Last night, as I lovingly tongued my bottle of NyQuil goodnight, I set my internal alarm clock, as I always do when something is going on the following morning. Lately, though, with my anxiety levels being through the roof, I haven’t really needed it – turns out the cure for “not being a morning person” is not “no cowbell,” nor is it, “suck it up, Buttercup.”
Nope – it’s anxiety. Who knew?
7AM, I awoke, flutter-byes playing basketball in my stomach, rolled over onto my stomach and groaned – what was so important that I’d been woken up WELL before any sane person would opt for wakefulness? It hit me like a smack in the face: first day of school.
Wearily, I slogged out of bed and splashed some water on my face, trying to look presentable “enough” to the other bleary-faced parents who’d be dropping their kids off, determined that this time, at the very least, I wouldn’t be the youngest parent there, which increased the likelihood that I’d be able to, for the first time ever, get into the Holy Cult of the Mothers (they’re like the Caturday people, but harder to infiltrate). Maybe I need to apply or something.
Bumbling down the stairs, I poured at least half a cup of scalding coffee on my hand before I realized what I was doing. I stared down at my hand, my daughter standing nearby, trying to understand what I’d done.
“Aren’t you gonna say, “FUCK,” Mama?” she asked, completely seriously.
“I’m too tired, Girl Pants,” I replied hazily as I attempted to add some of the Blue Stuff to my coffee, managing to get one out of three packets into the coffee cup.
Aunt Becky: 0
Alex was bounding up and down and racing through the house, chasing the cats and beams of light and random dust particulates floating through the early morning sunlight, beyond thrilled that today was the day! I quickly decided that it wasn’t going to be possible for me to siphon off some of his energy and use it for my own personal gains, so instead, I curled up on the couch and tried to restock my Tiny Tower I’d so thoughtlessly allowed to go dark while I slumbered. My 8-bit people needed Blood of the Bean! And Porn!
Amelia and Alex bargained with Dave over who got to have a donut first, why, and which donut looked, upon taking a bite, more like the letter “c” than the other. Apparently, sibling rivalry knows no bounds.
Finally, my middle son twirled and whirled his way over to me, where he landed gracefully (too graceful to be MY child) in my arms. He stared up at me, blinking.
And in those blinks I saw the baby who cried every moment I left his line of sight, the toddler who spent the entire day after he learned to walk trying to kick a ball, falling down, getting back up again, and trying once again until he mastered it.
I saw the child who loved animals so much I called him Saint Francis of Assisi, the child who protected his little sister, teaching her of the cosmos and the heavenly bodies. I saw the child who’d curl up in my arms, reminding me that, while everything feels like a whirlwind, it would, indeed, be okay.
My heart filled with pride as I kissed the top of his head, my eyes full, for once, of happy tears.
He blinked again up at me, studying the lines of my face as he asked, “Mom, can I take the Powerwheel to school today?”
And just like that, the infant turned toddler turned child started his first day of school.
All in the wink of the blink.
Important to note: THIS STORY IS NOT ABOUT THE DAVER. I JUST HAPPENED TO KNOW TOO MANY DAVE’S.
Back before the Internet, before I had crotch parasites, during the age Jesus copied my Bio/Chem 216 notes off me, I went off to college in the city. I wasn’t particularly excited to be going off to college, unlike my roommate, who told me, at one point that her name meant, “It Means Butterfly,” which is why, she explained, our room was covered in motherfucking butterflies and filled with her crap.
I’d always lived alone – my brother a full 10 years my senior – which meant that I wasn’t used to sharing my space with anyone, let alone a cell with electric pink carpeting I called the Maxi-Pad.
It Means Butterfly wasn’t, either.
I can’t recall if she had siblings or not, but I do remember that on certain days, she’d lovingly invite me to use anything from her razor to her underwear (which I did not), and others, she’d toss my bed, swearing I’d stolen the TV remote, even though I never touched the TV, which got a half a station if you considered watching television to be an act of trying to understand what one pixelated person? was saying to another? It could’ve been Animal Planet that I was mistaking for a sitcom for all I could tell as we did live on the 17th floor of a 17th floor building, that building was composed entirely of cinder-blocks.
