Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dogs and Mothers

Mother angst has been in the air this week.

My daughter came to KC to visit. The mother of a good friend died. My own mother found out she needs surgery. I read Blackbird and Still Waters by the fabulous Jennifer Lauck. (Highly recommended reading, by the way.)

Good God, even Project Runway was about mothers this week.

Maybe this stuff is always with us and I'm noticing it more because I'm working on a story about my own mothering experience.

Who knows, but here's the story so far. . . .

Wouldn't mind being called a dog if all dogs were this cute.

Dogs and Mothers

When a sour pickle feeling rippled across my shoulders and down my arms, I knew he was there. I could feel him lurking on the far edge of the staircase, just beyond the bleary circle of light cast by the chandelier shrouded by a dirty canvas drop cloth.

Whatever my son was after, I didn’t want to hear it. It was three in the morning and I was exhausted by the emotional battle our lives had become.

Maybe he’d go back to his room if I didn’t acknowledge him. Maybe if I breathed slowly and kept rolling creamy ivory paint onto the dining room ceiling, I’d escape yet another skirmish. Keeping my back to the stairs, I shifted my weight on the ladder and glanced toward the darkened windows.

In their reflection, I could see Evan sprawled out on the stairs, wearing a black Guns and Roses t-shirt and sky-blue flannel boxers covered with penguins decked out in red-and-white ski hats and scarves. His eyes were reflected, too: tiny, venom-filled black pupils surrounded by innocent blue.

Neither of us could sleep. I was passing the time by painting the dining room ceiling. He evidently had decided to entertain himself by torturing me.

“Just keep painting,” I told myself. “Just keep painting.”

A sibilant inhale signaled game on.

“Arf, arf, Mom. You really are a dog,” Evan sneered. “No wonder my dad left you.”

The ugliness in his voice nearly knocked me off my perch. Covered in sheetrock dust and paint, I could hardly argue the point.

I deliberately constructed a neutral look before turning to face him. (First survival rule: Never let an angry 12 year old see you sweat.)

“Evan, if you ever turn the force of your imagination to good, there’ll be no stopping you.” I was proud of how even—almost cheerful—my voice sounded.

“That may be the most inspired bit of meanness I’ve ever heard!”

He upped the ante with a direct shot to the gut: “Well, it’s true. You’re fat and you’re ugly and your hair is awful.”

No denying it: I certainly did not look my best at that moment, whatever my best might have been. Insomnia had once again driven me into the arms of my new obsession—home improvement. I was wearing worn-out sweatpants and a grubby t-shirt and had a red bandana tied around my filthy hair.

Not a good look for me.

Not a good look for anyone.

In the middle of that night, it didn’t matter to me what I looked like. What mattered was keeping busy, doing something productive, out running the panic growing in my gut.

There was, however, no outrunning my son, once the very light of my life and now the bane and pain of my existence. There was nothing about me he did not enthusiastically and constantly criticize. The mere sound of my voice made him angry, and no paint on earth could cover the pain of that. For either or us.

That night I kept my cool remarkably well. When he got tired of poking me with the sharp sticks of his words, Evan drifted off to his room. Sometime slightly before dawn broke, I did the same.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

Heartbreaking. I need to know more about this boy, and his poor mother!

Ziji Wangmo said...

great writing-I want to hear more. I completely understand the need to "do" -we can lose ourselves when we get on task.