by Piper Lee White
Abandonment stung like lemon juice poured into open wounds.
As a toddler, my mother told me there was a sprout in the backyard of my grandma’s house. She told me it was a lemon tree. Dogwoods and Cherry Blossoms bloomed in houses near my grandmother’s, but never a lemon tree.
My mother brought me to water the sprout with her whenever we visited my grandmother’s house. In my velcro shoes, I toddled over to it with a yellow watering can in my hand. Water sloshed onto my shoes, making them slippery. I tripped once and skinned my knee on a brick. I cried as I watched my mother clean the wound and stick a floral bandaid on it.
“See,” she said, “that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
I sniffled. “It still hurts, Mommy.”
“Just don’t think about it, Sweetie,” she said. “The pain won’t last forever.”
That was the last day I saw my mother.
“I love you,” she said, after she tucked me into bed and kissed her favorite spot on my forehead.
She crept out of my room quietly. I didn’t stir until I heard a car start. I ran to the window where I watched my mother drive away in her old, white Toyota.
My grandmother ran down the driveway after her.
“Amanda!” she screamed. “Get back here!”
I had no money for the doll I wanted at 8 years old. My mother promised me one before she left, but didn’t give herself the chance to get me one. She never sent us letters, never called. Everything was silent. Sometimes, I waited by the window to see if my mother’s white Toyota would come up the drive again. Car brakes and slammed doors alerted me, but it was never my mom.
“Grandma,” I said, “I really want a doll.”
“Well, I can’t afford a doll right now,” she said. “Maybe you should have a lemonade stand. It’s really hot today. I’m sure some people would love some lemonade!”
There were two ripe lemons on the lemon tree. I left the green one to ripen some more, even though my fingers itched to pick it.
I set up my stand on the sidewalk near the corner store. Cars passed, a couple honked at me, but nobody stopped.
“Hey, little lady,” a man in a red pickup hollered.
“Would you like some lemonade?” I asked.
“Get out of here!” the man from the corner store yelled.
I ran home without packing up my lemonade stand. I cried to Grandma about it, and she came with me to retrieve everything. All the lemonade spilled.
At 12 my breasts grew and I needed a bra. My grandma gave me the talk on the way to the mall. I squirmed in the passenger seat, hoping my movement would drown out the word “sex” falling from my grandma’s lips.
My first bra came from a Sears because it was what my grandma could afford. I looked at myself in the mirror with the bra on. I didn’t feel like me. I didn’t look like me anymore either. My hair grew longer and all my baby fat shed. I dug in my memory box for a photo of my mother and I posed by the lemon sprout. I was her carbon copy.
“Amanda,” my grandma said, but quickly caught her tongue. “Amy, I’m sorry. Lunch is ready.”
My throat tightened, and eyes stung as I put the photo back in the memory box. I didn’t want to be my mother.
We ate lunch outside on the patio. Grandma made lemonade and ham sandwiches. She didn’t mention her slip up of my name, and pretended it didn’t happen.
“This lemonade is really good,” she said, pouring me a glass.
“I’m not thirsty,” I said, shoving more of my sandwich into my mouth.
I didn’t want something that was once bitter in my mouth. Especially if it came from the lemon tree.
I helped Grandma clean up then returned outside to observe the lemon tree. Since I was 8 years old, a single lemon grew in the corner of the tree, always in the same spot. I picked it every year, but left it in the dirt to be devoured by bugs. It wasn’t quite ripe enough yet, but I plucked it off the tree anyway. It thumped when it hit the ground, and I stepped on it in my pink flip flop. Juice oozed from within, lemon pods getting stuck between my toes.
That night, while Grandma slept, I sheared my hair to my shoulders. My plan for the next day was to squeeze lemon juice on it to lighten it. I wanted her to know I was Amy and not Amanda. Amanda didn’t exist anymore.
Grandma didn’t say much about my new hair.
“Amy,” she said, “big change. Did you lighten your hair too?”
“With lemon juice,” I said. “Do you like it?”
“Well, it is something new,” she said.
Regardless if she liked it or not, she called me Amy.
At 13 I started my period while sunbathing outside. I looked down from my magazine and noticed a red spot on my white shorts. I ran to the bathroom and put toilet paper into my underwear to keep from soiling my shorts even more.
“Grandma,” I said. “I think I started… you know.”
When I pointed downward she got the hint and quickly drove off to the store. Upon her return, she explained to me how to use both pads and tampons. I opted for the pad because the tampon seemed like a torture device. She left me in the bathroom to put it on. It felt like a diaper. I held my abdomen when a cramp rippled through it. I broke down on the linoleum floor of my grandma’s bathroom. I wanted my mother. I wanted my mother to hold me while I cried and to rub my aching stomach. I wanted to hear about when she got her first period and how bad it hurt so I didn’t feel alone.
“Amy,” my grandma said, knocking, “are you alright?”
I opened the door for her. She tried her best to duck down to hug me, but her weak knees prevented her from doing so.
“I want my mom,” I cried.
At 15, I went for a drive with my best friend, Kylie, her boyfriend, Jake, and his best friend, Rodney. We went off-roading in Jake’s truck which made Kylie giggle. They stuck me in the backseat with Rodney who kept trying to grab my thigh. I shot daggers at him each time and he sheepishly pulled his hand away.
“Want to go to the secret spot?” Jaked asked us.
