Mia couldn’t tell if she was drunk, but she could tell that she was hurt.
Alisha Escobedo (she/her) received her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. Her work explores themes such as queer womanhood, intergenerational trauma, and addiction, among other things. Her writing can be found in The Acentos Review, Sentience Literary Journal, Soul in Space, The Los Angeles Press, and more. She currently resides in San Antonio, TX, where she obsessively watches happy lesbian couples on Instagram and TikTok. Follow her on social media and share your favorite album with her—if it’s good, she’ll love you forever.
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“Oh, my god. I could never be with someone who lived in a trailer. Like, we’re just not in the same world, ya’know?” Grace pulled Mia closer into her embrace, smiling and then kissing her on the forehead. They were in bed, scrolling through homes together on an app on Mia’s phone. When Mia switched the order of the list to show prices from low to high, all of the mobile homes appeared. Mia didn’t think Grace meant any harm by what she said, but she still felt ashamed. She knew Grace had grown up in a suburban bubble in the Valley and Mia hadn’t offered Grace much information about her own childhood other than that she grew up in Kansas and that her mom was an alcoholic.
“Okay,” Mia said, nodding and closing the app. “So, what should we do today?” Steering the conversation elsewhere, Mia knew Grace wasn’t perceptive enough to read the discomfort in her voice. That was one of Mia’s talents, hiding her emotions and reactions, leaving herself behind to pretend everything was fine.
Grace got excited about the prospect of a day full of possibilities with Mia: “Let’s go on a walk first, then I can show you my favorite coffee shop on the way back. Oh, and this cute little restaurant I found last week; we can go there for lunch. Unless you want to have a picnic instead? There’s this park I’ve been wanting to take you to; we could do that…”
As Grace went on about all the things she had in mind, Mia was mentally transported to a different time in her life. When she was fifteen and her parents divorced, she chose to stay with her mom who had just lost her job. Mia thought she’d be devastated if she lost her daughter on top of having lost her husband and her income. For a while, they lived in the three-bedroom home in the small town where Mia grew up with her parents’ fights in the background of every memory. Mia knew the house was being foreclosed on, but she didn’t exactly understand the details. She knew it meant they were losing the house because they weren’t paying the mortgage, but she didn’t know what the eviction would entail. Her mom didn’t seem to be making plans to move, so Mia assumed they had plenty of time despite her mom constantly bringing it up to people when she was on the phone. Mia continued going about her angsty teenaged days—waking up in the morning, going to school, coming home to find her mom in the same spot on the couch, then spending the evening brooding in her bedroom with Fiona Apple spinning in her Discman.
Until one Friday, Mia came home from school to find her mom missing from the sofa. She could hear her down the hall; it sounded like she was on the cordless phone, her voice coming from the bedroom she generally stayed away from since the divorce. Mia walked towards the room, wondering what was going on, when she saw her mom packing a suitcase with the phone between her ear and shoulder.
“Um… what’s going on?” asked Mia, her initial thought being that she’d just walked in on her mother preparing to abandon her. She must’ve lost track of time, forgot I’d be home soon.
“Pack your things. We’re moving,” her mom answered, without even looking up.
“What? Where are we going?”
“Does it matter? We can’t stay here. Hurry up. We’ve got an hour.” Her mom zipped up the suitcase she’d been filling, carrying it past Mia and down the hall as she focused her words back to whoever was on the phone.
Mia walked into her bedroom, closing the door and leaning against it to take inventory of her belongings—mostly clothes, books, and CDs. She looked at the four walls covered with posters of rock bands and rappers. There was a spot on the wall between two of the posters where she and her friends had taken a black Sharpie to write quotes and inside jokes. She hadn’t seen her friends in weeks—too busy sulking about her life, trying to process what might be coming next. For a moment, she wondered if she could tell her mom to go on without her. I’ve been wounded; save yourself, she thought she’d tell her. She imagined herself splayed out on her bedroom floor, staring at the ceiling, when the bank people would show up in their suits to take ownership of the home. She imagined they’d ignore her, walking over to the wall to read the notes, laughing at how funny they were, then they’d sell the home with her still in it. She didn’t realize how long she’d been paralyzed in this fantasy until her mom tried to open the door, pushing it against Mia’s back and forcing her back to reality to say, “We’re leaving in thirty minutes.”
