No Return Address

By Sigrid Ellis

Amanda Haines, you are the most hurtful, selfish, ungrateful little bitch. I can't believe I raised you. Two months you've been missing, and now I get this. Just this. This postcard, with no return address, no note, just a postmark from Madrid, Spain, and your initials. Lowercase initials, such a pretentious thing to do. If you had put an address on this postcard, I would tell you what I think of that, and what I think of you. I would send you this letter and tell you never to come back here. This isn't your home anymore. I can't even tell you this! I can't reach you at all! You—you are not my daughter anymore. Just—go to hell.


I got another postcard, Amanda. You don't have a passport, honey. How did you get to Europe? When you told me you had new friends that mattered to you, I thought you'd met a guy. Did you meet a guy? I didn't know where Bacezza, Italy, is, I looked it up online. But your first postcard was from Madrid. Do you need money? Where can I send it? I hear the trains are cheap. Are they clean?

Are you safe?


Rome, now. The postmark on this card is in Italian, and it says "Roma." I wish you'd put an address on these. Though, the way you're moving around, I think my letters wouldn't catch up with you. Well, you know, "letters." Not exactly letters, since you're not reading them. I have a little stack of these, now. A postcard from you, then a letter I can't send, then another postcard, then a letter. I wish you'd write more—something, anything more—than just your initials.

Your Grandma Elaine asked about you today. I told her you were traveling through Europe. She told me The Story, again, about her European tour in 1968. In this telling, she and her best friend Paulie spent one week busking with Gypsies in Spain. I can just imagine Aunt Paulie shaking a tambourine for money. Have you heard this version of the story before? I can't keep track, and the details always change.

Well, of course the details change now. But they changed all the time even before her mind got this bad.

The apartment's calm with just me and Mom. She watches her shows and I try to work at the kitchen table. It's amazing how much I can do from home, even with Days of Our Lives running in the background. Is this show ever not on the air? Speaking of soaps, though, do you remember the case I told you about, with the family who had the pet parrot who was addicted to watching daytime dramas? Well, the kids showed back up in my workload. Their original foster placement didn't work out—no fault of theirs, the family had financial problems. I'm trying to find a placement for them together but I don't know if it will work out. The oldest boy, he's about your age, he's having a rough time. He wants me to promise him that he'll stay with his little sister. He told me that families have to stay together. I had to drive in to the office to meet with them—I couldn't have them here, in the kitchen! When this happens someone from the hospice comes and watches mom. Lately it's been the same guy, Keith. He's nice. And he's got a great voice.

Yeah.

Well, I'm glad we don't have a larger place, even if it would mean a home office for clients. You said often enough how you hated sharing the bathroom with Grandma, but if we lived in a bigger apartment I'd have a lot more to clean. And with Keith over, I do have to keep it tidy. And, as a plus, I can see your grandma from almost every room.

Your bedroom is just as you left it. Well, I went in and picked up the laundry. And some books and things you left out. And I folded your clothes and put them away. Except for the shirt you had on that last night you were home. It was so torn and stained—

I wish I knew how you were doing, honey.


All these postcards from Europe. All these postcards of beautiful places, with only your initials on the back. When you come home, you can read all the letters I've written back to you. Even the first one. I was mad, and hurt, and scared, and I said mean things to you. I thought about taking that one out, but—I love you more than anything. And that's why I said what I did. And I think when you read all my letters, you'll understand.

I was angry when we had that fight, too. Our last fight, though I didn't know that at the time. What did you expect me to say? You come in late and you're bloody and filthy, and you tell me some story about "the fey," and "faeries." About the fey and our family and a war. You said, "I have to go, Mom. The Unseelie Court has taken the Southern Provinces, and only our family's bloodline can save the High Ones." It makes no sense. Those are things out of stories, out of books. I just want to know, Amanda—in what universe did you think I would not ask you what drugs you were on?

I mean, really, honey. I was in Seattle in 1990. I know what drugs do. I spent ten months doing a lot of things I shouldn't have, and I saw some things that I can't explain except that I was high at the time. I might have seen faeries, too.


Well. Not like this matters to you, but your grandma set the kitchen on fire today. I was in the shower. She wanted toast. She couldn't wait ten minutes for me to make her a piece of toast.

If you were here, like you're supposed to be, not off in fucking Austria, I could get a shower without needing the fucking fire department.


You're in Switzerland. Is it cold, up in the mountains? It's disgustingly hot here. Humid, too. I run the a/c all the time, for your grandma, but everything is still damp.

She saw this latest postcard and asked about it. She said, and I just don't know what to make of this, she said she's been where you're at, the Schloss Tarasp. Mom picked up the postcard and said that "a Highwayman lives there, a Tom o' the Roads." She said that she and Aunt Paulie stayed a night there, when she was in Europe in 1968, and that a dangerous man bothered them. She wants me to tell you to stay away from the Schloss, which she said means castle. She wants you to leave Switzerland. She wants you to stay away from the Highwayman.

I've never heard this version of The Story before.