“What’s the secret spot?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” Kylie said, grinning.
Jake parked his car behind our high school, jumping out to help Kylie out of his truck. Rodney followed them, grabbing a duffle bag from the bed of the truck.
“What are we doing at the school?” I asked.
Rodney tossed me a can of cheap beer they probably stole from the corner store. I’d never drank before and had no desire to then.
“Have you never drank before?” Rodney asked.
“No,” I said. “It’s gross.”
“Come on,” Jake said. “Just try it.”
Beer fizzed over onto my hand at the click of the beer tab. I shook it off, but it left my hand sticky with a repulsive smell. Holding my breath, I threw back a swig of beer and immediately spit it back out. The boys and Kylie laughed while enjoying their own. I held my nose to stomach the beer, but the aftertaste of stale bread stayed in the back of my throat. We were playing a drinking game when the red and blue flashes bounced off our faces. Jake hid the beer, but I knew we couldn’t hide the smell of it on our breath.
“What are you kids doing out here?” the officer asked.
“Just wanted somewhere new to hangout is all,” Jake said.
The officer spotted the empty beer can behind Jake.
“I could take you in for underage drinking,” he said.
“Officer,” Kylie said, “please don’t. It’s our first time and I know it’s stupid. It won’t happen again, I swear.”
Kylie’s pleas landed us only with phone calls to our parents. Jake, Kylie and Rodney called theirs first.
“Mom’s number or Dad’s number?” The officer pierced me with the question.
“I live with my grandma,” I said.
She picked me up, furiously slamming on the gas to bring me home. She stayed silent the whole car ride and I didn’t dare test it. Her angry banter didn’t begin until we were in the door at home. She nagged about Kylie being a bad influence and that I was too young to be going out with boys. Especially boys like Jake and Rodney.
“You’re acting just like your mother!” she said. “She’d be so disappointed in you!”
“I am not my mother!” I screamed.
I left my grandma with her mouth agape in the kitchen. I slammed my bedroom door shut and pulled out my memory box. I found the photo of my mother and I, quickly ripping it in half. I took the two pieces into the backyard and threw them into our fire pit. When I threw a match in, I watched the photo curl into the embers of the small flame. My grandmother watched, too guilty to approach me. I left the ash to blow away in the wind.
I had sex with Rodney under the lemon tree a year later. I had no emotional connection to him, but I wanted to do it. Kylie talked about her and Jake doing it all the time and I felt left out. She claimed it was amazing and magical.
I invited Rodney over to work on our algebra homework. The spring heat crept up and it was sticky outside. I initiated the kiss and went from there, but there was nothing magical about it. The pressure didn’t subside for the whole 5 minutes we did it, and when he left, I didn’t feel anything. I stared at the lemon tree and the lone lemon in the corner that I hadn’t picked off yet. I thought of my mother.
A week later I couldn’t stop peeing; I hadn’t drank more than a glass of water. Grandma watched me run to and from the bathroom all day. She left for the store that evening. At around 5:00, she returned. She questioned me, and I told her it burned when I went to the bathroom. Her diagnosis was a UTI.
“Cranberry juice,” my grandma said. “Your mother had one when she was a teenager and it helped her a lot.”
I chugged a gallon of cranberry juice outside by the lemon tree. I thought about my mom and if my dad had been her first time. Or, if, like me, she lost it to a boy who couldn’t figure out algebra. Grandma joined me after a while, pulling up a lawn chair.
“Did you know my dad?” I asked.
“No, Amy,” she said.
“Do you think he knew about me?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Would he have left me how Mom left me?”
“I don’t know.”
Grandma cheered for me as loud as she could when I walked the stage to grab my diploma. The applause when my name was called was minimal, due to my short guest list. But, I heard Grandma loud and clear, and it got me through the walk. It hurt when I watched other students get called and their parents jumping up for them. My mother, who dropped out of high school, didn’t even stick around to watch her daughter accomplish what she didn’t. After the reception, I found Grandma outside and gave her a huge hug.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said, kissing my forehead, the spot where my mother used to kiss me when I was a child.
Kylie snapped a picture of Grandma and me on her Polaroid.
“A new photo for my memory box,” I said.
That night, when I placed the photograph in my memory box along with my graduation cap, I stared at myself. I made it a habit not to stare too long because I saw my mother within my eyes. But, even though my hair grew back and I shared my mother’s smile, I couldn’t find her anymore.
The sound of a chainsaw woke me. I ran to the backyard to find a man cutting down the branches of the lemon tree.
“What the hell are you doing?” I shouted.
“Cutting down the tree,” he said, stunned by the anger bubbling out of me.
I found Grandma inside.
“Why is that random man cutting down the lemon tree?” I asked.
“Because I hired him to,” she said. “There will be more space in the backyard and, now that you’re going to college, I have no use for it anymore.”
I watched from the window as the man made it to the corner that bore the single lemon. Before the chainsaw blades hit the branch, the lemon fell to the ground. The man’s giant, black boot collided with the lemon, crushing it.
Grandma grabbed my shoulders as I watched our lemon tree come down.
“It still hurts sometimes, Grandma,” I said.
“Think about it all you need to,” Grandma said. “Just remember, that pain doesn’t last forever.”
Piper White is a university student studying creative writing and publishing. Her niche is fiction and she has two self published fiction books.