Mom stood in the doorway for a minute after she threw the duffle bag on my bed.
"Pack up. Only what's essential. You have ten minutes."
Her eyes traveled across my walls heavily, painting the room with sadness. She pressed her knuckles into them like a child, and I knew better than to sass her about the undersized pee wee soccer bag. She walked across the hall into her room and I looked around frantically. Where were we going to go? The apartment was small and dirty, but it was better than nothing, wasn't it? Why did we only have ten minutes?
I sat on my bed, grounding myself. I looked around the room in quadrants, trying to decide what was essential. Breathing steadily, I opened my dresser and took out underwear. Three pairs. One pair of jeans. Two shirts. Two pairs of socks. With what I had on, I'd have at least three of everything.
I moved back to the bed and considered my toothbrush. Favorite books. Pen. Notebook. Dance trophies. Brownie vest with all of the patches. My stuffed owl with the fuzz loved off in spots. Gold #1 Daughter charm my mom had given me on my twelfth birthday. My mom shouted. Three minutes.
_ _ _
My mom died of a drug overdose about three months later. We had been spending our nights in the basement of a church. No one knew we were there. My mom had stolen the key from the church office during a service. We kept the lights off. The morning I woke up next to her cold body was the last time I ever saw the place. I kissed her cheek and left her there. I figured they were her best chance for getting somewhere better in the next life, if there is one.
I still have the duffel bag. I zipped it up at home that day and haven't opened it since. I don't need to see what's inside to know it's there. When my countdown reached one minute, I threw all of the clothes out and stuffed in a photo album, the only one mom put together. It had a couple of wedding photos in it of her and my dad. The three of us sleepy-eyed one Christmas morning. My first and second birthdays, before Dad left. The pages after that are empty.
I didn't know where I was going, and turns out it wouldn't be the last time. But essential was where I'd been. Where we'd been. Together.