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A million thanks to my editor, MissMLane, who showed infinite patience in going through this story time and time again and helped make it better.
This is for J.
I snapped. That wasn’t something I did often, and I knew I shouldn’t have. But I snapped. When you look back on your life, it’s not difficult to identify its ‘defining moments’ — but at that time, I had no idea where that would eventually lead me. It’s easy to see some cosmic design in the way things seem to unfold from such an insignificant starting point, but I’m not so sure that’s the case in my story. I snapped that day, but the seeds had been planted well before — there’s no denying it. I snapped that day, but it wasn’t the kind of ‘defining moment’ that is the stuff of movies. I guess it did set things in motion, but then again, there could have been a thousand other ways for that to happen. But still, in my mind, this is the way that story began. I snapped.
“Mom, I’ve had enough!”
She looked up at me, her eyes half-closed, her hair in disarray. She was lounging on the sofa in front of some stupid reality TV show. She was wearing sweatpants and a wrinkled shirt with a large ketchup stain on one of the sleeves, and I was pretty sure she had not taken a shower today yet.
I continued. “You’re a slob. Look at you, it’s already three in the afternoon and what have you done today? Absolutely nothing!”
She slumped down again, and mumbled. “Leave me alone, Chris. ‘S my day off.”
“I don’t care if it’s your day off, Mom. You’ve been like this the whole week, and the week before. If you carry on this way, you’re going to get fired, and for what? Because of fucking Carl, who was treating you like shit and was cheating on his wife in the first place?”
She shook her head, like a child. “Go away, I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Then don’t talk about it. But for God’s sake, fucking DO something about it. You’ve got to snap out of it, Mom, and fast.”
“You cannot talk to me like that, Chris — I’m your mother!”
“Then behave like you are. Did you take a good look at yourself? You’re a slob, Mom. A slob!”
She started to cry. “But you don’t understand…”
“What I understand, is that there’s a time to grieve, and then there’s a time to move on. So get off your ass, and go put on some clothes. I’m taking you shopping.”
She pouted. “I don’t wanna go shopping.”
I looked at her, and my eyes were as cold and unflinching as my tone was. “I wasn’t giving you a choice, Mom. Get. Off. Your. Fat. Ass.”
She turned to me, hurt — but her resolve didn’t last long. She lowered her head, stood up and walked to her room.
I remained alone in the living room, feeling guilty. I wasn’t proud having used the “fat” card — I knew Mom had body issues, and that she tended to put on weight as some sort of defense mechanism. I didn’t know the particular details of it, and that had never been a subject we had discussed, but it was certainly something very personal and painful to her. Honestly, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with her body. She had a beautiful face with the smile of an angel (though smiles were scarce recently), and while she certainly was a larger woman, it was more through an abundance of curves rather than fat tissue. She could look stunning, I thought, if only she made a little effort — and recently, she hadn’t been making any.
I switched off the TV set and straightened things up in the living room, bringing empty cans and a still half-full bowl of chips to the kitchen. It was strange to be cleaning up after my mother — this was a role reversal I certainly hadn’t been expecting. But then again, I hadn’t been expecting to be back home, and what had been at first a temporary arrangement had somehow settled into something more permanent. Six months before, I had gone through a bad break-up with my girlfriend Tara, and all of a sudden I was in need of a place to stay, at least to finish the last year of my Master’s degree. I had been in a pinch, and even if the prospect didn’t really thrill me, I had ended up moving back with Mom. I supposed she welcomed the company, especially since Dad had gotten re-married and moved to the other side of the country. I guess my becoming an adult and his starting another family had changed things a bit, and he didn’t feel he needed to make his monthly visits any more.
It was strange at first to be back in my old room, but that feeling didn’t last. I had thrown out the old posters, cleaned things up, and had high-speed Internet installed. And so far, I had managed to keep the ‘grown-up guy living with his mom’ aspect of things to an acceptable minimum, and the dynamic between us had been more that of roommates than mother and son, which made this situation all the more uncomfortable for me: she needed someone to help her, babysit her, even, and I was the only one around. I sighed.
