This is a VERY dark look at how this socially withdrawn character came to be.
“You’re not upset?”, she asked.
Staring at the blank, empty face of her own son, completely devoid of reaction as it is, causes no small amount of worry in the woman. Unknowingly, her soft, feminine voice lifts the daydreaming fog that had been keeping him from seeing the tombstone mere inches in front of his face.
“Why would I be?” came the flat response. Somehow it is a response tinged with neither cold nor anger. Instead it is dripping with surprisingly real innocence and confusion. The large, awkward body of her son suddenly seems small and in need of protection. Perhaps it is the perspective of the massive, wide open cemetery combining with her own expectations of a loud and brutal argument that makes his reaction seem even more…off. Either way, it is as if she had her baby back for the moment. Every ounce of restraint rose up in order to stop her from lunging forward and giving him the hug she thought he would be undoubtedly needing.
A finger rises up, aiming itself squarely at the center of the carved out stone. “Mom. He died long before that day, long before we moved away from him.”
His almost happy tone, his response, overwhelming because of how unexpected it is, practically slams her backwards into a long forgotten memory.
Now it was her turn to daydream.
An entire living room, that was full of packed boxes, landed squarely at her feet, planting her consciousness back into her old living room.
“Honey, you don’t want to call your father before we leave? I know he’d love to hear from you.”
“No, that’s OK mom”. Something about the way the response came out. It was so…happy. It didn’t feel right. Something was very wrong, that much she thought…no she knew. Something terrible had happened.
Addicts do not just go cold turkey. Her soon to be ex-husband was addicted to pain killers, alcohol, you name it.
Yet it was his addiction to his son that truly ran his life.
The calls were annoying in their daily predictability, with not a single day going unmarked by both the sound of a ring and the sight of his number on the caller ID.
A month ago, without warning, they just completely stopped. When the realization dawned on her, it had already been a few days without a single call.
She didn’t think anything of it.
There was never a sign of distress from her son, never a tear shed. Nothing appeared wrong. The once daily caller was now just a stone being dropped into the water.
It soon disappeared into the unseen depths below, yet it did so in a manner that seemed quite unnatural. if her husband was a stone being dropped into the water then it was dropped in without leaving so much as a single ripple on the surface.
To a more attentive, caring person it may have come off as unnerving and eerie. Not to her.
To this woman, above all else, it was simply incredible and convenient. It seemed to be perfect timing for this woman who was not one to question her good fortune.
If her son had been in a fight of some kind, he wouldn’t be as reluctant to move far away when the lease ran out. Still, she expected that something, anything in the way of resistance would be offered eventually, even if it was a simple “What about dad?”
On the day of the big move, what once seemed convenient had long since become downright terrifying for her. Even hinting at the man’s existence in front of her son scared the life out of her. One time, the word “farther” escaped from her lips and it was like a Dementor had frozen the air and sucked all of the wind out of her lungs. It wasn't that her son got angry or irreversibly despondent. There were no arguments or temper tantrums accompanying the mere mention of the man.
No, instead it was the lack of a reaction, the seemingly complete and utter erasure of the man's existence that scared her.
She felt as if she had been gaslighted into believing that her husband never existed to begin with.
It did not make a single lick of sense.
It’s not like anyone was even saying a word to her about it. No one made any effort to convince her that the father of her insanely calm son had never existed.
On occasion, she put a hand on her sons shoulder just to be sure he was real, to assure herself that it hadn’t all been an insane fever dream. How could her ex-husband just be gone like this and how could her son be so unaffected?
Wait she thought to herself. Not unaffected…improved.
He had become an even better son to her. The near constant attention and affection initially helped her ignore the unease in her stomach. Her wonderful boy drew her bath for her, gladly volunteered to do all of the cleaning around the house, he eagerly showed off his finished homework on a daily basis and all of his grades had skyrocketed.
Her pre-teen son, supposedly reaching a time when he’d be seeking independence, instead even seemed enthusiastic about helping her do her hair when she needed it tied up for work! Thoughts of Oedipus popped into her head at one point but the attention had never even hinted at anything inappropriate. Her 12 year old son had somehow become a loving 5 year old boy again.
It seemed like good fortune at first but as the behavior continued and as the phone continued to remain silent she finally had the good sense to become more and more unnerved. A smarter woman may have taken steps to ascertain the reason for the changes. Instead she slowly started requesting that her son not do chores.
A purposefully placed distance began to grow between her and her son, widening constantly. That widening gap silently split into a chasm without warning after one fateful morning.
Her son, as he always did, would happily ask if she needed her hair done and she hastily, thoughtlessly responded with “No, I don’t need you, honey.”
He no longer asked to help.
He also continued to no longer leave what was a very expected; normal 12 year old’s mess around the house.
School, room, eat, sleep and repeat.
Her son began leaving no signs that he even existed at home. His grades continued to remain perfect, he was in good health and no apparent issues had arisen at his new school but he was a ghost to her.
Perhaps the most frightening moment of her life was when she received the call that her ex-husband had died. She had been sitting by the phone, thinking about calling him.
Her goal was not to check in nor was it to repair the clearly fractured relationship between the man and her son. Her only motivation to call, lie with the simple fact that the child support check was a few weeks late.
Perhaps given enough time to think it over, she’d have settled on calling the attorney but enough time was not given.
She stared at the phone, repeatedly playing a game of “1 for the money, 2 for the show…” in her mind for over an hour, all while her son sat quietly in his room doing God knows what.
Nervousness, dread, anxiety, fear.
A pall of negative, debilitating emotions fell over her each time that she thought she could muster up the courage to call.
A scream ripped itself away from her self-control and bounced back and forth violently into the walls of the mostly empty apartment.
“It’s ok, I’m ok!” she called out pleasantly and uselessly to her sons immovable, closed bedroom door.
The phone issued a dull beep of acknowledgment when she pressed the green button.
“Hello?” she said with an airy, sing songy pleasantness which was ironically a tone that could not have been further from the reality of her thoughts at the moment.
“Hi ma’am, sorry if we have the wrong home but we need to know if you know this gentleman here. We have on file that you may be recently divorced?”
“Okay…” her confusion grabbed hold of the end of the word and extended its length. “…what’s the name?”
Upon hearing her ex’s name over the phone, it was all she could not to slam the phone down in a panic. She winced and let out a quiet yelp as if she was seeing a ghost. The coroner’s office on the other end of the phone went through the usual spiel about making sure she was sitting down but she already knew.
Before she had answered the phone, she knew. Before she had even moved away, when her son stopped talking about him, she knew. In the last months of his life, her ex-husband was out of hers completely in the physical sense.
Yet his absence had morphed into a horrible apparition that haunted every moment of her now torturous existence.
Whether it would be his addiction or his suicide, she knew that his end would soon come at his own hand.
Her son had no idea that she had left the house to identify the body. If he did know that she left, it wasn’t like he gave any indication that he cared where she had gone. When she returned, he did not come to ask about where she went so she did not go to tell him.
For a long moment she just stared at the door, playing a game of “one for the money, two for the show” but the door did not open and she did not have the courage to let him know.