The Works of Joyce Bowen


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Roles People Play

She looked out the window at the sun. It hadn’t moved. Funny. It felt as if hours had passed since he called to tell her he needed to grab some of his things. But the position of the sun told her the minutes were crawling by: as they often did during angry, painful times. She finished crying days ago after confiscating his keys.

She had told herself it was because he couldn’t be trusted; it was a truth, but not the only one. She wanted to hurt him; to make him feel the reality of the outside world in all its potential cruelty.

She heard the chiinnk-chink of the gate-latch open and shut and rose to meet her son.

He had been partying most of the nights since he left, with Maryjanedressed in a silken material nestled between his fingers. He caressed her as he inhaled her scent, filling him with peace. Grass tended to do that for just about everyone he knew, but it felt personal to him.

With his girl melting into his side, he felt whole. He wished all his moments could pass this way. But he knew it was superficial – it would pass all too soon. Real life always made an entrance with the rising of the sun. He needed these things though – to fill the void hope had left behind.

Every other downhill stair was met with the expelling of a deep breath. I won’t let my emotions get the better of me, she promised herself. Tendrils of anger wove around her nerve endings. She struggled to stunt them.

She pasted a smile on her face as she opened the door along with her whispered greeting. "Hi, Hon, how are you?"

"Hi,Mom." He struggled with the words, careful to keep them low key.

"How’ve you been? I’ve been worried." You son of a bitch. The words choked in her throat before they made their way into hearing range.

"Fine."I hear you. He ducked his head around the corner before she could read him. He tugged on the rim of his Red Sox cap, bringing it down lower to cover his doe-brown eyes. It was the thing he hated most about her: her intuition.

She could search his face, (which he kept quite blank) and pick out the things he did not want her to see. She figured things out – sometimes a long time after they took place. That Oh and by the way… thing she did when something just sort of hit her over the head. She suffocated him; took his freedom away. He couldn’t twist the truth even a little without her coming back. He relished those times he pulled the wool over her eyes.

"Where have you been staying?"

"None of your business." The words cut out of his mouth, doingsomething he was not sure he intended.

Her eyes winced, then hardened as she recognized the intent. "You staying with those people? Those people you begged me to get out of our lives."

A bitter flavor burped its way into the back of her throat as her stomach churned. She had grabbed at the words before they came out and failed. Her eyes closed, and she brought herself back to his little days when she would wake him for school, slipping in beside him and drawing him into the crook of her body where he fit perfectly.

She tried to bring his contented face into her mind; to remember why she was here… Because I am his mother, and nothing he does should hurt me. If it does, I will fail him. She pulled back into herself, lowering her head, breathing slow and deep.

"I’ll be right back, Sweetie." She turned her back on him and made her way to her room.

She settled on her bed, looking back at scenes from her own adolescent turmoil. She remembered all the feelings surrounding the first moments of realization that she could no longer stand living with her family— when they could no longer stand living with her.

Memories flipped by, like watching a movie only she had the starring role. It had not been pleasant, but there were things that had been good for her. She had taken longer to grow, but it had happened. When her nerves had quieted, she drew up her mantle of motherhood and went downstairs.

He knew any barbs he threw were unnecessary, but they felt good. Still, there was a twinge of guilt in it for him. He was, after all, eighteen: an adult. If she would not treat him like one, he would go somewhere where they would. He should be able to go where he wanted; do what he wanted; stay out as long as he wanted. He held still his secret wish for the safety of his life in this place.

He hated his fears, his insecurities. They disgusted him. Everyone was telling him it was time to cut those apron strings – to get away from Mommy. Maybe they were right. But for the moment, he would play the role – be her son until he could find his things and make a getaway. He heard her coming down the stairs.

She hoped her face had softened for both their sakes. Her hand found the door jam high over her head, and she inched her face along the skin on her arm until he came into view. "Did you find the things you needed?"

"I was looking for the receipt for that ring I bought for Trisha. It isn’t here. I need that money."

"To buy more dope?" The question his mother posed was laced with concern rather than anger.

"I just need it. The stone fell out, and I need to return it."

"Are you going to buy her another one?"

"No. I need the money to eat. I’m going to quit school tomorrow. I start full time for Uncle Charlie the day after that. I’m going to get a room over >Scal’s next week. It has everything I need, but the bath is down the hall." He was talking too fast.

She drew her mantle around further, tighter. She wanted to be careful not to weave her dreams through those things she knew he needed to do for himself. "Sweetie—you have six more weeks to go. Why are you quitting now? It’s crazy. Just get through it."

"I have to get a place to live and a car. Once I have those things, I can go back next fall and finish out the six months I need for my diploma."

He turned and looked her full in the face for the first time since he arrived. He knew she saw the fear spark in his eyes, and that the boy-man in front of her wasn’t sure about much at all. Her heart went out to him. He saw it coming and did a testosterone puffing of his chest to ward it off. She melted a bit more; tears gathered in her eyes. He firmed up his gaze, helping her to do the same.

Mentally, she grasped the corner of her mantle, and let it slip to the floor.

"You need to make your own decisions now, Nate." She saw a flicker of fear move through him again. "You know, guy, when I moved into my first apartment there were so many good things about it…"

For the first time the two came together as adults – and as friends.

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Last revised: Septmeber 30, 2001.
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