Lost and Found by Valerie Hegarty

Lost and Found

My mother was grieving when I was a child because my brother died when he was five and I was three. My mother seemed far away and hard to reach. She would brush my hair over the bathroom sink with a vengeance. She cut my long hair off one day with no warning. I wouldn’t let her brush my hair after that. To get back at her I would hide and listen while she got increasingly distraught trying to find me.

Once when I was hiding, I saw the neighbor who dressed like the Virgin Mary genuflecting in her driveway and wailing that the end of the world was coming and balls of flame would be hurled down from the heavens. The next day she was gone. My parents said she had chased her husband down the street with a knife so the police came and put her in a mental institution. 

It was this same summer that we went to Maine and vacationed on the lake. The lake water in Maine was clear enough to see to the bottom when you were paddling far out in the canoe. One day we saw a sunken rowboat near the boy’s camp. Somehow we dredged it up and towed it to the shore in front of our cabin. We christened it “Oldy Moldy”. We found out later the counselors had sunk it for the boys at the camp to explore during diving lessons. When the boys couldn’t find the sunken boat, the counselors would tell them to go back under and keep looking — unaware Oldy Moldy was now beached at our cabin. 

We got a call that summer while I was napping in Oldy Moldy that my rabbit died. I prayed to God to make my parents buy me another rabbit but they refused. A few days later I found a baby bird and kept it in a shoebox on the porch. My mother warned me not to get attached because the baby bird would surely die. But it lived and I fed it with an eyedropper until it was bigger and I could feed it insects. Eventually it learned to fly and would fly around and land on my shoulder or the sun hat on my head. One day it flew away with a flock of other birds and that day I believed in God. 

Once I started drinking and doing drugs, God seemed far away and hard to reach. I became good at hiding from myself. When I got sober, my mother at 85 years old had a heart attack. I went to visit her as a 52-year-old and in an attempt to make amends, I asked that if I could change anything what would she want me to do, because I would do anything for her. I assumed she’d say she wished I could be a better daughter but that’s not what she said. She said she wanted to brush and braid my hair. I nodded my head and my mother got a hairbrush and elastic bands and she brushed and braided my hair, quite gently and lovingly, at the kitchen table where I grew up.

Valerie Hegarty is a Brooklyn based visual artist and emerging writer. Her first published short story, “Cats vs. Cancer” in The New England Review won a 2020 PEN Dau debut short story award.

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Art William Blake Public Domain (follow link for more details)

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