the croquet set instead. It takes a few swings before I nail the satellite dish with the green ball. Moments later, my father storms outside.

“If I miss a hole-in-one in this tournament because you're messing around with the satellite dish, I swear to God, I'll use that mallet on you! Put the dish back where it was and get down here this minute!”

“I'm not coming down till I find out why you won't let me go to Martha's Vineyard.” I take another shot and hit the satellite dish again. My skill has definitely improved since I started doing this in third grade.

My father screams for my mother, who comes outside with two pairs of reading glasses tucked into her hair like a headband, another on the neckline of her shirt, and a fourth pair actually on her eyes. Usually she can never find them, but now it seems every pair in the house has found her.

“Derek, not again. Please!”

I tell her I'm not coming down until she tells me why I can't go on vacation with Matt. My father throws up his hands in surrender and goes inside.

“I didn't want you going on vacation with Matt's family because the Vineyard is all the way across the country. It's too far.”

“You didn't want me going because you're afraid I'll find out about that girl who drowned.” I correct myself. “You're afraid I'll find out about Susan James.”

It's as if the sound of Susan's name loosens something inside my mother. Even from my perch on the roof, I can see she's suddenly sad.

“Get off the roof and I'll tell you everything.” Her tone is so calm that I toss down the balls and mallets. But as soon as I hit the ground, she yanks me into the house and serves up a big slice of MomMad. “I don't want you up there again, do you hear me? It's not safe, and that satellite dish is expensive.”

I squirm away from her and sit at the kitchen table. She sighs and sits down beside me.

“We rented a house for a week in Martha's Vineyard one August on our way back from visiting Grandma in Boston. You were two years old.”

I sit on my hands so I won't fidget while she's talking.

“Some people from the studio where Dad was working were also on vacation there and invited us for an early dinner. We didn't know anyone on the island, so we called a babysitting service. They sent over this nice college student with excellent references to sit for a few hours.”

“Susan James?”

My mother's voice gets even more quiet. “Yes. She was a freshman at the University of Maine living at home with her parents on the Vineyard for the summer.”

I try to sit quietly, even though it's incredibly difficult not to interrupt with a million questions.

“We told her to stay at the house, but as soon as we left, she strapped you in the car and took you to South Beach. By the time the woman from the service called us, you were back at the house asleep, safe and sound. We couldn't believe it when the woman told us Susan had drowned.”

I still want more details. “But how?”

My mother seems to weigh how much to tell me before she speaks. “I guess you wandered into the water, and Susan went in to get you. She pushed you to shore but the riptide pulled her back in. I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to think it was your fault.”

Why couldn't I have left that stupid newspaper article alone? If I had known the drowning had anything to do with me, I never would've asked all those questions. I should've known extra reading would be hazardous to my health.

My mother leaves the kitchen and comes back with a folder. “Susan's mother and I wrote several letters over the years.”

I look through the folder and find a Christmas card with a snowman on skis.

“I know it wasn't our fault or yours—Susan never should've left the house with you—but I felt guilty anyway.” Mom puts her hand on mine while I'm still holding the card. “I can't imagine what it's like to lose a child.”

I suddenly realize it's Thursday, my parents' date night. “Should you cancel Amy?” I ask. “She's not my favorite babysitter, but I don't want to accidentally kill her too.”

BOOK: My Life as a Book
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