When she came down the stairs, she looked better. She had changed into an unflattering white blouse and shabby jeans, but her demeanor was at least showing some sort of resolution. The fact that her glower was aimed towards illegal bahis me didn’t bother me at all. Today had been the proverbial straw on the camel’s back, and I didn’t care about what she thought. She needed help, and she was going to get help, whether she liked it or not. We took my car and we drove to the closest mall. A heavy silence hung between us, and I had (again) that strange impression of role reversal — as if I had to deal with a sulking teenager.
Things changed a little when we got to the stores. Some part of Mom was obviously interested, but I still had to urge her to get her to try on some clothes. She resisted at first, going through a whole array of reasons to stop right now and get back home: she didn’t need new clothes, she didn’t like the clothes I was showing her, she was old enough to choose her own clothes, we couldn’t afford it anyway… But I remained firm, and after nearly two hours, I was rather satisfied with what we had ended up with. I had managed to keep Mom away from the shapeless things she had been favoring over the past months, and had convinced her to get a few more figure-hugging outfits — including some underwear that didn’t look like it belonged to my grandmother.
Mom was a little more animated on the way home. I guess she had enjoyed my spending time with her, and even if she was still mumbling about the things I had her buy, I think she rather liked the change. In fact, when we got home, she went upstairs to change into one of the more casual outfits we had just bought: gray V-neck t-shirt and black slacks. She even had put on a little make-up, and she looked nothing like the slob I had to awaken from the couch earlier. I told her she looked good and was rewarded with a timid smile. There was hope.
I woke up early on Sunday morning. I’ve never been able to sleep late, to be honest, so that wasn’t a strange occurrence to me. I like mornings, and more than that, I like the feeling of being productive in the morning. For me, there’s nothing better than seeing 10:00 on the clock and having accomplished plenty of things already. That wasn’t the case for Mom, and things had only worsened since her break-up with Carl. I’m no psychologist, but I can easily imagine what one would say: reluctance to face the world, regressive yearning for a safe place, that kind of stuff. But as I was having breakfast in our kitchen downstairs, I looked around and decided that would have to change.
Following our little shopping stint, things had been more or less okay until dinner. After that, Mom had eventually taken her usual place before the TV. She was still there when I had decided to go to bed, a little before midnight. She had barely mumbled something in response to my “good night, Mom”, and I wouldn’t have been too surprised if I had found her in the same place in the morning. She had obviously crawled up to her room at some point, but that wasn’t providing me with much comfort. Things had to change.
I started by cleaning up downstairs. I opened the curtains and let some fresh air into the stuffy living room. I shook the sofa cushions, put the trash in a large garbage bag, and used a broom to gather all the accumulated dust and crumbs that had fallen under the coffee table. I organized the DVDs, piled up the magazines, and found a couple of empty glasses in dire need of cleaning. I spent close to an hour there before moving to the kitchen, where things were a little better — after all, on most evenings, the kitchen didn’t see much action anyway. And when the clock got to a quarter to ten, I had worked up a bit of a sweat, but things were definitely looking better. I went upstairs and decided to take a shower before waking Mom up. I thought we’d try and clean her room then, and that we’d head out for brunch afterwards. I didn’t know what we’d do in the afternoon, but I was intent on making sure Mom wouldn’t slip back into her old habits, even if that meant I’d have to yell at her again.
I took a long shower, and it was ten on the dot when I knocked at her door, a towel wrapped around my waist. “Mom? Wake up, Mom.” I insisted, until I was rewarded by something of a grunt coming from inside. “Mom? Wake up, it’s time to get up.” Another grunt which sounded like an approximation of “leave me alone”, and I insisted again, knocking repeatedly and calling her. I eventually heard some shuffling on the floor, and then the door opened and my mother, hiding her puffy eyes from the light, squinted at me.
“Mom, it’s ten, go take a shower, we’ve got a lot to do today.”
She shook her head and turned back to her room, but I stopped her with a firm hand on her shoulder.
“No Mom, you don’t go back to bed. It’s ten, and you’re going to take a shower, and then you’re going to help me clean out your room.”
“I don’t care, leave me alone, I’m tired,” she mumbled. I repeated the same sentence, patiently, as if talking to a child. She resisted again, shaking her head. “Let me sleep, it’s too early.”
I felt again the familiar anger raising inside of me, the muscles in my jaw tightening. My tone was no more patient and kind, but firm and steely: illegal bahis siteleri “Mom, I don’t care. You’re going to take a shower now, you stop talking back and just do what you’re told. I won’t tell you again.”
