Sara Brimer

When my Mother Sold her Soul to the Bricks

I used to live in a brick house. It was one story, built in the seventies. The kitchen cabinets were painted white, the laminate letting them become speckled orange. The counters were a grubby purplish-gray color that my mom hated. A small living room, brown shag carpet suffocating us all, was there right when we walked in the front door. There was a stack of bright books collecting dust under the coffee table. My mother’s bright smile on the back taunted her. The dining room was simply a table my uncle had found at a garage sale and bought for my mom after we moved in.  The house was small, and crowded, even though there were only two of us; an occasional third person roamed when Mom tried to find love again. But mostly the bricks held the two of us, spare love hard to come by when the bricks soaked up all the ghosts of who we used to be.

When I was told we were moving to the brick house I simply nodded my head. At that point in life, it had been the obvious transition.

“Money is tight, sweetheart,” my mom said, tears filling her eyes. I decided not to look into them. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

I wanted to tell her it wasn’t her fault. I wanted to tell her I was excited, ready for a new life. A new place. A new, old brick house. But she taught me not to lie. I couldn’t say any of those things. It was her fault.

As she sat kneeling in front of me, her hands hanging onto mine, grasping for forgiveness, saying these words I couldn’t pay attention to her. I studied the plush white couch, more expensive than the car mom drove after we moved. At that moment, I took in every groove of the original hardwood floors. The way the porch wrapped around the whole place, the gate at the front of the drive, the way the carpet in the foyer almost felt like my memory foam mattress. I paid attention to anything and everything except for her. Her eyes, the tears, my gut reaction to comfort her- all of it her fault. But I simply shook my head.

“Money is tight,” she whispered.

When we first moved into the brick house, she pretended to have big plans to fix the place. Free paint samples from Lowes were artwork in the living room. Clippings from the Better Homes and Gardens magazine hung on the fridge. They showed pictures of spunky green cabinets and classic French doors. But eventually, she stopped cutting things out. Eventually, the scotch tape lost its grip on the walls and the paint samples fell to the floor. I was the one who threw them away. Eventually, my mom realized that if we had French doors, we’d be staring at the patchy backyard the size of a Walmart parking spot. And eventually, she realized we weren’t going to change the house. The house was going to have to change us.

After a while, I learned to live in that brick house. I learned what areas creaked when walking in the morning to the kitchen, Mom still asleep. I understood which spots in the ceilings were old water damage, and which spots I would need to put a bucket under when it rained. The house, its quirks, its problems, its bricks–I learned how to live in it.

But I also learned to live with this new mom. She shifted after giving up the dream of change. The house started to close in on her, inch by inch; it changed her, the bricks swallowed her whole. I learned to ignore the house phone when the doctor’s office where she did reception number flashed across the receiver. I stopped waking her up before twelve. I stopped expecting her to apologize, stopped expecting her to talk to me. I learned never to open the linen closet when she was around: she couldn’t bear to see the old affirmation brochures and product guides.

Once, long after I moved out of the house, when I had gone to college, gotten a job, a husband, a house, and a few kids, a therapist friend asked me what happened to my mother. Why did she shut down? Who or what hurt her?

And while I thought about this over cake at a nine-year-old’s birthday party, I told her that bricks ate her. That they soaked up all her guilt, her shame. The bricks took every ounce of who she was and kept it for themselves. The bricks sheltered us in turn for her soul. She sold her soul to the bricks. All so we could live. So I could live.

My friend laughed at me when I said this. She said I sounded poetic as she turned to scold her son for wasting his punch. I wanted to tell her I wasn’t kidding. I wasn’t being poetic. But I ate a glob of blue icing that stained my truthful lips and kept it to myself.

That night, after the birthday party, after all of the kids were in bed, my husband snored too loudly next to me, and I sat in bed staring at a crossword puzzle. It looked like bricks. Like the bricks that ate my mother’s soul like blue birthday cake icing and only let me see a stain of who she used to be.

The bricks taunted her by letting her soul slip out here and there. On my second birthday there, when I turned fifteen. Or when the appraiser came when she thought she could sell the place and we could get into a better neighborhood. But the bricks always swallowed her quickly back up. Her eyes turned from blue to gray when she explained I couldn’t get a gift that year. She cried loudly in her room when the woman in a pantsuit told her the property had deteriorated in value.

It was hard for me when the bricks finally swallowed all of her. It was hard for me to forgive her for leaving me without going anywhere. After all, I always thought, it was her fault we lived within the bricks. We lived in a cushy house and had a cushy life, just her and I.

 When we lived in the house with synthetic siding, she couldn’t control herself. I thought people were joking when I first heard the rumors that my own mother had lost everything for such a stupid reason. I thought they were lying because they were jealous. I thought the insults they threw at her were insults, not the truth. People would come to me for answers to their prying questions. No, my mother didn’t run a nationwide self-help, multi-level marketing scheme, she ran a business that empowered women to take control of their lives. No, my mother was not being investigated by the IRS. No, she wasn’t stealing from innocent, struggling moms for profit. No, we didn’t lose all our money. No, she didn’t ruin her life. No, she didn’t ruin mine. No, no, no, no.

But after the weeds-filled, cracked driveway invited us in, after the grubby purplish-gray kitchen cabinets were the ones that helped me prepare food to help her and I survive, after those bricks swallowed my mom whole. After she kneeled in front of me, begging for forgiveness. After I couldn’t tell her it was her fault. After it was all her fault. After those bricks sheltered me, held me, and let me learn to live; after the bricks that embraced me when I mourned the mother I once had. After I learned to accept the fact it was her fault, that she-as-she-once-was was gone, came to understand that I never truly knew her at all. After all of it, I only missed the synthetic siding house that I once dwelled in once in a while. I only missed that when the bricks tried to take me, too. But they never did; I told them not to consume me, but to mold me. The bricks never got my soul.

Sara Brimer is currently an undergraduate student at Hannibal LaGrange University in Hannibal, Missouri. She is in the Secondary English Education Program and plans to continue her education with a Master’s degree in Creative Writing after she graduates. Sara loves to read, write, cook, and play golf with her family when the midwestern weather cooperates.

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