A single mother's struggle to regain a son's love.
|Prompt: You mean the world to me.
My only and precious son hates me, and one of the many reasons why is sitting right across from me in this cramped booth. I watch him shovel another spoonful of grits into his mouth, fighting to hide my disgust as the thick white gruel escapes to trail down his chin. He wipes it absently and then smiles at me and again, I am painfully reminded of why I fell in love with this man over sixteen years ago.
The years have been good to Carl Sawyer and although he's in his late thirties, he could easily pass for a man in his mid-twenties. He still has a full head of thick black hair and those piercing green eyes that can melt a girl's heart with one smoldering look (hey, that was how I got hooked). I always compared him to Gary Grant, but unfortunately, my personal movie star has become nothing more than a mere man after his many unforgivable transgressions.
"You're looking well, Melissa," he says, still grinning at me. "Did you do something to your hair?"
Like you give a damn and besides, I haven't done anything to my hair. I can barely afford to go to a hair salon, no thanks to you.
But I keep my thoughts to myself and grip my purse tightly, wishing I could get out of this hot and stuffy restaurant.
"Today's Norm's birthday," I remind him carefully.
He stops chewing long enough to stare at me as if really seeing me for the first time and immediately I notice the change in his body language. I sigh inwardly, knowing I should have expected something like this to take place. After all, it happens all the time when I remind him of his responsibility.
"Is it now," he mumbles and makes a great show of cutting his steak.
"Yes." I press on. "I was just thinking it would be nice if you came by to see him..."
"I'll get him a present," he interrupts quickly. "What's that thing boys are into these days...eh...eye-pod or something like that..."
"He doesn't need any gifts, Carl," I say tightly, now almost close to losing my patience with him. "It would just be nice if you spent a day with him for once..."
"Aww come now, Lisa," he begins and I bite my tongue to resist the urge to literally shudder at the pet name. I hate him calling me that. "You know the company's been running me to the ground with work lately. I can barely take an off day for myself let alone..."
"...spending it with your own son," I finish bitterly.
He has the gall to look contrite before digging into his steak again. I bite my lower lip and shake my head, wondering why I keep doing this when I know it's bound to be fruitless. But you've got to understand my incessant need to get father and son together. Since my bitter divorce with Carl (I remember a lot of yelling and things being broken as I kicked him out of our house), I've tried to be the best mother to my son. It's not been an easy road for me. Working two jobs while taking care of a growing boy, I have had little to no time to smell the roses. But it really doesn't bother me. I do everything for my boy and although I wish I could do more, he seems to understand our plight and takes it in stride.
I've had to suffer through his birthdays, baseball and basketball practices with no father in the picture. I find myself telling Norm that his father is going to show up soon, and oh, how it breaks my heart when I have to watch my boy sitting on the doorstep year after year, waiting for his no-good father's visit. However, that stopped about the time Norm turned ten. He seemed to finally realize that waiting for a father that never really cared for him was nothing but a waste of time. Unfortunately, that was when I lost my son.
I watched Norm become a man before my eyes, watched his features become more like his father's as the years passed and died a little each time he became more distant. He always hugged me after he came home from school, always eager to show me what he had learned and how many home runs he had hit or points he had scored in a basketball game. We aren't rich by any means, but I always framed his achievements and kept his trophies in a small curio cabinet in our living room. He always said it was embarrassing to see, but it still never failed to bring a smile to his face all the same.
Now, I consider myself lucky if he even graces me with a cordial hello. The hugs have longed stopped, the smiles few and far between. Dinner, a time I have always looked forward to, has become a painful farce as I find myself eating alone while he's locked away in his bedroom. Before going to bed, I stand before his door, wishing I could kick and scream and tell him how unfair he's being. It's not my fault that things turned out this way. It's not my fault that his father is an unfaithful bastard. I was a young girl, only seventeen and madly in love with one of the most popular boys in the town. How can I tell him that his conception had been a 'mistake', that it was a product of one night of passion between teenagers, who were rather unprepared for the responsibilities ahead? How can I tell him that his father had actually given me money to get rid of him or that I had threatened to tell his conservative grandparents about my pregnancy, forcing Carl into a marriage he didn't want?
How can I tell my precious boy all of that?
"I guess I'll be leaving now," I finally say, rising to my feet. I hardly touched my cup of coffee, which is the only thing I ordered.