Unstable? I’d say so.
(It Means Butterfly, not the building)
One day, as I tried to slip in and out of our doom room unnoticed by her (she was busily chomping down a salad dripping with ranch dressing – which I noted because she chewed with her mouth almost entirely open – and squawking at the hilarious things her boyfriend, Dave, said to her via instant messenger) she caught me.
“Becky,” she said. “Dave is coming to stay with us for a week. They close campus at SIU on Halloween because there were riots and he’s coming up to stay.”
I looked around our room, no bigger than a jail cell, that was overflowing with Precious Moments figurines, and shrugged. “Uh, okay?” I replied, trying to get out of the room before she could corner me – It Means Butterfly wasn’t overweight, but she was one of those girls built to plow the fields of corn or soybeans or whatever, whereas I was nearly a foot shorter and built like a bird, bones ready to snap if the crosswinds happened to be blowing the wrong way.
Dave arrived the next night while I was carousing about the town with my friends, eating delicious Thai food that cost (mostly) pennies, while plotting adventures and scheming our way into Gold Coast parties. I didn’t see him until I woke the following morning, my head thudding from too many Long Island Ice Tea’s the night before. Groggily, I noted from the bottom bunk, that there was a dude scratching his bung mere inches from my face. If I looked the right way, I could see into his boxer shorts.
(SPOILER ALERT! I didn’t look.)
I shuddered, rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, while It Means Butterfly’s stupid seagull alarm clock went off, as I reminded myself that I did not, in fact, want to commit murder before I hit my 19th birthday.
Slowly, It Means Butterfly got dressed and made her way to her 8AM class, while I rolled over, trying to tune out the kissy-face noises she and Dave were making at each other. Finally, she left, and I got up ready to kick the ass of anyone who tried to elbow me in the elevator on the way down to campus.
It wasn’t until I came back in from changing in the bathroom and washing my face that I realized that yes, in fact, there was a dude in my room.
“HI,” he said, as I walked back into my room. “I’m Dave!” He reached out his hand for a shake and I took it, shaking it, shocked by It Means Butterfly’s boyfriend. He was kinda cute. And a metal head. This did simply not compute with everything I knew about It Means Butterfly and her Precious Moments Collection.
“Hi Dave,” I said warily, wondering if this was a trick. “I’m Becky. Nice to meet you.”
I went off to class, only to stop by Pashmina’s room to quickly tell her, “PSST – Check out It Means Butterfly’s boyfriend, dude. He’s not…he’s not gross!”
Pashmina, no friend of It Means Butterfly, as she’d not once, but twice, broken Pashmina’s precious bubble chair, which inducted her squarely into Pashmina’s Archenemy Hall ‘o’ Fame, was still half-asleep but managed to squeak a note of surprise behind me as I left for class.
As all good things do, eventually come to an end, I had to return my dorm room, where It Means Butterfly was sitting squarely on Dave’s lap, all but dry-humping.
Now, I’d just broken up with my long-term boyfriend, and if there’s one thing that people who have freshly broken up with their long-term boyfriends DO NOT need to see, it’s other happy couples cooing and humping each other. Especially if it’s on your desk chair.
I snuggled up in my cloud sheets for the night, wrapped up tight as a tick and listening to something vaguely depressing on my discman, because, well, I WAS MOURNING A BREAKUP and when you’re 18 A BREAKUP IS FOREVER WAH, WAH, WAH, even if your former boyfriend had a small penis, you get to be all emo about it. It’s written somewhere in the 18-year old guidebook.
Breakups = forever lost love (with a small wang) = emo time.
Just as I was falling asleep, I felt the bed begin to…shake a little. The bunk-beds we used were so unsturdy that if you breathed near them, it would set off an hour’s worth of rocking back and forth. This rocking, though, it was…rhythmic and OH MY FUCKING GOOD LORD OF BUTTER THEY WERE HAVING SEX. GROSS GROSS GROSS.