Your grandma is completely senile, Amanda. Her mind is gone. I spent all day yesterday—thirteen hours—keeping her from taking her diabetes medication over and over and over again. At seven o'clock at night I finally put her in the padded bed and then, God help me, I tied my own mother down. And then I called Keith at the hospice and told him I wanted to be arrested for neglect. I told him that I was going to McGilly's Pub in our building's ground floor and getting nice and drunk, and that he should send the police to find me there.

Keith reminded me this is why they gave me a bed with restraints, so that I can keep Grandma safe. Keep my sick mother from accidentally killing herself. He kept calling me "Ms. Haines," and I told him that he ought to start calling me Rose. Anyone who stays on the phone with me through The Daily Show can call me Rose.

This is not—this is not anything I imagined, in my future, when I was your age. When I was your age I thought I would be settled by now. I thought I would own my own home, not still be renting after so long. I thought I would be making a difference, helping people, not catching an endless stream of lost and broken families who have no hope, no future, and no chances left. When I was your age I thought I would have the answers by this time. I thought I would know what my life was for.

Instead I have this. I have a daughter who has run away to Europe, a mother who is crazy, and no one in my life to help me. No partner, no lover. I don't even know who your father was, Amanda. This is not the life I meant to have.

Mom's mind is gone. I know this. All day she shuffled out for her medications and talked over and over about the Highwayman. About his twin pistols, his jeweled rapier, his cocked hat in the moonlight. Did she see a movie recently that I don't know about? I would have been happy to give her to the Highwayman, if it would just make her shut up. But I didn't. I . . . I thought I saw something in her eyes when she looked at your postcard. I thought I saw her back straighten, her eyes focus, her hand on the walker firm and tighten. I thought I saw something real. It's stupid wishful thinking. It's why I can't put her in a home. I keep thinking my mom is still living with me, and she's not.

Please send me a way to contact you, next time. Then you'd get to read all these insightful, considered, thoughtful letters. I'm kidding. I miss you.


Mom dreamed about you last night. She said you were courting Tom o' the Roads.

She doesn't always remember that you're gone. Of course, she doesn't always remember that you're not six years old anymore. The other day she told me that she would pick you up from school so I could get to my class. I haven't been in school for four years. Some days, I feel like it was my graduating that started your grandma on her decline. I know that's silly, but it seems that way. She broke her hip that first summer I was working full-time, and you didn't need her to pick you up or drop you off at school anymore, and she just . . .

I don't know. Do you think people can do that? Do you think people fade away from lack of use?


I'd gotten used to your postcards coming once a month or so, Amanda. I'm letting you know, you're late. Your postcard is late.

Keith came by this afternoon. He didn't call first. He asked me if I wanted him to lie and say he was checking on Elaine, or if he should just admit he was visiting me. I said the second option was okay, and he opened this bag he was carrying, one of those nice reusable cloth grocery bags from Whole Foods. I thought it was going to be chips or beer or something, but instead he pulled out a casserole and loaf of homemade bread. I closed the door and made him stand in the hallway while I cried. He pretended he couldn't hear me, and when I opened the door he was still holding this casserole dish in his big, rough-looking hands. I invited him in. We sat at the kitchen table and talked about Survivor, and American Idol. Grandma Elaine sat on the couch watching her shows. I ate home-cooked food, not out of boxes, for the first time in months.

I can't date him. He's a really nice man. Haines women shouldn't date nice men.

Except you, you should absolutely date a nice guy. Someone who wants to go to trade school and work with his hands. Not an artist, for the love of God. And, whatever you do, please, please don't date a musician. I mean, I don't know for sure who your father is, but it's got to be either the drummer for Slippery Poodles, or that French performance artist. Pick someone with a two-year degree, someone who helps people, a guy with calluses on his hands who wears a ball-cap all the time. Someone practical.

Oh, I meant to tell you! The kids from the Soap-Opera-Parrot family? I found a home for them. A place opened up with a solid, dependable foster family. The boy thanked me for keeping my promises. I hope it makes a difference for him. For both of them. I hope it changes their future. It's not enough—there is no "enough," in my line of work—but I keep fighting, one family at a time.

Mom said she dreamed of you and the Highwayman again. She told me, while I was bathing her, that you were at the inn at the crossroads, and the Highwayman has chosen you for his bride.

I miss your postcards.


It's three in the morning. Mom woke me an hour ago, yelling your name. She said she had a vision of you. When I got her calmed down, she told me this story. It's her Story, the one I've heard all my life no matter how the details changed. I don't know how much of it has ever been true, but I don't think it matters. Mom wanted me to know she lived this. She wanted you to know she lived through all of this, that her story mattered. That she mattered. I'm writing it all down so I don't forget. So I can tell you when you come home. Because you're not dead. I would know in my heart if my daughter was dead.

"You know how it was back then."

(That's how she started. Of course I don't know. She's senile.)