Chastised, she nodded, and headed to the bathroom. I followed her with my eyes, and sighed. I went in her room and opened the windows wide, letting the sunshine and fresh air in. Then I headed back to mine and got dressed.
Cleaning her room, we didn’t talk much. Mom wasn’t in the mood, and she obviously resented me for having woken her up. But she wasn’t protesting as she had been the previous day, which was an improvement. In fact, she was dutifully following my suggestions, and coming to me when she had finished what I had told her to do. It felt a little strange, especially since it had to do with very domestic chores. In the past, my taking the lead was usually limited to technological stuff, like explaining to her how to transfer pictures from her digital camera to her computer, or where to plug in the HDMI cable on the back of the TV.
I kept observing Mom from the corner of my eye. She still looked tired, but the shower had done her good. And I guess that deep down, it was important for her that I cared. I wondered for a moment if she wasn’t acting like some of those kids who break something on purpose to draw attention to themselves — even if that meant getting scolded. I was only hoping I wouldn’t have to yell at her again to make her understand I cared. All in all, we made good progress, and even managed to make an attempt at cleaning the bathroom.
“Okay, Mom, good work. Now go freshen up a little, and we’ll go out for brunch.”
She seemed hesitant. “I’m ready…”
I shook my head. “Come on, Mom, you’re not going out in those sweat pants. Go put on something nice, like one of the outfits we got you yesterday. Consider it a date, okay? You’ve got to make an impression on me, or there won’t be a second one…”
Mom shrugged and nodded eventually.
I changed into clean clothes myself, and grabbed a light jacket to go on top of my t-shirt. I went downstairs to put on my shoes and take my car out of the garage and park it in front of the house. I was waiting in the entrance when Mom walked down the stairs. She had followed my advice, and she looked good. There was still room for improvement, but I’d say she had regained some of her femininity. I complimented her and I was rewarded with a timid smile. I realized how long it had been since I had seen my mother smile, and I felt a wave of sadness coming over me. How could she have become so broken? What had that asshole Carl done to leave her in such a sorry state? There was now no doubt in my mind as I resolved to help her, whatever it might take. I offered her my arm and led her to the car.
During our brunch, I was glad to see a few glimpses of the mother I remembered. I insisted on playing it out like it was an actual date, and that pretense managed to bring more than a smile to her lips. She seemed somewhat more relaxed, even if it was obvious her emotional state was very much fragile. The smiles never really lingered on. Around the end of our meal, I had to excuse myself for a quick trip to the bathroom, and when I got back Mom’s shoulders were slumped and she looked as if she were about to cry.
“Hey, Mom — sorry I was a little long. What do you think of the place?”
She shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”
“There were some good reviews on the Internet, and… I rather like it. Maybe we’ll come back for a second date, what do you think?”
“Sure”, she replied, her eyes far and distant.
“Hm, I was hoping for more enthusiasm. I mean, Mom, we’re talking about something serious here.”
She looked at me, a bit confused. “What?”
“Our second date. But you’re going to have to put some effort in it, you know? Because otherwise, there’s no way you’re going to be able to get your hands on a hot stud like me.” I winked at her, and was rewarded with a smile. “So?” I asked, playfully pressing.
“Okay, baby. I’ll see what I can do…”
“Good. I won’t settle for average, remember… that’s what they say in all the good dating guides, I’m told.”
She nodded and smiled again. “Duly noted.”
I continued: “I don’t remember what they say about splitting the check, so I’ll get it. I’m old-fashioned that way.” I winked again, motioning for the waitress.
I carried on the little “Prince Charming” routine, and when we rose from the table and I offered Mom my arm to lead her out of the restaurant, there was a little spring in her step, and something of a twinkle in her eye. At this point, any improvement was welcome.
When we got back home, I let Mom go about her day. I felt that it was better to go one step at a time, and not be too hasty in trying to get results. I noticed she changed into comfortable clothes, and I worried she’d take her usual spot in front of the TV, but she surprised me by going outside and starting to work on her long-neglected garden. I had never been much of a gardener myself, apart from mowing lawns, and with Mom’s canlı bahis siteleri mood those past weeks, it really looked like a jungle. I suppose it was a good sign she’d finally decide to do something about it.