I practically levitated out of bed down the hall into Pashmina’s room where I began spitting out the story, It Means Butterfly trailing behind me, trying to explain herself. I’d been clear: no sex while I was in the room; the room was so small that there was a great likelihood that simply by being near two people humping, I’d get a penis put somewhere I wasn’t expecting.
By chance, a friend, Derek, an RA from floor 4, happened to be in the room hanging with Pashmina and her roommate at the time. “Oh poor Becky!” he said, accent dripping of California. “Come on down and stay on my floor,” he said. “I promise my guys will treat you well.”
I dragged my cloud blanket and tired ass down the stairs and onto the elevator. Finally, ensconced in Derek’s room, after he received several high-fives from his “guys” for having a girl in his room, I snuggled up to eat a peanut butter sandwich with James before we slumbered off into the Land of Nod.
“Night Derek,” I said, after we turned off the lights. “Thanks for letting me stay.”
I laid down on the concrete floor, covered thinly by a thready blue-carpet and tried to go to sleep. Was nearly there when I heard that old familiar squeak-squeak-squeak of the bed. Holy motherfucker, I thought as I sat upright. He’s fucking beating his meat.
I made up some excuse about having to “get back upstairs for something or another,” and made my exit as quickly as I could, leaving a baffled Derek in my wake.
I climbed, once more, back into my bed, before yelling, “You guys start fucking again, Imma make a porno of it.”
They were mysteriously quiet for the rest of the night.
Dear Benjamin Maxwell,
Today you are 11.
The day you were born, August 20, 2001, I remember thinking, as the doctor held you up for inspection, “wow, that baby has a lot of hair – do they have baby toupees?”
(I was, darling boy, in tremendous pain)
That boy, you, I named Benjamin, which means, “son of my right hand.” I’m certain it has a Biblical quality, but I chose that name, Benjamin, because I wanted you, my first born, the great love of my life, to inherit my better qualities; the son of my right side. I wanted so much for your life, which at eight pounds, seemed tiny, but really, it was the beginning of everything.
As I looked at you, that tiny baby in my arms, I wanted you to know love, to feel the love that surrounds you, even as you lay your head on the pillow each night, your eyes full of sleep. I wanted you to grow to hold your head high, to smile at the small things – a faint smile at the way the light catches the dining room window just-so as the sun sets – a distant, fiery, honey-colored orb leaving our side of the world as we get into bed, on its journey to peep through the windows and hark the morning your Australian relatives.
I hoped that you would one day grow to speak to me of your life, to confess your hopes and fears, to let me kick the ass of the first girl that hurt your heart and turn the other cheek when I left a flaming bag of poo on the front porch of the first person that dared give MY SON a black eye. I wanted march to the beat of your own drum – hell, I wanted you to MAKE that beat and make others march to the beat of your drum. I wanted to protect you from the hurts and whirls of life; to give you the very best and more. I wanted all of this and more for you – just as every parent does.
Benjamin: Son of My Right Side; my GOOD side. And so you were. And so you are.
I woke up in the hospital that day, August 20, 2001, as the sun was setting in the sky, the world, for once, quiet, and gingerly, the doctor placed you into my arms. I held you, gazing into your dark eyes for a spell until your doctor, a man who had said five words to me while I was pregnant with you, one of them being, “PUSH!” stood back, looking between you and I and back again. Finally, he remarked, – for the first, but not last time during our stay – a thin smile playing upon his lips as he watched the two of us interact, “Wow, you certainly love that baby.”
I did not, as you might expect of your mother now, pull him close to my face, and say menacingly, “You bet your fucking ass I love that baby. What the hell else would you expect? ‘That baby’ is MY baby and I am going to make him PROUD of me if it kills me.” Instead, I was too enchanted by your tiny feet and long hands, so similar to my own, that I could do nothing more than nod an acknowledgement. I whispered into your year that day, and again, many times over, “I’m going to make you proud.”
I knew I was a youngish mother for this day and age, and I knew that meant I’d be facing an uphill battle to be taken seriously as a mother. But I didn’t care – I had my baby and I was going to do right by him.
In this way, the day you were born, my life changed. You, Son of my Right Side, changed my life by being born.
