MOMMY LOVES ME
You run barefoot into the kitchen with the wooden table, the rickety chairs, and the drippy sink. You’re two and a half. You’re in your pyjamas. You’ve just seen the picture of Jesus with the children in His arms in the Children’s Illustrated Bible. Her back is turned to you. She is doing the dishes. “Mommy! Mommy! Jesus God loves me!”
She hits you so hard on the side of the head you go sprawling onto the black-and-white linoleum tiles. “No, he doesn’t! I am the only one who loves you. I am your mommy, and your mommy is the only one who loves you! Now stand up. On your feet!” She dries her soapy hands on her apron, hard.
You stand up, shaky. Your head hurts. You make your tummy really, really tight so your eyes won’t cry. You know it makes her really mad when you cry.
“Who’s the only one who loves you?”
“That’s right. And don’t you forget it! Jesus God doesn’t love you! Now say it!”
“Jesus God…” You can’t say it because it’s a lie. You saw the picture.
“Say it!” She raises a hand to hit you again. Her light blue eyes glint with anger.
“Jesus God—” You add a pause to make it not a lie. “…don’t—I mean—doesn’t—” You forget the rest.
“Say it!” She advances on you, fist raised.
“Doesn’t love me.”
“Muh—I mean—” And you know the truth too awful to know.
“Jesus God. Say the whole thing. Now.”
“Jesus Christ, what did I do to get a child so stubborn? Listen. I gave you a love tap just now, but the next one won’t be a tap. Now say the whole thing.”
“Jesus God doesn’t love me.” You know He will hate you forever because you lied about Him—a tiny bit of relief. So now He doesn’t love you for real. So you didn’t lie after all.
“That’s right. Only I love you because I’m a good mommy. I am just teaching you a lesson. Now then, say it again.”
You are mystified. Say what again?
“Do it!” She raises her furious hand to strike.
“Jesus God! Jesus God—Mommy—” You can hardly choke out the lie. “—loves me.”
“Mommy is bigger than Jesus God. If I catch you looking at that book again, I will kill you.”
You stand very still, in the middle of the urgent feeling of awful. You don’t have the right to breathe, but you can’t stop it. So you make it tiny tiny tiny.
“Is that blood on your cheek? Come here, let me wipe it off. Jesus Christ! It was just a love tap. You’re bleeding on purpose, aren’t you? You did that out of spite. Well, I’ll show you. Come here!”
Before you can move she advances on you and wrenches your neck violently—you quickly twist your neck as far as you can so it doesn’t hurt too much. She swipes at your cheek with the dishcloth. Her soft, light brown hair dances around her flushed, angry face.
“Say it again.”
“No, the other part.”
You blank out.
“Jesus God. Say it!”
“Doesn’t love me. Now say it.”
“Doesn’t love me.”
“The whole thing.”
“Jesus God doesn’t love…me.”
“Jesus God doesn’t love me.” You say it with no pauses this time and feel like you’re falling forever. Now He can never love you ever again.
“Honestly! What I have to put up with would try the patience of a saint. If you look at that book again, I will burn it, so help me Jesus. So help me Jesus God. I am so sick of God around here. Your father…”
You hold your cheek in case it starts bleeding again.
“Did you scratch yourself again? That sort of thing isn’t going to work with me.”
She turns away to do the dishes.
“Honestly. Jesus God. Jesus God go fuck yourself!” She turns around. “If you say that word, I will kill you, I kid you not.”
What word? You stand there for a long time. She finishes the dishes and leaves the kitchen.
You creep slowly to the kitchen table and sit underneath it, on hyper alert for the sight of her legs, for the sound of her footsteps. You look at the Children’s Illustrated Bible in your mind and see it bursting into murderous flames. You fill with horror at what you’ve done—killed Jesus God. You have to not look at the book in your head or it will burn Him.
After a long time, you have to pee. You know she will kill you if you pee your pants, so you go very quietly to the toilet and pee…and you forget. You forget Jesus God. You forget the book. You forget He loved you. You find a small, funny rock floating in a dark space and go to live there. Then you forget that you forgot. You go blank. You aren’t real.
Only Mommy is real.