"You know how it was back then. Take a ride on the magic bus. And we did, me and Paulie. She was my best friend, and I loved her, and seeing the world with her was all I wanted. By the time we ended up at Tarasp we were out of money. Paulie had gotten us a ride with these German guys, Gregor and Wilhelm. I didn't like to listen to them at night with Paulie.

"They brought us to this castle and we asked the owner if we could stay the night in the garage. He said yes. That night we woke up, me and Paulie, when we heard Gregor screaming. The fey lord was on him, eating him while he screamed. He was awful. He was beautiful, pale and shining and holding a long, thin sword. But he was awful, with teeth and eyes that I couldn't look at, and the jewels on his cocked hat were red. His high leather boots were as pale as death. The fey shouted to me, called to me and Paulie and told us we belonged to him now. We belonged to Tom o' the Roads, the Highwayman.

"He killed the boys and he took Paulie by the hair. She wore her hair in long braids then, I used to braid her hair. So lovely and dark it was. The Highwayman grabbed her hair and told her was to be his Bess, his darling Jenny, his maiden fair, and all sorts of other madness. Paulie kicked him and we both ran.

"We ran into the courtyard. The Highwayman flew after us, his wings were black and ragged and he flew across the courtyard at us with his sword out. At my Paulie. I thought of life without her and my heart nearly broke, right there. I couldn't stand to let him take her. I looked around and saw an old tire-iron. So I grabbed it, and I threw it, and I hit him. The cold metal smoked and I could smell the Highwayman's wings burning. He screamed, and I covered my ears. When I looked up, he was gone."

I wrote this all down because it's three a.m. and I haven't heard from you in almost half a year. And because your grandmother told me this whole story and held my hand, and I saw my mother. My mother. I saw her for the first time in a year. I miss her, Amanda. I miss my mother and I want her back. I think this is the last time I'm ever going to see her. I miss her.

please come home honey I love you so much


Dear Amanda,

I'm in the airport. At the gate. Keith helped me put my mom in the Whispering Pines long-term care facility. Your grandma. In a nursing home. Two days ago.

No, that won't make any sense to you. You don't know who Keith is, and you haven't seen Grandma for most of this year. I'm bringing all the letters I wrote to you and couldn't send, but unless I beat this letter there, and tell everything to you first, this will sound like a crazy person wrote it. Trust me, it will make sense, as soon as I get there and explain.

Last week, a dirty, worn envelope came in the mail. The postmark was in Italian, and it was from someone named Lee. (Is Lee a man or a woman, honey? I think Lee is a woman, based on her handwriting.) The letter arrived the day after Mom's nightmare about the Highwayman—I'll tell you about that when I see you, I promise. Lee said in this letter that she was your friend. That you'd been traveling together. And she said that—she said that it's all true.

That you fought a faerie.

That you fought an evil fey lord who sometimes called himself the Highwayman.

Lee said you've been traveling together across Europe fighting the evil fey. That there's a war in Faerie. And that you are . . . that you are an important person in this fight. That your family is part of the Seelie Court. "Your family" means who, exactly? Do they mean your father? I probably should never have had sex with a performance artist. Does this Lee-person mean me? She can't mean me. I've never done anything important, never had adventures. I'm a working single mother in an underpaid job. I've spent my whole life just . . . just trying to screw up less tomorrow than I did yesterday. I think that now might be the time, though. The time to see if there's an adventure out there for me. I'm going to start with you, and Lee, and some answers to my questions.

Lee said you save people's lives. I've always wanted to do that.

I read Lee's letter out loud to your grandma. She didn't respond. She doesn't anymore. She sits. She needs full-time care now. The night she told me about her vision—of you? Of her past? Of the Highwayman?—was the last real sign of my mom. I called Keith and told him I had to go out of town for a while—maybe months. He helped expedite the transfer to Whispering Pines. I told the office I needed a leave of absence. I don't think they were surprised. I think they've been waiting for me to quit.

I'm not quitting. I can't feel bad about putting Mom in the home. I miss her. I wasn't sure I would, wasn't sure whether the last few years had worn out my caring. But they didn't. I love my mom, and I wish she were still able to understand me when I tell her so. But I think . . . I think the dream she had, I think she was trying to tell me something. I think maybe she was trying to tell me that she's had her life of adventures, and that now it's okay for me to let her go. She lived more before she turned twenty-one, and more fully, than I have lived in my whole life.

What I have is not what I imagined for my life. But nothing is. I never imagined you, Amanda. And I wouldn't trade you for any of my teenage dreams.

This Lee-person says you've been through hell, honey. I think that you threw yourself into danger to save people. I don't know how I raised you to be who you are. A . . . a hero, who spends her life for others, who sacrifices everything. You're so much better than I could hope to be. I am proud to have you for my daughter. Amanda Haines, I will always love you. See you soon.

Your loving mom,

Rose


Sigrid Ellis is an air traffic controller, homeschooling parent, author of self-published comic books, and writer living in Minnesota. In her remaining free time she blogs about these things and more at Thinking Too Much. She can be reached at sigridellis@gmail.com.