At this, Mia shoved her emotions down and grabbed a duffel bag from her closet, stuffing it with her clothes and a few of her favorite books and CDs. She wondered what would happen with the rest of her stuff: the bed, the blankets, the dresser, the small TV, the stereo, the leftover books and CDs. Whatever, she thought, knowing it was out of her control. She picked up the duffel bag and walked out to the living room to let her mom know she was ready. All the while, she felt like she was floating, like she had left herself in her bedroom and had walked out a ghost. She was cognizant of this feeling and wondered if she’d be a ghost for the rest of her life. “I’m ready,” she said to her mom, who was chain-smoking and chugging a beer.
For the first time in what felt like months, her mom looked up at her and made eye contact. Mia couldn’t tell if she was drunk, but she could tell that she was hurt. The same pain she saw in her own face when she looked in the mirror every morning. Her mom blew out a heavy cloud of smoke then said, “I got the official foreclosure notice today. Pauline got us a place to live. One of her and Bill’s rental properties. She said it has to be cleaned up, but we can stay there for cheap if we do the cleaning. She’s doing us a favor, okay? We don’t have anywhere else to go. I’m doing the best I can.” Mia bit the inside of her cheek and nodded, thinking about all the afternoons she came home from school to her mother passed out on the couch with empty beer cans all over the table. She wondered how that was her doing the best she could, but she didn’t say that, offering a half-smile instead before saying just, “Okay.”
The drive to the new place was quiet, neither her mom nor her saying a word. Since it was a small town, it didn’t take long to get to where they were going. Mia kept her gaze on the curbs outside the passenger window, watching the town pass by as a steady stream of concrete. Then she saw grass instead of concrete and could feel that they’d driven on gravel when her mom finally put the car in park. Mia exhaled, not realizing she’d been holding her breath, and turned her head slowly forward to see a shabby blue mobile home in front of her. “Home sweet home,” her mom said nervously. Mia offered the same half-smile from earlier before chewing on the inside of her cheek as she got out of the car. She followed her mom to the dirty white door and peered into the darkness as she opened it. The smell made its introduction first as they stepped inside, and her mom turned on the light. It didn’t take long to figure out where it was coming from as the first thing to catch Mia’s sight was a dirty diaper lingering in the corner of the front room. The walls and floors were full of stains. Neither one of them moved to get further inside.
“I told you Pauline said it needs to be cleaned up,” her mom said, reassuring herself as much as Mia, it seemed.
Mia didn’t say anything but wondered where they were supposed to sleep that night, as she noticed the sun starting to set outside. Almost as if she’d read her mind, her mom continued, “I brought some blankets and pillows. We can sleep on the floor tonight. It can’t be that bad or Pauline wouldn’t have offered it to us. We’ll clean up first thing in the morning and make this place look brand new.” Mia thought she saw something tiny and black scurry quickly in front of them into the narrow hallway to the left. She tried not to think about it, knowing she didn’t have a choice. She nodded and said, “Okay,” the only word the ghost of her seemed able to muster anymore. They ended up staying there for years.
* * *
“So, what do you want to do, cutie? Do you want to check out that restaurant or go to the park and have a picnic?” Grace asked, still holding Mia in her arms.
Mia turned her head, kissing Grace softly on the neck, listening for the familiar “mmm” to come from Grace’s lips, and thinking about how many moments they’d had together in this bed in Grace’s apartment. They’d been seeing each other for a year—exclusively but unofficially. Mia thought of how little she allowed Grace to know about her, keeping her memories a thousand miles away from her new life in LA. It was like she was only a ghost of herself even now, her true self still on the floor of that Kansas home. She wondered if she’d ever return to herself so she could offer more than these ghost hands and ghost kisses to Grace, or to anyone who might come after.
Mia kissed her once more, running her hand down the side of her body, then pulled away, nodding and biting the inside of her cheek before giving a half-smile and saying, “Okay.”