The Gorilla in the Room

The Gorilla in the Room

dreamstime_l_19750880by Vanessa Phillips

I killed my mom when I was 11.

My mom was a beautiful woman. When I was young she had blonde, bouncy hair, 70’s feathery type. In later years, she wore it short and sophisticated. She was attractive with any length of hair, but her pixie cut was sweet and polished and complemented her fun and lively personality. She was 5’7″, slender and though her teeth weren’t perfectly straight, she had a smile that filled any room she was in. Everyone adored her.  She was kind and compassionate, generous and nurturing.  She was a preacher’s wife and an advertising executive at a firm in downtown Columbia, Missouri. She’d done well for herself and family and balanced her duties as mother, wife and career woman with the help of a weekly cleaning lady and a great after school babysitter. Mom was doing it all.

I loved her more than anyone in the world.

When I was 10, I auditioned for the Nutcracker and was cast as the mouse that carried the white surrender flag in the heart-stopping battle of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Mom and I were excited not only because I was in the ballet, but because she and friends could easily identify which mouse among so many on stage, was her little girl. Performing in front of a paying audience, she told me, meant I had made it big time.

Every time I went grocery shopping with her, she gave me a quarter to put into one of the toy or candy machines at the front of the store. One day I put a quarter in and hoped for a key chain or a shiny necklace as displayed on the machine’s front, but instead got a pink car with wings, smaller than the size of the coin I used to buy it. My mom and I thought it was ridiculously funny looking, but so was wishing for a gold necklace for 25 cents.  When we got home, I asked her what I would do with this weird toy as throwing it out was not something I considered. My mom had taught me through her own actions to be grateful for all gifts no matter how small or how big. After quickly surveying our newest gift, she responded, Fly it, of course. And she took off across the living room, holding it in the air yelling, zoom zoom zoom zoom! She flew it over to me and I took over, adding the dining room and kitchen to its flight path. We laughed out loud as we did so often together and named it our zoom zoom car; a silly name for a very silly car.

I recollect a menagerie of memories about my mom and me, but the one I recall most often is the memory of all that was Saturday February 23rd 1985.  You see, that was the day I killed my mom.  It was a day I remember in great detail, for it was also the day King Kong was killed in our living room.

The room was dimly lit where my brother Philip, 9, and I, 11, sat entranced too close to the TV, our fists propping up our chins, elbows delicately balanced on legs crossed Indian style.  In the rain-darkened room, King Kong climbed the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  He gently released Jessica Lang from his grasp as she begged him not to.  With bouncy blonde hair and a slender build, how much Jessica reminded me of my mom in appearance.  As I was a mirror image of my mom, I felt a bit like Jessica too.

King Kong ignored Jessica’s pleas to hold on to her and he released her.  Immediately after, just as Jessica had predicted, bullets pelted against his leathery skin from the plane circling above.  He bellowed in pain.  It was a grisly cry he screamed and tears ran down my face and over my hands as fast as the black gorilla fell from the tower to the concrete ground below.  Jessica screamed and cried onscreen and her pain and grief tore at my stomach.  It was too much for me to handle alone.

I sprang from the floor and ran quickly but quietly to my mom and dad’s bedroom, desperately needing my mother’s comfort, but not wanting to startle her awake on this early Saturday morning.  Whimpering I crept to the bed.   I softly tapped my mom’s shoulder through the comforter and whispered, mom?  She opened the covers knowing instinctually that I wanted to snuggle into the warmth of her body and nestle in her chest.  What’s wrong? She asked tenderly.  As I wept, I explained King Kong’s demise and how unfair I felt his death was.  How Jessica Lang begged him not to let her go.  Why did he let her go, I asked, as I tried to grasp the concept of action and consequence. Her nightgown became drenched in my tears as she said over and over again, it’s ok, it’s ok sweetie, it’s ok.

I begged my mom to take my brother and me to the roller skating rink.  I loved roller skating and I needed terribly to remove the haunting image of a black gorilla falling to his death from the sky.  My mom had no desire to go out into the dark storm that had not stopped gushing rain since dawn, but I begged, and begged and begged.  And she finally acquiesced and drove us to the roller rink and dropped us off. We were to meet her at 3:00 at the front door.

My brother and I skated for hours and I had come close to winning the limbo contest so the afternoon had been a success.   When my brother hollered it was time to leave, I had to have one last go round and then I rolled fast off the rink onto the carpet and plopped right onto the bench to remove my wheels.  Back in our street shoes we walked to the front door and waited.

And we waited.  We waved good-bye to friends as their parents pulled up to the double glass doors to take them home.

And we waited.  We craned our heads outside the door to stretch our necks to the main road looking for her car coming up the hill.

And we waited. We poked one another and dug into the worn carpet with the toes of our shoes and we got irritable.

And then, when hour two of waiting passed, my brother said what we both felt.

Something happened to mom.  I know it.  She is never late.  I told him to be quiet; she was fine, just late.  When our mom’s best friend Joan pulled in to pick us up, I believed my brother and I hated him for being right.

The road our mom traveled to pick us up was covered in layer upon layer of rain and the ominous black sky kept spewing out water adding new layers to create streams out of winding roads.   A young, newly licensed driver sped towards my mom from the opposite direction and began to hydroplane.  Scared, her passenger grabbed the wheel to stop the car from sliding toward the family car and, in her inexperience, pulled the steering wheel the wrong way.  Instead of removing herself and her best friend from an accident, she created one.

The car with two 16 year olds, crashed head on into my mother’s.

The papers the next day said the first person to the scene, a passerby, tried to pry open the locked door to help my mother, but couldn’t.  Paramedics arrived shortly thereafter and later reported my mom was DOA.  They said no one could have saved her, but they were wrong.

I could have saved her.


Author’s Note: In February of 2013, I gave birth to a beautiful little boy we named Charlie.  In becoming a mother myself, my understanding of that day, so many Februarys before, began to change.  It was not my fault. 

Vanessa Phillips works out of her home as the Department Head of the Client Relationship Team for a small global immigration company.  She.lives in her husband’s hometown of Annapolis, MD with her two-year-old son, Charlie; husband, Brad; and two rescued pugs Mel and Dasha. This is her first published piece.