When I was seven years old, my mother married Terrance. We sat in a small room off the side of the sanctuary of a church I barely remember while ladies fused over my mother’s hair. I remember being overwhelmed with how beautiful she looked with her dark round eyes and her thick berry-colored lips. Her wedding dress was bluish-white and she had fresh cut flowers in her hair. Gardenias. Every time I catch a whiff of the flower, I’m brought back here to this moment. Recently, Fable had planted a gardenia bush in front of the bookshop in order to attract more customers. For me, all it did was attract old memories when I would pass them by on my way to the store. It had been two weeks since my first day here but my life before seemed as if it belonged to another person entirely. My mother couldn’t stop smiling on her wedding day. She had been a different person before that day too. After all the women fussing over her hair had left the room, I crawled up onto her lap, cradling me in her arms as she had done when I was much younger. She pinned back my crochet braids with a headband that had a large light pink flower on it that matched the tulle of my dress perfectly. At the waist, dividing the satin top of my dress and the itchy tulle of the bottom of it, a dark pink velvet ribbon with tiny fake white flowers all around it. My mother told me I looked like a little princess and I certainly felt like one in that dress. I loved that dress. I would take it out of my closet and wear it all the time, as long as it fit me. For my birthday, I even made my mother buy me a tiara to wear with it. The scent of the flowers even made me remember the way she had kissed me on the forehead, her lips as soft as rose petals.
“What’s on your mind, sweet pea?” She had asked, her voice was warm and deep.
“You love Terrance,” I stated.
“Yes, very much so.” I remember thinking that I did not recognize this woman who was holding me. She was a stranger to me. Love had changed her. After she met Terrance, she began to laugh more and yell less. My brother Jace and I seemed to get away with a lot more after he came along. It was like she had been replaced. As a seven-year-old, this scared me. Not that I didn’t like what my mother had turned into, I just didn’t trust it. “What are you?” I asked her.
She laughed breathlessly. “In love, sweet baby girl.”
“What does ‘in love’ mean? Does it hurt?”
She laughed again and pulled me closer. “You see, I ran from love.” I listened to her voice through her chest and began to drift off only slightly at the steady rhythm of her heartbeat. “Turned and ran as far and as fast from it as I could because love destroys you. It tears you in half and shakes you down to your very core. And I was afraid. It forces you to look at who you really are. Forces you to see the truth that you have tried so hard to deny. Love is a hurricane. No matter how fast you run, no matter how stubbornly you fight against it, love will find you. It will hunt you down and consume you. It takes inventory of everything you are and everything you’re not and accepts you unconditionally. Nothing in this world scared me more than love. And one day, baby girl, love will come for you.”
This notion scared me. Love became an entity, a monster that stalked me. Lying in wait, hiding in the closet or under my bed. It would take me like it took my mother and a substitute would be left in my stead. I began to have nightmares about this faceless creature, standing at an altar in a tuxedo. The face was a mask, one of those thespian happy masks staring at me with no eyes behind it. His hands were long and stretchy, they reached down the aisle to me and pulled me towards him. I would struggle and struggle but no matter how hard I fought, it continued to reel me in but I woke up before I ever got to the altar.
I kept a careful eye on my mother in the weeks that followed, afraid that she was an impostor. No one seemed to notice that she was different. That she had changed. I confided in Jace that I thought she wasn’t my real mother but he only told me I was being stupid. I couldn’t make anyone understand, it seemed. In time, I began to accept the impostor as my mother because she was warm and kind but there continued to be a part of me that didn’t trust her. Not until I was much older and realized how ridiculous I had been. Just the same, I made a promise that I would never let myself be changed the way my mother had been. I was stronger than that. I didn’t need that.