Photo by Jeffrey F. Barken


– Memoir by Michelle Robertson


Judy and I watch her, watch how she wears anchors on her shoulders as we move around the country. She said travel while you are young. I promised her nothing would prevent me from going to Morocco with her, and here I am. An uncharacteristic step in defiance of my anxiety. Abroad, I feel myself expanding, though Mom’s sickness weighs her daily.  


I return home after taking Vivian to school. The quiet of the house greets me, a tomb without the bubbling 5-year-old. She is silent as she watches me take off my shoes, then shuts her eyes against reality. 


Silence settles like a scratchy wool blanket.Mom has been gone a month, her sickness having the final say in their argument. Now what?


“Are you sure this is what you want,” he asks in a final bid for the life he knew. My nod repeats with mechanization, my breath still to hold my will. His sadness is palpable, a fog that swirls around us as he signs the divorce papers. My heart hurts for what we were but the past is fading. I cannot go back. I take the completed papers and offer a thin smile as payment.


I feel energy next to me, and I turn to my left. My back becomes a plank as I realize he is the man from the diner. Really? That’s twice this week! And here at El Chapultepec, of all the dingy Denver dives. It’s no coincidence. I prepare to flee. Tonight, he wears an expensive moleskin topcoat, exuding embassy. I nudge Gwen, trying to whisper against the surging Blues music. Her eyes widen as she recognizes him and shakes her head. Again, swift suitor offers Spain: a glamorous life, champagne at night, and boundless travel. My heart only sees Sahara eyes, and I decline.


I sit in our AirBnB in Madrid. Victoria and David went to the fashion show, but I remain so that I can write. I have not yet filmed for my project about Mom, and I’m losing my intention. In 36 hours, I will fly back to Marrakech.


My chest hurts. I reach for my inhaler, then call Dad in my weekly attempt. “How’s the cough?” He says he’s better. The question remains: did I catch a simple cough from him in Houston, or did I carry something from Spain?


I have yelled three times today, and it is not yet noon. Refusing to do her schoolwork, she stomps into her room and slams the door. It only makes it worse to try and count the weeks that we’ve been stranded here together, receiving the world through computers and telephones. I sit on the stairs and cry, chaos sucking at my feet. 


“Please can I play?” she asks as we walk to a restaurant. I smile down at her, my heart hurting. “No sweetheart, the playgrounds are still closed.” She sighs, too old for her six years. “I wish COVID had never come.”


I am losing feathers. For weeks I have been tearing them from my back in sacrifice so that he might breathe. I collapse into meditation. I offer all of me, just so he can breathe. The visions that come are overwhelming, and I refuse to see. When I return, her WhatsApp message is clear; he is gone. Air rushes my ears, and I fade. 


I stretch my back, feeling strength returning. A calm understanding smokes the hornet’s nest in my chest, and my heart blossoms in respect and appreciation.


My ribs hurt. I am laughing as our humor bounces back and forth, and my cheeks stretch in new ways. She comes into the kitchen, sees my laughter, and hugs me tightly. I kiss her forehead, and she runs back to her cartoon. I turn to my phone to reply with emojis. 


“Natamanaa lak ‘an tunam fi manzilina , lakunak taerif rahatak,” I must translate the Arabic: We wish you to stay in our house, but you know your comfort.  A baseball bat hits the hornet’s nest and tears escape unwillingly. I cannot. No way to communicate. Too many people. No way to isolate and maintain calm within a culture still foreign to me. I begin shutting down, then I stop. No. It would be disrespectful and harmful to decline their invitation. I straighten my back. I’ll accept and cancel my hotel. If need be, I can always molt. I’m ready.


Michelle Robertson


Michelle Robertson is a freelance writer who lives in Denver, Colorado, where she creates short stories. Michelle has an M.A. in English Literature, and she believes full walls of paperback books make great reading material, tasteful interior design choices, and perfect insulation for drafty brick houses.