As we left Los Angeles, Tammy looked at my father. Our next stop was Phoenix. My sister and I filled the back seat of the family car, our father took the wheel, and Tammy, the dreaded stepmother, took shotgun.
Five weeks ago, Sam and I watched as our father took Tammy as his wife. We smiled as we stood beside Tammy at the altar, but we disagreed with our father’s choice. Sure, Tammy was nice, but she was not the mother type. She could never replace our real mom, no matter how hard she tried.
Now, we would have to be stuck with her for an entire week in the middle of the desert. We would have to actually spend time with her; Sam and I shuddered at the thought of having to stay in the same room as Tammy.
We kept thinking if mom were still around, we would not be leaving LA.
I thought of mom, wondering how she was, where she was. I looked to the sky, and I remembered the call.
That day, our father answered the phone. As the person on the other end of the call spoke, our father’s jaw dropped and he fell to his knees as soon as the phone was back on the receiver. Sam and I ran to his side.
“Are you okay, dad?” I said. I looked into his eyes.
“I am fine, girls, but I’m afraid your mother—” his voice broke. He opened his mouth to speak again, but his words failed him. Tears welled up in his eyes and I knew. I just knew what happened.
“What happened to mom?” Sam said. She fell into place beside him.
“Mom’s not with us anymore, is she Dad?” I asked him, trying to find a bluff in his face.
He shook his head and the empty feeling in my stomach grew. Sam looked at him with wide eyes.
“Your mother passed away this morning,” he said to Sam, and she finally understood. She latched on to our father and buried her head in his arms. I stepped away, unable to speak.
That night, he handed us an envelope with our names neatly printed on the front. It was in our mother’s handwriting.
“My precious girls,” the letter started. We would always scoff at this line. After all, she walked away from us when we needed her most.
I love you two, I really do. I’m sorry that I never told you anything, and that I left when I did. You will never understand this, and I don’t think I understand why I did what I did, but at the time, I felt like it was what I needed to do.
Christie, I need you to keep your head out and look out for your little sister. I know it’s going to be hard, but please, do it for me. Work hard and I want to be able to watch you grow up to be successful in whatever you want to do.
Sammie, baby girl, keep smiling. I cannot bear to see you without that beautiful smile on your face. Step in to the California sunshine and forget anything ever happened.
I have never had to do this, and I did not want to do this in a letter, but I need to say goodbye to the two of you before it’s too late. Please, forgive me for leaving, and forgive me for every wrong I had ever done against the two of you.
I love you, my precious daughters, and I hope you never forget that.
Love you forever,
The first time we read that letter we could not make any sense of it.
I looked out the window and saw the trees and houses of California fly past us. I turned to Sam and saw that she held a single piece of paper. As her eyes moved across the page, I knew it was the letter. She and I would read it every night, trying to make some sense of this.
Had she known that she was dying? Did she want to keep us in the dark of an illness? Why did she leave? Questions we would never get the answers to.
A tear fell from the corner of Sam’s eye and I put my hand on her shoulder. She looked at me and smiled.
I wanted to tell Sam that mom was looking over us. I wanted to tell her that everything was going to be okay now. I could not find the words to express it.
Tammy’s screeching voice brought us back from the emotions that were rushing through our heads. She was going on and on about what stores she wanted to visit, and what she wanted our father to buy for her.
He looked at us through the rear-view mirror. An apologetic look formed and what was left unsaid was understood. He knew we were upset about Tammy, but he married her anyway.
He thought he was doing the right thing for us, giving us a mother, even if she wasn’t a good one. He thought we could use some female advice. Tammy wa just the opposite.
She would ignore us if we went to her with our problems, and her advice was anything but good.
I thought of mom. I looked to the sky and thought.
“Mom, if you’re out there, please, watch over dad and make sure he’s safe against the witch,” I said under my breath so no one else in the car could hear me.