‘It Will Be Different This Time’ by Traci Mullins


My mother has a habit of giggling nervously and twitching her left eye when she’s uncomfortable, which is anytime she’s in the same room with me. It started when I graduated college, as though she tried on “mother of an adult” and panicked.

She was in her element while I was growing up in small-town Wisconsin, when she was in charge and I was too dependent to intimidate her. But since I landed my TV job, reporting for Chicago’s WBBM, she can no longer look me in the eye without adding the twitch. When I try to tell her about my new world in the Windy City, she just says, “Oh, that’s nice, Honey.” Hee hee hee. Then changes the subject to something safe. It hurts my feelings, and I respond by being overbearing and demeaning. I’m sorry.

So, when she begged me to come visit her in Destin, I succumbed. After my father died, she’d rented a beachfront condo for three months. “It’s too hard being where everything reminds me of him,” she’d said.

“It’ll be fun,” she promised. “We’ll lie in the sun and eat lots of grouper and key lime pie. We’ll stay up late and watch movies and sleep in as late as we want! You’ve been saying you need a break. This place’ll be perfect for you.”

Maybe she was right – it’d do me good to sit around the pool under the palm trees. I could wander around town, explore the art galleries and try out the coffee shops. This time would be different, I told myself. I’d bend over backward to put her at ease. I’d be the perfect guest, and I’d feel good about myself because I was doing my duty as her only child. I needed to be there for her, right? How bad could it be while I sat on the balcony in the warm morning breeze, eating bagels and fresh fruit that I couldn’t get in the Midwest in March?

So, I made an airline reservation, packed a light bag, and headed to Florida.

After Ubering to the condo, I stood on the doorstep and reassured myself: yes, it will be different this time.

My tight shoulders relaxed, and I put on my brightest smile. When I knocked, the door flew open immediately.

“Oh, hi, Honey.” Hee hee hee.

“Hi, Mom, it’s good to see you.”

Her eye twitched.