Creative Nonfiction: Frontier Mother by Davon Loeb

Photo by Matthew T. Radar

The exterior was like the car had just driven through a sandstorm: rusted, chipped paint, exposed primer. There was one tire of a different size that replaced an original, so it wobbled off its axis. And you’d have to lick your fingers and twist a couple wires for the radio to work—the voices cutting on and off, from FM to AM to silence. The car needed struts. The car needed pads. The car needed blades for its wipers that left half-circles etched in the glass. And something black and tarry and thick that was reminiscent of motor oil dripped and had been following us from departure. But it ran, like how a smoker with emphysema ran. And you might not have been able to tell who was more broken—the car or her—how her hair was split and wrapped in something faded and frilly—and that the frames she only wore before bed magnified hot and puffy dark eyes, and that she pulled on whatever sweatpants and sweatshirt she could find in the closet—that her clothes didn’t match, her perfumed wasn’t sprayed, and she might not have showered at all. And while this does not define a broken woman, this woman was in pieces.

Like this car that sputtered, hissed, and wheezed; and when she continued forgetting to press the clutch, the gears ground, and we covered our ears, and the metal on metal sounded like two cars like two pulleys pushing into each other. Like us, crammed together in the backseat, my big sister and big brother and me, like a trio of nesting dolls, watching our mother become something else. For on a normal day, before all of this happened, before the rage, panic, and dishevelment, she was regal: double-breasted blazer, pleated pants, blouses begonia-bright and feathery-petaled soft. Our mother was planned, precise, purposeful, like the inside of an organizer. But now, still saying things under her upheaving chest, the rising and falling of breathe as if she was still pacing around our house—still throwing whatever she could into her military-issued duffel: a sleeve of diapers, a pack of wipes, a set of Nancy Drews, a brigade of army men, a photo book, a manila envelope, handfuls of clothes, snacks in baggies, and her purse that dangled so heavily it welted her brown skin.

Maybe we were runaways. And this was after her divorce, but before she signed the papers, just when she left—when she had enough—that the lies had grown like a cancer grows and had spread from her heart throughout her body—how the lies were in the walls, how they were asbestos, how their home was poison, how the foundation had been eaten away, how it was not safe, how she couldn’t take it a moment more. And while driving for however long on I-95, she imagined herself as a frontier woman in her caravan with her children, and that when she stepped on the gas it was like horses galloping on a dirt road, and that the billow of smoke was just the dust of tumbleweeds, and that the sun looked new now, an orange she’d never seen before, as if the insides of a grapefruit; and she thought it was the same sun some woman had seen when she moved westward, and that woman didn’t need a husband either, that she could load that wagon, that she was as strong as she was fit a mother, and that in-between third and fourth gear now, she secured her left hand to the steering wheel and the right unfolded a map across the passenger seat, and her finger followed a route that she had traced in red marker the night before.

Davon Loeb is the author of the lyrical memoir The In-Betweens (Everytime Press, 2018). He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers-Camden, and he is an assistant poetry editor at Bending Genres and a guest prose editor at Apiary Magazine and Mineral Lit Mag. Davon writes creative nonfiction and poetry. His work has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and one Best of the Net, and is forthcoming and featured in Ploughshares Blog, PANK Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Voyage Journal, Portland Review, Barren Magazine, Split Lip Magazine, Tahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere. Besides writing, Davon is a high school English teacher, husband, and father living in New Jersey. Currently, he is writing a YA novel. His work can be found at www.davonloeb.com and on Twitter @LoebDavon. 

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