We went north in a cab, back to my neighborhood, and I knew why she was here. The same shit, all of it happening again, and this time J a part of it, not somebody pushing back against it. For so long that had been our thing. For so long, that had been what made us the same, twins or not.
I don’t believe in unconditional love.
Mothers get to leave and mothers get to come back, and they get to destroy you each time. Yeah. They also get to speak. But there comes a time when you get to speak, too.
I rode up front and listened to the radio and looked out at the lake. I thought it again: I don’t believe in unconditional love.
I paid when we got to my building. On the sidewalk, the three of us gathered in front of my door. Before I put the key in the lock, another wave of that same anger came back. I turned.
“This is my house,” I said. “So it’s different.”
“I know that,” she said. “And I—”
“No, listen,” I said. “In here, in my home, we talk about what’s true. You can make up your stories out there. You can live your fantasies. In here, we talk about what’s true.”
I could see she didn’t know what I meant.
I turned to J. “She’s sick,” I said. I opened the door, went into my alcove, looked back at them both. “You know it, I know it.”
J looked back, the wind in her hair. She didn’t move an inch.
“I know she is,” J said.
Mom looked at J. “I’m not sick,” she said. She laughed an awkward, incredulous snort-laugh and the feeling of that time a decade ago flowed back into me. She used that laugh a lot last time.
Here is the thing about other people’s fantasies. You can play along with them for as long as you want. You can. It makes them happy, usually. But when you’re playing in somebody else’s, that means you’re not playing in yours. That means you’re not you.
I don’t believe in unconditional love. Why? Because you only get one life.
“You heard my rules,” I said. I had said them to my mother, but really they were for J. “Are you two coming in or not?”