I went up to my room. I had a number of things to prepare for the next day, as we were closing in on the final stages of my master’s program. I had a last major assignment to turn in, in the form of a lengthy and detailed report, and I knew I was going to be busy over the coming months. I started working, and the next time I looked at the clock, most of the afternoon had gone. I stretched out and cleared my desk. There would be plenty more to do, and there was no point given the long hours I’d already put in. I decided to relax and cook something for the both of us.
Cooking has always been special to me. As I said, I’ve never been much of a gardener, and I am terrible with tools. But when it comes to cooking, for some reason, I’m in my element. Oh, I wouldn’t claim I’m Top Chef material or anything, but I try my hand at a variety of things, and I enjoy sharing the product of my experiments. And in general, people seem to like what I cook. Or maybe they are only being very polite, which is also a possibility. Anyways, I had decided I’d prepare something for the both of us, and I headed down to the kitchen.
When I was nearly done, I called out to Mom and told her dinner was soon to be ready. She came back in, covered in sweat and grime, and went upstairs for a quick shower. A few minutes later, she was back. I looked up at her, and frowned.
“Mom, what is that?”
She seemed puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“You go change right away. There’s no way I’m going to let you eat what I’ve prepared wearing that.”
She looked down at her clothes — a shapeless t-shirt and some baggy sweatpants. “What’s wrong with these?”
I shook my head. “What’s wrong? Come on, this looks like it was cut from an old potato sack, and designed for someone who’s fifty going on eighty.” I felt that maybe I was being too harsh, so I decided to lighten the mood a little. “Hey, Mom, just because I’m not gay doesn’t mean I have no fashion sense whatsoever.” I stepped closer and grabbed her arms, making her look up at me. “If you want to get a second date with me, you should make sure that now, every evening is something special.” I winked, and I saw her relax. She sighed, and turned her head, looking down.
“Okay, baby — give me a minute, and I’ll change into something a little more… special.”
“You do that, Mom,” I smiled.
She climbed the stairs, and five minutes later she was back, looking much better. She had on a nice top in a flowing material, and a long skirt closed with a large safety pin in the front. I nodded appreciatively, and with flourish, I welcomed her to the table. She did a little curtsy, and took her place. We started eating and chatting. It seemed as if my outburst had never happened — there was no tension between us, and Mom was showing again a spark that made her — well, her. There wasn’t so much of the playacting of our ‘date’ at brunch, it was just a nice evening between mother and son, and I was grateful for it. We even spent a moment together watching the news afterwards, discussing this and that, before I had to go prepare for a new week of studying. I wished her good night, and left her in front of the TV.
I guess the following day turned out okay. That morning, I made it a point to check Mom’s outfit before she left the house, and had her go change into a more fitting blouse than the one she had chosen in the first place. There were a lot of things that she had to sort out by herself, I assumed, but I felt this was something I could try and help her with. She didn’t seem to mind — in fact, I had the impression she was enjoying, in a strange way, the attention I showed her. Following her breakup with Carl, I guess her insecurities had come back full blast, and any kind of reassurance was good for her. But then again, maybe this feeble attempt at some armchair psychology analysis was just a load of crap — I don’t know. The thing is — Mom was improving, somewhat, and I was glad for it.
In the evening, things turned out a little more tense. I had prepared a quick meal for us, nothing fancy but just enough to make it a little special. I knew a few easy recipes that did just that, and I felt it was the right time to put them to good use. Mom got from work as I was putting on the finishing touches, and she went upstairs to change into something more comfortable. When she came back, she was wearing an old t-shirt and a large robe that made her sweatpants look positively trendy. I saw red.
“Mom, did you look at yourself in the mirror?” She shrugged, and that just irritated me more. “Come with me,” I said, grabbing her by the arm and taking her to her room. “We’ve got some cleaning up to do.” I opened her drawers and started to take things out, showing them to her. “I don’t want to see those shabby pants anymore. Same for these t-shirts that maybe looked good a decade ago. Understand?” I threw them on the floor, and proceeded with the next item of clothing to fall under my gaze. Mom was sulking, arms crossed before her, but she didn’t meet my eye and certainly didn’t move to stop me. I was in a frenzy. “See these, Mom? These are granny panties, and these are GONE, you hear me?”
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