Some people need swear jars; you and your mother need a fight jar. Seconds into this argument and you’re in the wrong again—she’s driving you three hours down to campus to help you move in, so she’s entitled to gripe about your screw-ups. The high rent. The roommate who never was—you had a fight and Anna doesn’t want to live with you anymore. But you sink into the passenger seat and insist your mother isn’t listening because it’s better she thinks she doesn’t understand you rather than you don’t understand yourself. You win when veins crack like thawing ice across her temples, unburdening a violence of words she’ll later regret. You always cry when yelled at so you’ll burst into tears. She’ll say sorry like it was her fault. You’ll toss into the fight jar apologies that should be yours. Thunk. Screw tight.
You could have other jars, too. Your mother skids a sharp left into the first Exxon-Mobil lot, grainy and yellowed by streetlights, and you think about the possibilities. A jar for white lies like you’re adjusting well to college freedom, a jar for lies that’ll ruin you—maybe the same jar. Thunk. For things you say don’t matter but do. Thunk. “Thank you for applying.” Thunk. Plans your friends forget to make with you. Thunk. Staying home.
Your mother asks who’s not listening now. She feels most disrespected by silence—convenient because you don’t have anything to say. The response is in some jar somewhere, probably. She calls you ungrateful and the word slides slickly down the car window, the spindly letters jumbling as they pool around your fingers. Once you tried to articulate the feeling and she said you think too much.
Knuckles white on the wheel, she threatens to drive off the highway but still flings out an arm to shield you when she brakes too hard. Her raised voice twists your tear duct faucets. You leak. The tears are only wetness; your chest sears as though you’ve taken too large a bite of her tomato egg over rice. It’s not sadness. You remember sadness differently, before mornings sagged and you woke up wiping the corners of dry eyes.
You rest her apology at the foot of the apartment stairs and batter the wheels of your suitcase against each ascending step. Behind you, she strains her neck to peer around the storage container in her arms. You told her you were missing a binder and she’s brought you a whole box.
Once upstairs, she wilts in the doorway, hands at her sides awkwardly afloat, gravitating toward you.
You have a brimming gratitude jar; you pass out “thank you”s like candy at the close of emails, through doors held open, in immediate blue text bubbles to Anna’s weeks-late messages, and you must take for granted only the unconditional because this time you twist the lid until your palms blister pink but the jar remains sealed tightly shut.