Monday, October 20, 2008

Lying Awake with the Rubber Backbone

Your son doesn't know that you lie awake all night,

listening for his arrival. No phone call, no note, no word

from him, no idea of his whereabouts. He's just decided

to have a sleepover and not let us know, your husband says,

trying to reassure you. He's grounded from sleepovers

so he knows we'll deny him. Of course, that was what you

imagine, too. What you want to believe. You want him safe,

having fun. Thoughtlessly happy and safe.

Safe. And then you imagine priests and predators

and all the terrible things that happen to young teens,

those things that fill the lurid headlines you try to refuse

to read or hear. What if he's in trouble, desperately

hoping for rescue, while you both lie in bed, doing nothing

but staring at the dark ceiling, watching patterns of light shift

with each passing cars? Fewer and fewer cars pass,

less and less often the dim rainbow squares slide

across the flat black sky as the red numerals on the clock

slowly turn, minute by minute. Should you notify the police

of his failure to return? I don't expect him home until late

tomorrow, your husband says. He's probably right,

but you want to kick him, for not sounding worried

enough. Your son, wherever he is, can't see you lying here,

turning your backs to each other, worried, angry, fearful.

He can't imagine being old, can't imagine a heart

other than his own, beating into the darkness,

and if he could, he wouldn't care. Nor can he picture you

at fourteen. He doesn't believe that you can and cannot

remember what is was like to be his age. He imagines

your lives, if he thinks of them at all, so different from his

as to be irrelevant. Useless. All that matters to him

is his own immediate pleasure, and not the consequences

of his actions or the pain he causes others. Tomorrow,

when he's hungry, he'll return, pretending nothing happened,

because if nothing happened, there with be no punishment.

He will want not what you eat, what you carefully, lovingly prepared,

but soda, double chocolate Milano cookies, microwave mac and cheese.

He will complain bitterly if the freezer isn't stocked

to his preferences. Your husband, feeling exhausted, spineless

and limp on his 63rd birthday, will hide in his painting and do

and say exactly what his son wanted, nothing, giving the boy

permission for more of the same. You, his wife will imagine divorce,

a quiet cabin in the country. Freedom from the having to care

for anyone unable to return an ounce of love. When the lights

on the ceiling increase again and then fade into dawnlight and the boy

has not returned, you know it will get worse before it gets better.

Or it will never get better. If the boy survives

to return, it's all downhill forever, as it always was.

Mary Taitt, 081020-1141-1b


BerryBird said...

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Great idea!

Literally, no one has mentioned the fact that he didn't come home all night and didn't call. Can you imagine?


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