You wanted someone to love, a baby 'cause the guys you knew were so weird, 'cause tough love wasn't love. Got pregnant, married, loved the baby so much you wanted another. You can do that: you have the job, the insurance. Who would know? It was an accident, you say. Nobody questions that. Another accident. Just one more.
One more again. A girl. Someone on my side, mine. Husband gets fired, gets fired again, loses money, can't keep his hands off a little girl. He does bad, bad things but your parents say I can't help you. I have a new life and a new husband, your mom says. No room for you and all those kids.
The oldest imitates your husband, pushes you against walls, leaves marks. That happens. When he throws the only other girl in the house across the bedroom, spraying paper clips, post-it notes and pens, too, you leave. Not for you. For her. She's not going to have such a thoughtless life.
You lose, you lose, you lose again. The lawyer, a friend of a new friend, tells you stupid things. What do you know? You do what she says 'cause you don't trust yourself. Even the judge says you were stupid. The lawyer bats her eyelashes. She says nothing so you don't, either. Your husband's parents blame you even though he's still a felon, still can't keep a job, still borrows their money.
You give your kids a normal life, considering. You work two jobs, fix up a foundation-less house so they can stay in the same schools. You pay for good grades and proms out of your new husband's craigslist profits. You hurt when they take their music and move out. It's too quiet. You love them as much or more.
Ten years later, you convince yourself they want to see you when they are all in the same town, back home for Christmas, far away from you now. You drive up to meet them. You pick them up, take them to revisit friends, you watch them as they sit in the back of the car, reading, giving you one word answers. You spend an hour at the movies, at a restaurant, anywhere they'll meet you, anytime. You cry at night in the freezing basement you've talked a friend into lending you for your visit, wishing you didn't have to do 80%, 90%, that they would just do 50%, just call you back, just call once in a while without you calling, texting, emailing, begging.
You go home. You look at their pictures. You think about calling, texting, emailing, begging but mostly you remember their first words, their little feet and their funny ways of saying "shoes" and "Spiderman."
Your parents call, and again. They invite you to birthdays and lunch, living closer to you now. You go, uncomfortably. Tough love becomes less tough. They don't seem so tough when you study their gray hair, sitting behind them at their church. You look straight at them, their eyes watery blue. You start to forget why you moved away, why you never called. You answer the first time when they call now, most of the time. You don't want to be thoughtless.