I don’t mean “you changed my life” the corny way they do in movies, a great montage set to some eye-ball wrenching music, no. I didn’t immediately go and breastfeed baby Alpacas or head up a non-for-profit organization that aimed to reduce the stigmas of mental illness, trauma, rape and other horrors – no, that came later. Well, not the baby Alpacas part.
Life isn’t a Lifetime Original Series or I’d be Tori Spelling in a wig and we’d drive better cars.
No, life doesn’t work that way, Boy of my Right Side – life isn’t about fancy cars or Tori Spelling, or assured happily ever afters. If it were, I wouldn’t be here alone, sitting in my empty house, writing you this letter eleven years after the day you were born. You see things differently than the rest of us.
Life, you see, isn’t black and white, right and wrong, Roe Vs. Wade.
Life is about the beautiful, swirling colors that fall somewhere in between. Life is dragonflies who try to race you in the car, their wings shimmering, glinting in the sun. Life is twirling around in the lush grass, holding hands with your brother, until you get so dizzy you wobble until you fall down, clutching your stomach, laughter spilling out of your mouth. Life is about finding the absurdities in the mundane and finding Your Happy wherever you can.
Life is, as you’re finding out far too early, also about choices.
After you were born, I saw that I had a series of choices ahead of me in order to give my son, you, Son of my Right Side, the life that I wanted for you; for us. I’d been given the tremendous challenge of raising a boy, and I would go on to do my best to give that boy – you, a young man now – the very best. To allow him a childhood in which he could drink from the hose on a hot summer day; to laugh as the water sloshed around inside him, as though his GI tract were a life-sized water balloon. To give him siblings to teach the little things in life. To show them that in the morning, as if to say “hello, world, so wonderful to see you again,” tulips open, stretching their beautiful petals to the sky, and in the evening, they bid us adieu, closing their petals again until the sun, once again, beckoned them awake. To look at the world as a blank slate of possibilities to be filled with lemonade stands and washing the car with dish soap.
To be able to look at your mother, now three times over, and say (even if it’s never aloud), “I’m proud of what she’s done.”
I don’t think I did that. I’d like to think I’ve tried.
I’ve tried, Son of my Right Side, to do right by you, just as I promised that tiny baby I would, but today, as we are separated on the day that I became a mother; the day I became a mother to you, the day the world knew your name, I feel I’ve done you wrong.
I’m so, so sorry. I’d hoped that you’d have had some more time to see life as a series of Good Guys versus Bad Guys. Cops and Robbers. Batman and The Joker. The separation between your mother and the man you’ve known as Dad for as long as you can recall hit you hard – harder than any of us, I think – and I wish more than anything I could explain to you that while things are hard right now – and they are – now isn’t forever.
There will be more good days, more laughter and forgetting, more sunshine and lemonade stands.
I’ve wanted more than anything to continue making memories, memories encapsulated in beautiful bubbles of multicolored glass, so that when I am an old lady and you are an adult, we can sit on a porch and talk about “that time you got to go into a bouncy house and laughed and laughed and laughed as you were tossed to and fro,” or tease your sister, reminding her that you once changed her diapers. Because by then, she will have done more than any of us could’ve imagined. The idea of her in diapers will, by then, be comical. We’d laugh, sitting there on those rocking chairs, creaking back and forth, recalling the days your little brother, who will not be so little any longer, used to roll around with you on the floor, entangled like a couple of puppies.
I hope, son of mine, the one who forever altered my path, that some day, we’ll look back on this, long after our scars have healed, and return to live our lives together. I wish that it had been happily ever after for us all, but this wild card, well, it’s part of what will define our history and take us on new adventures.
Until then, my sweet son, know that I love you more than the moon and the stars and every one of Jupiter’s moons COMBINED.
I’ll be here, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to make new memories together. Because our story, Ben, it’s not over – life is not over, and we’ll both return from this rough patch better for it. Our lives; our stories, they’ve only just begun.
I couldn’t be more proud of the person you are becoming; the baby I once sang “Mockingbird” to as we both tried to relax for the night, forever choking up at the end, hoping that one day, I’d be able to give you all that you wanted.