I’m six, speeding my Bicentennial Huffy up and down the sidewalk, or wandering the edges of a playground as the PE teacher blows the whistle through his mustache to end recess, or grinning—blonde ponytails and yarn bows—beside my mother’s maroon Monte Carlo to archive the first day of school. I’m seventeen, smoking Swisher Sweets on the lip of Johnny Roan’s truck bed, or facing off with my father’s clenched jaw after missing curfew, or touching myself to the scruff of that boy in algebra while Air Supply aches through my clock radio. I’ve been writing all of these moments as essays. As a way to reconcile the girl I used to be, the woman I am now—the longings they share. I’m in my twenties, skinny-dipping with a guitar player, or riding a teal-tired rowboat across the Rio Grande, or gripping the black receiver of a pay phone after taking the first exit to Lubbock, Texas. Or I’m older, ducking into a liquor store in Chicago, or mistaking a bearded man on a campus in New York for the one who left me years ago (calling his name, such impossibility), or driving through the yellow fields of Idaho for the first time. Or it’s a few weeks ago, and I’m standing in a cemetery telling my parents the house sold only a year after they both left me suddenly. I’m staring at the tree across the pathway and pressing my hands, hard, into the back pockets of my jeans. All of these moments feel like something I did yesterday or might do tomorrow. I remember a man who played a Dylan record in his living room. I remember climbing the rickety steps to a wooded bar in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I remember that road toward a bleached-out desert and a ghost town named Terlingua. My father and I racing popsicle sticks in the gutter after a storm. The sound of my mother’s sighs, as if she were always staring out a window. The time two friends and I got stranded on our way to a lake and spread our towels in the parking lot of a gas station so the lines of our bikinis wouldn’t miss the sun. Let me explain—in these essays, I am not a mother. It’s freeing to write a self beyond or even before I became a mother. To be ridiculous and reckless, to ride and to roam. My daughter turned seventeen last month. Give me a minute, will you? I have raised her by myself, and she’ll be leaving home in a year, so I’ve been trying to teach myself how to get back to who I was and who I am—beyond a mother—because I will be that woman soon, a woman back on her own. I need to remember how to pedal fast and wander edges and lose my clothes and cross borders and listen to records with men who still play them and listen to music by myself in the dark and take photographs of pay phones and push the gas down on roads away from ghosts until my tires kick up the gravel of a gas station. Watch her fill up, watch her pull away. Watch her answer a call from her daughter and say, “I’m fine.” Watch her mean it.
Jill Talbot is the author of The Way We Weren’t: A Memoir and Loaded: Women and Addiction. Her writing has been recognized by Best American Essays and appeared in journals such as AGNI, Brevity, Colorado Review, DIAGRAM, Ecotone, Longreads, The Normal School, The Rumpus, and Slice Magazine.