It’s our code word.
We have parallel lives, Nicole and I. Two small children for each of us, a boy and a girl, did-you-mean-to-do-that? close in age. We’re former professional dancers who now teach. Our footwear is now somewhere between Goodwill and Mad Mel's followers in Braveheart. Based on our clothing alone, our friends should stage an intervention.
Most days we merely get through. Some days we're rockstar mamas.
And other days, from wake-up to bedtime, it’s a nineteenth century amputation, with a swig of whisky and a leather strap between the teeth.
On those days we send each other a text.
Urban Legend. Charlotte was a woman my maternal grandmother knew in Harlem, New York City, back in the 1930s. Her exact motivations are unclear, but as the story goes, Charlotte abandoned her husband and children. But as a poor African-American woman, just a generation or two from slavery, and already a refugee from Jim Crow, her options were limited. So, instead of moving to another city, Charlotte simply moved several blocks away and began a new life. Maybe this way she felt she could see her children, at least from afar. People swore they saw her on the subway, or going about her business now and again.
Charlotte sightings – as if she were a ghost.
What exactly caused Charlotte to make such a desperate choice? A drunk and/or abusive husband, angry about his plight as a black man in America? Her disappointment that life up North was not the pretty picture she had hoped to slide into? Maybe she had had more children than she wanted and knew that for a number of reasons, they would never become the adults into which she had hoped to shape them.
We can only wonder.
What hell Charlotte must have been living to desert her family, and especially her children. As far as her littles were concerned, her act was just shy of suicide.
The thought of my children growing up without me is enough to make me bolt upright out of a dead sleep. As forgetful, volatile and disorganized as I am, I am a good mother, dammit! (http://momsnewstage.blogspot.com/2011/07/mothers-promise.html) I do my best every day to nourish my kids intellectually, emotionally, and physically while keeping myself from downing a bottle of Wild Turkey. Sometimes I fail miserably (and drink wine or beer, not Wild Turkey). And while there are many things I could do better - many more things I’d like to be for my children, to give them, to show them - but even with all my faults, I’m essential in their lives.
As they are in mine.
One day I caught Nicole sitting knee-deep in papers in her parked car, around the corner from work. Presumably, that was the only place she could do any quality preparation for class. I knocked on the passenger side window. She cleared a space for me. The second my ass hit the bucket seat, a Thelma and Louise-ian thrill crept over me.
“Let’s do it. Let’s pull a Charlotte,” I announced. “Eff this s--t. Let’s go to O’Hare and get a one way ticket to Fiji.”
“Can you imagine?” Nicole asked.
But entertaining the thought feels good - it's therapeutic, albeit unthinkable. Just admitting it helps Nicole and I grit our teeth and go back to whatever inconveniences and setbacks we were facing; it reminds us to plan and plunge into escapes that are much, much less permanent.