"All right...well, I'll see you around I guess," Carl says around a mouthful of meat and my disgust is tenfold. I wonder why I don't move out of this town, why I decided to remain in the same place with this man. And then it hits me again. I have no place else to go. I was born and raised in Devon and I will grow old and die in Devon. The very thought of moving to a bigger city terrifies me.
"Maybe, maybe not," I reply vaguely and walk away with my head held high, aware of the curious glances cast my way. After all, I'm the woman Carl Sawyer divorced and being a single mother in this small town is almost unheard of. But I'm proud of the way I've lived my life till now. I've worked my fingers to the bone taking care of Norm with no man's help. Since Carl's too cheap to give me the money I rightly deserve each month, I've had to depend on me and me alone.
Walking into my small home, I am reminded of my poor living conditions and my shortcomings as a mother. I am reduced to a pitiable woman who looks older than her age and doubts her ability to ever court another man again. The carpet is shabby and ugly – a horrible shade of red and orange that I hope to change some day. The sofa's got holes and tufts of foam sticking out of it. The window blinds can barely stay shut and because the windows themselves can't shut properly, some nights have been terribly cold to live through.
Norm is not home yet and that's a good thing. He works at the local grocery store and with the money he now makes, he's able to get the things he wants for himself. I will say that he does the right thing by giving me half of his pay check each month and I almost feel bad for accepting it, but that's my Norm for you - a true and noble young stranger in his own home.
I bring out the chocolate cake I baked last night, hoping he hadn't gone snooping inside the fridge to discover it. With care, I set up the dining table with the only expensive table cloth I keep for special occasions (actually it's always used on Norm's birthday) and begin to prepare a simple dinner of pork chops and spaghetti, his favorite foods. By seven o'clock everything is ready and I only have to wait for my son to show up. Like his hugs, he insisted I stop celebrating his birthday after his tenth year and I've willingly obliged. However, my boy is sixteen and it's always a special time in one's life. So whether he likes it or not, we're going to have our own special party.
Suddenly I feel a hand upon my shoulder and I sit up quickly, eyes blinking rapidly as I stare at my son still dressed in his work uniform.
"Norm...when did you get back home?"
"Just now," he replies and I think (or perhaps it's just my imagination) I see a smile on his face. "You fell asleep," he explains and I glance at the clock. It's almost ten!
"Before you begin complaining," he says as he, and to my surprise, sits across me. "I had to work the extra shift because Brad couldn't make it. Boy, I'm starved, Mom."
And as if he couldn't shock me more, he reaches for the cake to take a big slice. I feel a stubborn lump in my throat and to my chagrin, the hot tears that fill my eyes and begin to trail down my cheeks. I watch him eat hungrily; trying hard not to compare him to the man I had met earlier in the day. But how can I not do so? They have the same shock of black hair, the same eyes and the same way of holding a fork when eating. It's uncanny and yet –
"Mom?" he asks as he lifts his head to give me a quizzical look.
"I'll go warm dinner," I say quickly and rise to my feet, wiping my tears and forcing myself to regain my composure.
"Mom..." he begins again and this time, I notice the slight hesitation in his tone.
"What is it, Norm?"
"Uum..." He coughs lightly. "I lied a little...I actually got off work at nine but I went to see Carl -"
"You what?!" I can feel my world spinning out of control and I have to steady myself against the counter as I watch him with fear and yet mild anger. Why had he lied to me?
He only nods and then shrugs lightly. "I just wanted to see him -"
He purses his lips, his brows furrowing as if in deep thought. Suddenly, he breaks into a smile – a real genuine smile – something I haven't seen since his tenth birthday.
"Because I just wanted to tell him what a fool he is."
"All these years, a part of me had always hoped that he would be man enough to see me or talk to me," he continues as he rises to his feet. "But the older I got, the more I realized he wasn't going to be the father I always wanted. I began to hate and resent him and I think I took it out on you too, Mom. But today, I finally had the guts to walk up to his office and tell him to his face that I will become a much better man than he ever was. I told him that I had the greatest Mom in the world and she's all I could ever need. I didn't need him and never will. I'll prove to everyone that I'm different and I'll make you even prouder of me."
He stops and flushes in embarrassment, as if realizing that this is the most he's ever spoken to me in a while. He mumbles something about going upstairs to change and, making my night complete, he wraps his arms around me in a quick but tight hug.
"Thanks Mom, for everything," he whispers. "You mean the world to me."
The tears come and this time, I make no attempt to stop them. After six long years, I finally get to feel my son again. And knowing that he still loves me, despite my many flaws and faults, is the greatest gift a mother could ever have.
Word Count: 2110