Sheila was sitting in the waiting area of the Cheesecake Factory as she reapplied her dark purple lipstick. She eyed herself critically. Seeing that her lips were perfectly plum once more, she snapped her compact mirror shut and stowed it back into her purse. She turned her head from side to side, her silver hoops swaying as she did so, though her big sister had yet to arrive. She had promised Sheila that they would have dinner after Sheila’s shift.
Sheila had not seen much of Sasha within the last year, but this was not something Sheila begrudged her for. Sheila knew as well as any that their mother was a difficult woman to deal with. Sasha had valiantly tried to maintain a relationship with the disagreeable matriarch, demonstrating far more patience than other relatives had, but even Sasha had her limits. And with Sheila still technically living with their mother, she had not seen Sasha at the house since the big blowout between her and their mother. Sasha and Sheila had still kept in touch via text and Facebook, but of course it wasn’t quite the same.
At last she saw Sasha, who stepped in all her fashionable splendor. The moment she spotted Sheila she walked straight up to her and engulfed her in the biggest hug.
“Congratulations!” she said.
“Thank you,” said Sheila. What was Sasha congratulating her for? The good news that had prompted this unprecedented dinner out. After fretting for months and months about college applications, Sheila had been accepted to UCLA, one of her top three choices, and she was offered a full-ride scholarship to boot.
“I could hardly believe the email when I saw it this morning,” said Sheila as the waitress directed the two sisters to their table.
“Don’t be ridiculous! You were one of the top students in your year,” said Sasha. They sat down at the table, two menus placed in front of them. They spent the first twenty minutes basking in the joy of the glorious news, fantasizing about life in sunny LA, but by the time the waitress brought their appetizer of spinach and apricot dip with chips, a worried expression crossed Sasha’s face.
“Have you told Mom yet?”
“Not yet,” she said. Sheila knew that that this news would not be met with excitement nor congratulations by her mother. Her scholarship was only applicable to UCLA, well over 1,000 miles away from Oklahoma City. She would not see this as a great opportunity for her daughter. She would only see the situation through the lens of how it affected her, how if left her alone in the house when all other bridges to family and friends had been burnt long ago.
“In a way I feel guilty,” said Sasha.
“What on earth for?” asked Sheila.
“Because Mom has alienated all the other siblings. You, as the youngest, are the only one left she has some semblance of power over. Your exertion of independence will be met with more resistance than all of the previous rebellions put together.”
“That may be so, but it’s nothing you should be losing sleep over,” said Sheila. “If anything, your rebellion has proved to me that it can be done, which I what I’ll need to repeat to myself in my head and she tries to lay out the guilt trips.”
She snapped a tortilla chip in half and swirled it in the dip. Her mother wasn’t an evil woman, and she wasn’t a particularly violent drunk, but her drinking had caused her to emotionally check out at the expense of others, mostly her children. To this day Sheila wasn’t certain what caused her mother to take to the bottle. She had gone through many upheavals like divorce and the loss of a parent and more, but none of these events coincided with when her mother first staggered back into the house seven years ago at 5:00 am after a “girls’ night out.”
“Just remember that you aren’t responsible for her,” said Sasha. “She’s not entitled to have you as her emotional crutch forever. If she doesn’t want to adjust to you flying the nest as all parents must, that’s her choice.”
“Indeed,” said Sheila. She knew that the next coming months would be some of the most difficult. She would have to keep of her college information in her school locker. Her mother had a habit of piffling through her room for evidence of imaginary transgressions. No matter what, though, she would get to the city of angels, she was determined to, even if it meant her mother never spoke to her again.