Kelly Michelle Mongillo was born in the Susquehanna Valley in the 80s and now resides in Buffalo, NY. Her short short story collection entitled Nickel City Slump is available locally and online.
1 story by Kelly Mongillo
When I was young I was really good at holding my breath. I could hold it for whole minutes before I passed out. I didn’t do that whole choking, struggling, gasping nonsense that most people do, either. My body would just quietly collapse, my mouth open and sucking in air once my consciousness stopped preventing my body from getting what it wanted.
It was obviously my destiny to go to space, my drunken, novel reading excuse for a mother decided. As soon as she saw my capacity for not breathing, my toys became rockets. My shoes were white and Velcro. My Halloween costumes were aliens and then astronauts and then aliens and then astronauts again. Glow in the dark stars littered our ceilings.
She was obsessive like that, my mother. Not habitually, and only about the strangest things.
Like when she swore the dog had spoken. I was nine. It was a Friday in November. The school bus pulled up to the duplex we were living in and she came running out of the front door with her hair wild and no shoes, talking crazy in front of all the other children whose heads and arms were sticking out of the school bus windows and they laughed and pointed and laughed. I turned around to the bus and stuck out my tongue hard, mentally noting whose shoes to fill with dirt during gym class, before mother grabbed my hand and pulled me into the house, begging me to listen kiddo just listen!
If the dog had spoken that day, she never did again. My mother never changed her story though, and she was so confident it was hard not to believe her. For the first few weeks, she would lie on her stomach and watch the dog for hours, her nose inches away and gazing directly into Biscuit’s eyes. Breathing in that crappy stale doggy breath. Eventually she set up tape recorders all over the house in case it happened again.
“I’m gonna get it,” she would say, “Biscuits is going to talk again and we’re gonna be famous.”
Or there was one time she swore the car was haunted. I was thirteen and fully aware that a spider had been spinning webs on the interior of the car. He was living inside the AC vents or something and leaving little invisible, tangible strings throughout the vehicle.
But my mother did not see those little sensations for what they were, she saw ghosts in them. Ghosts who messed with the cruise control. Ghosts who turned on and off the headlights with reckless abandon. Ghosts who materialized in the rear view mirror to laugh manically before disappearing just as quickly. She believed in them so sincerely she was afraid to drive the vehicle, started walking to work. She eventually found some ‘priest’ on craigslist who, for twenty-seven dollars, was willing to perform an exorcism.
She exorcised a 1997 Honda Civic. That’s my mother.
My future in space became the obsession that fueled her life. She would talk about it incessantly. She would mention it to family members at each gathering as if it was a new concept, and one born of my own aspirations instead of an expectation placed on my shoulders long before I could even grasp its meaning. She would tell taxi drivers and people in waiting rooms. Falling asleep in a chair, clutching a bottle of wine in her hand by the neck after a particularly difficult day, my mother would murmur as I pulled a blanket over her body ‘my baby’s going to the moon, my baby’s gonna live in zero gravity, my baby’s going to Mars.’
We frequently moved but never out of town, I experienced all the inconvenience of a childhood on the move as well as the suffocating isolation of spending eighteen years in the same small city. Some apartments were so tiny we shared a room, some so large they seemed almost like warehouse space because we lived without any real furniture. Each apartment we looked at my mother would nod her head dramatically and open all the cabinets and ask about the light quality.
When we signed a lease she would turn to me and say, “it’s not a car kiddo, it is not a car. We’ll never live out of the car, you be thankful for that.“
I was my mother’s only prized possession. Everything else we owned was disposable, cheap, momentary. We ate from disposable dishes and reused take-out containers. We wore thrift store clothing that we kept in dressers from the side of the road. We rented and leased and used our library cards.
It never bothered me, but it was also the only life I’d ever really known. When I was young life was a confusing whirl of change, just one big nonsensical game of tag with mother, who was so frequently just out of reach but at the same time always there. When it was all too much, I would pause. I would close my eyes and hold my breath until everything stopped, then emerge renewed again.
When people started asking me what I was going to do after high school I would always answer, straight faced, without doubt, that I was becoming an astronaut. After so many years of being told that space was where I belonged, it just made more sense than anything else. I never gave thought to being anything else. I was always going to space. Mother’s child was going to the moon. Mother’s child was going to live in zero gravity. Mother’s child will go to Mars. It was planted deeply, severely, permanently. It was my fate, my destiny, and I never wanted for something else.
When people thought I was being far fetched the mockery was tangible. Eyes bulged and coffee was snorted back into cups. ‘Well, yes, but, what else do you think you might want to do? You know...when, er, if the astronaut thing doesn’t pan out?’
When my feelings were hurt, my mother was firm in her continued belief in my intergalactic future. “It takes a brave, brave soul to go to space, baby,” she would say while I sniffled back tears, crouched down on her knees with hands gripping my shoulders tightly and her forehead
against mine. “Those people are afraid of being around someone so much braver than them. Younger and braver and stronger. They are laughing because they are afraid of you, baby, as well they should be. You’re going to go places they don’t even know exist.”
I cannot deny that I have questioned this interesting path that was laid before me. Of course I wonder what I would have chosen to be, had my life contained choices. I wonder if I would have been a dancer or a poet or an architect or a boxer. I wonder if I would have married, had children by now.
It doesn’t matter anymore, anyway. Life is a singular thing, progressive, never reverting, continuing on without pause or chance to reverse. I am the product of my timeline. My complex mother and my pseudo-gypsy life style and the mockery and the Velcro shoes and the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling, it was all just a complex recipe that created this human being, this blip on humanity’s timeline, this thing with legs and arms and eyes and ears who sprung to life and is now, like all things, slowly withering away.
Space is peaceful. The journey is difficult and the capsule is complex but space itself is like a frozen pond, still and silent but full of life that exists just out of reach. Sometimes when I’m up here, I hold my breath. Even though it has nothing to do with anything. You don’t have to hold your breath up here. They feed you breath through a tube. But sometimes I hold my breath anyway like I did as a child, and in those few seconds before the moment where I briefly fall asleep I laugh and I see stars and I am free.