Hey Mama

Photo by Alex Muromtsev
Photo by Alex Muromtsev

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When I am standing before the mirror, adjusting my graduation cap, swiping maroon across my lips and humming, I am suddenly ten years old again. I’m in my mom’s Saturn, the same color as that graduation lipstick. Carolina rain blots the windshield, droplets seemingly racing against each other. My eyes—little Bri’s—have fixed onto one tiny rain-pebble, leaving a rivulet on the window. Definitely the fastest, I thought, watching its descension eclipse the rest. How magnetized I was in watching how quickly things could fall.

My mother, winding us through traffic circles, is rattling on, oblivious to my earphones blasting Kanye. In the humid chill, I imagine the taste of the chicken noodle soup he sings about. In my version, his chicken soup isn’t nearly as good as my mom’s, doesn’t brim with golden pasta seashells like hers. That’s what I’m daydreaming the morning of commencement, lapsing into song. It is nine-forty a.m., and I am nearly late.

“Bri!” Alejandro appears, working his curls into a knot. “Can we get going?”

My dorm is littered with the leftovers of finals: empty Monster cans, plastic Udon bowls, paper cups soggy with coffee. I carry the ghosts of five finals beneath my eyes, and I have no extra bandwidth left for graduation, family, or posing. Still, I am excited. Though I was never close with my mom, I knew how much education meant to her. It was always her endless standard. Now, I was reaching it, however small. I try to stuff Kanye’s melodies back in my head, beneath my grad cap.

“Ready!” I shout, slipping on my platforms. As Alejandro and I run, attached at our hands, I start laughing. I was bubbly with the air of taking flight, even as I was tripping in my heels, my turquoise sash fluttering. Alejandro was an anchor, locking me into his current until we parted at the steps.

We didn’t feel, yet, that something was wrong. I was still floating along the background vocals of “Today Won’t Come Again.” Texts from my dad brought me back: Just made it! Me, Nish, Kyla. We’re here.

Everything blurred in that moment; the memory of outlining who was coming and who wasn’t, reassurances from my dad and sister, the way the front steps shimmered, buoying my platforms until I was submerging. I search for Alejandro’s name, typing: Do you see my mom at all? Seconds later, and he was calling. He wouldn’t call if the answer was yes.

“Bri, I’m sorry,” he sighs. “I don’t see her anywhere.”

“Bri?” I am still swaying, unsure how to take the next step. “Don’t move,” he instructs, his voice quickening. “I’ll come find you.”

Kanye’s lullaby was back, lurching in slow-motion rhythm, an endless loop. I am ten, in the car again, watching rain spiral, and learning how to fall as easily as a spring shower. I wonder, still, if she will always see my sister and I as dueling raindrops, watching to see which would splatter first.

Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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