Every day the people who pretend to like me get worse at it, and by people, I mean my mother.
My mother is a glass-blower and makes statues of me every Friday, and every Friday they are more grotesque. My mouth sharpening, my eyes duller and duller each time.
“Is this how you see me?” I ask.
The sculpture she presents is stiff and cold, as if she doesn’t love me, as if she cannot comprehend that she ever had. I cannot ask her about love because my mother is nothing if not honest. Her honesty has never been kind.
“It’s an exact likeness,” she says, holding it up beside my face, the cool glass brushing my cheek. I close my eyes. I think I see a flash of something wavering in her. As if she is afraid I will not like what she made for me. As if she does not understand how horrible it makes me look. “Almost,” she concedes, looking between the glass version of me and the reality.
“That isn’t what I meant,” I say, taking the bust of myself from her and putting it beside the others. I catch her staring at me as I look at the progression. Once, she sculpted me laughing. That was many Fridays ago.
“What did you mean?” she asks. She is earnest, but, I know, no matter what I say, she will never see what I do. How closely I resemble her with my brown hair cut just like hers, my small hands that wear her old rings. Our eyes the same eyes, our noses carved the same. I am certain she used to love me, but now she merely looks at me. These are not the same thing, no matter how much I might pretend they are.
On Fridays, my chest begins to eat me from the inside. It has been a long week of pretending. It is hard to pretend this long. To pretend that I am fine and will always be fine. To pretend that it does not bother me, the way she makes monsters of me.
I know, too, in the way she looks uncertain, as she presents these creations. She does not see it the way I do. Her smile is wary. She has put much effort into these, and hopes I’ll be grateful that she has made them with her hands. That she has spent time on them. On me. That she has thought of me at all. She sees these statues and thinks they are close enough to saying I love you. Close enough to loving me. But, if this is love, it is not a love that feels like love to me. It is not a love that makes sense from the outside. I don’t know when I became an outsider to my mother’s love. It happened over a series of Fridays.
On Fridays, I drive myself to Taco Bell and I debate parking and going inside just to see someone make eye contact with me before deciding to pull into the drive through. I can’t bare the thought of weeping at the mundane kindness of people who are paid to be kind. It is Friday. Even the most detached kindness would break me.
In the drive through, I wait behind a series of cars. Glimpses of arms hanging out of windows, parts of faces in rear-view mirrors. My chest gnawing on my ribs. I want, more than anything, to have someone understand me. Not even love, just someone to know what I mean when I say, “I want to be wanted without also being needed.”
I wonder if I am the problem between my mother and me. That my wish that she saw me differently, more beautiful, more alive, ruins the gesture of hours spent making me something each week. Maybe I am wishing for too much, when I wish for my mother to see me and be proud. To see me and see all my best parts. She sees love as capturing reality. I have always wanted it to be something more.
I inch forward. I devour myself. Such is the way of Fridays. Of wanting too much and never getting it. I don’t even let myself dream of love.
“Welcome back,” the woman says when it is my turn to order. “How’re you doing today?”
I hesitate. My torso is chewed to ribbons. The teeth have started on my throat. I long to tell her how I am. Instead, I begin to order. Better to be rude than vulnerable. Better to lie than tell the truth. I apologize in my head to her. I will only order half of what I want, so I don’t inconvenience her too much.
“Can I get the Nacho Bell Grande, no beans please?” I ask. My voice wavers.
“No meat?” she asks.
“No beans,” I say.
“Like, no beef?” she asks, voice rising with frustration.
I sigh. I have lost the battle already. I have settled and will settle again. Such is the way of Fridays. “Right,” I say.
“Anything else I can get you, sugar?”
“A large Dr. Pepper, please.”
“Pull forward,” she says. The ghost of her echoes behind me as I do. I wish I had the courage to ask for what I wanted. To order the quesadilla with a side of nacho cheese. Nacho Fries if they’ve got them, though when I am craving them, they never do. Such is the way of Fridays and of all days, for me.
I pull forward and I wish, but can’t go back in time, and when I get to the window, she hands me a drink and I know it is a Pepsi before I even taste it, and the nachos have beans smeared on every soggy chip, and I pull into the parking lot and pry off the plastic lid and I eat them anyway, every single chip, and I drink my soda and imagine Dr. Pepper and it is close enough to be the real thing that I almost do not notice. Almost.
The ache in my chest eases despite everything. Life is a series of misunderstandings. Of wanting to be understood so badly and receiving what will always be adjacent to that. Statues made that could be love, but aren’t. Always almosts. Fridays. Nachos that are almost what I wanted, and watered-down Pepsi when I wanted Dr. Pepper to wash my disappointment down. On Fridays, I am fine and I am not at home, and I have had something cheesy, even if it had beans too and, for me, that is enough. It is enough, and just enough must be enough for me.
Addison Rizer is an administrator in Phoenix, Arizona. She loves writing, reading, and movies critics hate. Find her other pieces at AddisonRizer.com.