I am here because Roy thinks of me as his second mother, or at least this is what his first mother would have me believe. Roy’s mother is hosting this gathering because she’s concerned about his lifestyle choices. I’m not really buying it, but there are refreshments. In this Febreze-smelling house of cushions and track lighting, I am surrounded by old people with kind, judging faces and Roy himself, who looks as though he’s been caught doing something natural that he should be ashamed of, like masturbating or drinking orange juice from the carton.
It’s raining. Roy’s mother is speaking about a time in Marshall’s when she could have stolen a peach colored blouse but didn’t. We all nod steadily, like drinking birds.
To Roy, maybe I will say this: In ten years, you will be in a public restroom with a baby strapped to you in some sort of a device like a bomb or a human shield, and you will be washing your hands very gingerly and your eyes will meet your own in the mirror and you will see yourself the way others see you, as old and young but old enough to know and do better. You will feel tired and relieved. You will understand that you are old enough to stop trying without anyone really thinking anything of it.
Roy is 16, like my kid. Well, not like my kid. They were born in the same year but that’s pretty much where it ends. My kid is home with a kind of video game thing with a headset through which he can be called a motherfucker by people of all ages from all over the world. His dad and I are philosophical on this subject, and I use that word because philosophers are generally verbose without really conveying anything. Everything is a bird, or something. Grown men in Prague are calling our son a motherfucker but maybe something beautiful will come out of it, because why not? Everything is a mystery unless it is in some way knowable, maybe that is what I will tell Roy. And I’ll do a hand gesture. Something like putting out a small fire or releasing a moth from my hands. So it would seem!
Roy is a heavy kid. I say heavy because to be more descriptive would be cruel. Who calls a kid a fat-ass? Who does that outside of one’s bedroom where one has been drinking and attempting to steal Wifi? Roy’s poor life choices include rejecting the Mormon faith and dating. I do not think he is really dating, though. In addition to being heavy, he’s not exactly the George Clooney of 16-year-olds. He’s not even really the Rosemary Clooney of 16-year-olds. Also, this girl he says he’s seeing is named Colette. And, I mean
no. Maybe Jane or Carol, not Colette. So far as I know, no one has ever seen this girl, or spoken to her, so I kind of get this feeling that she does not exist outside of Roy’s fat head. It’s the stuff of Three’s Company or Bugs Bunny. We’ll meet Colette and she’ll be Roy in drag with a high-pitched voice, and then Roy’s mom will call him to dinner and Colette will excuse herself and Roy will enter seconds later, his face and lips still painted up like a big whorey thing of nature, a flower or a seashell. That’s the pattern of relationships I see for this kid: himself, but in different disguises.
The next to speak is his uncle, or some kind of older, grizzled man with suspect facial hair. He may or may not have an accent. The life story he is telling is something about the war, because of course, what else? There’s a crash of some kind, and water, dark water and danger. It’s the story that Quint tells Chief Brody and Hooper in the middle of Jaws, the one about the S.S. Indianapolis. It’s that story. Has no one else seen that movie? I’m looking around but no one will catch my eye. Roy’s face is very rigid and a bit frantic, a mixture of diarrhea and escape.
I am feeling this franticness, in a way. In moments, it will be my turn to talk and I have nothing to tell him about his life, or mine, or anyone’s? From which movie will I steal? The Matrix? What if I told you, Roy, that none of this is real? Are my sunglasses in the car? Were I to sneak out and get them in the middle of this intervention, would everyone else think badly of me?
“I liked that story, Pop-Pop,” says Roy. “I liked the part about the bobbing torso.”
There is a great clearing of throats. It sounds like leaves or fire, or leaves on fire.
Maybe I will say this: There are moments that are so beautiful they make everything else into a kind of pointless soup and this is where most of us live for most of the time, and the beautiful stuff just drags you through to the next beautiful thing. Or that if you are lucky and patient there exists a person, or even people, who will like you no matter what you say or what happens to your face, if you are in a fire or attacked by a moray eel.
What if I told you, Roy, that none of this is real?
There are eyes on me, and silence. Perhaps someone has said my name.
I say, “Is it Wednesday? Is today Wednesday?”
Looks are exchanged, though not with me.
The rain outside is very loud, in a way that makes it seem as though it is not outside at all. It makes a sound like an animal trapped within the walls, its claws like tiny shanks ripping against plaster and wood, like something very nearly here, and getting closer.
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