Feels like I came alive just yesterday,
feels like I'm always gonna feel this way,
hearts have been set in motion,
worlds have been turned around,
when you've been lost you know when you've been found

by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
for Jenn with hope

AMC Theater, Webster, New York, 1986...

The boy sat in his seat as the theater emptied; loud and boisterous mixed with semi-hushed impromptu reviews that almost drowned out the closing music as the credits rolled past. He found himself humming the tune, wanting even more to figure out the lyrics as the throng made its way out. Nearly sixteen; he realized that even innocuous movies can sometimes throw a wrench in the cogs of your understanding about yourself. He sighed and stood up; alone again in a crowded theater; he was likely the only one crying at the screening of a very funny comedy...

The Armstrong home, a few hours later...

“Take the trash out, Neil?” His mother’s voice called from the living room.

“Already got it, Mom.”

He walked down the hall and stopped at the bathroom. Gazing in the mirror, he sighed. He had never liked the way he looked, but after seeing the movie he was even more discouraged; believing that he’d likely never resemble anything like the character in the movie. Even thinking that sent him in a funk and he walked slowly to his room. He fell face-first into bed; more discouraged than exhausted even if it had been a fairly long day. A moment later he heard a soft rap on the door frame.

“How was the movie, honey? Lisa’s mom told me it’s supposed to be very funny. And it’s got that robot…” She noticed he had barely moved. Walking over, she sat down on the bed next to him, rubbing his back.

“Let me in, Neil,” she said softly. He turned his head in her direction and she saw he’d been crying.

“Honey…I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.” While she was a good problem solver; most science teachers are; she wanted more to understand what her son was feeling. Never the one to talk about emotion; her late husband was the passionate one in the relationship while she was more analytical. Being a parent for both halves of the equation thrust her into acting like a Mom instead of a teacher even if it was a few years late. She patted his back and repeated,

“Neil? Please let me in.” He sat up and pulled her close.

“I…don’t fit, Mom. It’s like there’s this equation that’s supposed to work out somehow, but I don’t feel complete; like I’m coming apart,” he sighed; missing the irony of his connection with the movie. He looked around at his room. The walls were fairly bare except for a poster from N.A.S.A.; a souvenir autographed by his namesake. The room would have been better suited for a scientist than a fifteen-year old boy who loved animals but had no pets. A boy who loved to paint but had no art supplies. And the other thing; the hurt that was oddly emphasized by a movie intended to amuse.

“I know, Neil. I’m sorry.” Mothers often say I’m sorry for things they didn’t do. And they say ‘I know’ as a way of identifying with a child even when they don’t have a clue. Neil was convinced he had a Mom just like that. But Sharon surprised him.

“I know what’s bothering you. I’m sorry it hurts so much, honey.” He stared at her and she smiled.

“What hurts, Mom?” He practically snapped at her; not meaning to be angry, his tone was misplaced. She looked past the moment and smiled again.

“You….” She blinked back some tears; she didn’t want it to be about her, but it was entirely about her in regard to her child,

“Tommy’s mom told me you’ve been talking…oh don’t worry…she didn’t say what about….just that you seemed sad.” Sharon looked away, feeling like a failure. But failures don’t try to change; do they?

“I’ve noticed things are a bit different…disturbed.” If Sharon was good about anything, it was order and discipline. She looked off through the doorway, as if she was walking across the hall to her room.

“I…” Neil went to speak but there just wasn’t any heart in him at that moment. No accusations. No anger. Just the word ‘disturbed’ and he knew exactly what his mother meant, He put his head down and began to sob.

“Honey? Just one question? Is this what you want or what you need?” She looked away, hoping she hadn’t put him off. Mother to son conversations in the home usually consisted of reviews for homework and even what to write in an essay for an early-start application for college. But this was different; a new language almost. She used her hand in a broad gesture to indicate her room once again.


“Honey….that’s not what I’m looking for.” She shook her head but her smile indicated she was more frustrated with how she was understood even as he misread disappointment in her words.

“I want to know what you need, Neil. Not what I think you need. Not what you think I want. What’s going on and how can I help?” The boy always knew she cared, but in that moment he realized that it was more than just being his mother, but in being the one person in the world who truly wanted the best for him; no matter what that ‘best’ might be.

“You’ll think I’m crazy….” He barely got the words out when Sharon shook her head; once again not in disapproval but in wanting him to know he wasn’t at all crazy.

“Go ahead, honey. It’s okay.”

“She….I saw her, Mom….the movie.” His words were clear but his thoughts were stammering in a way. She tilted her head, wanting to know. A comedy evoking this much emotion from a boy who barely complained. And what did that have to do with his foray into her bedroom?

“Easy, honey. You saw who?”

“The girl in the movie. She’s ….she loves animals.”

“Animals…okay. You like the girl because she likes animals?”

“Yes…no….yes I do like her….but that’s not it, Mom….” He began to cry again. Sharon was getting frustrated; certainly she felt ill-equipped and even short with him, but it was just because she was disappointed that she didn’t ‘get’ her son.

“What is it then?” The tone was more abrupt than she wanted, but at that point he was already upset with himself. He shook his head; feeling more out of place and ill-fit for anyone’s world, much less the ordered world of his mother. She grabbed his chin; not as gently as she had hoped, but still a mom-to-son touch,

“Neil…I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to be impatient with you. At this point I’m more impatient with myself for not understanding sooner. What does the girl in the movie mean to you?”

“Promise you won’t be angry…..” He put his head down; expecting the very thing he hoped against. She touched his cheek; probably the gentlest gesture between her and him since he was a baby. It totally disarmed his fears and he looked into her eyes with expectation.

“I want to be just like her…just like her, Mom.” Sharon heard the words and somehow, from somewhere deep inside, she knew that meant more than just a character in a movie. More than just a love of animals. She looked back through the open doorway to her room and saw the almost imperceptible out-of-place edge to her dresser drawer. It wasn’t about animals…only. And it wasn’t about her clothes…only. She turned back to see his face; tears continued to stream down his cheeks as his eyes pled for understanding. She nodded and smiled.

“I guess we should have a talk, okay?” The words seemed almost nondescript but for the smile on her face and the tears in her eyes. He looked at her and tilted his head much in the same manner as she had only moments before; questions that begged even more questions than answers between the two. She grabbed his hands in hers and squeezed.

“The first thing I have to ask, honey? What should I call you?”


“Well, I can’t very well call my daughter Neil, can I?” She smiled. Not a bad start for a new relationship; scientist-mother to child? A smile back along with a nod. An odd couple reassembled by necessity through understanding and love.


Easy to hide and live your life apart,
easy to find new ways to kill the heart,
now goin' through some changes,
laughter's one of those things,
now I can dance in sunshine or in rain.

Come and follow me,
to wherever the light breaks through,
come and follow me,
and you’re gonna be dancin' too,
in your eyes I see,
you’re alive as me,
so whenever I'm lost than I can follow you.

Come And Follow Me
(Number 5's Theme from Short Circuit)
Written by David Shire, Will Jennings and Max Carl
Performed by Max Carl and Marcy Levy

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