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