by Andrea Lena DiMaggio

Each time on my leaving home
I run back to my mother's arms,
one last hold and then it's over

Rush, New York...the present...

“Come on, Lisa. You’ll spoil the boy.” Jay laughed with a shake of the head at the ‘care package’ sitting on the coffee table. Connor was only an hour away, and things were so much easier for college kids than when they were in University. Still, a mother has a supremely-endowed prerogative to indulge an only child.

“It’s just some of his stuff, Jay. I can’t get up there this week with mid-terms to grade and you’re off to East Jabib on some conference again.” She playfully gave a nudge with her body before eying the hallway leading to the bedroom.

“Oh, I know. I guess I just can’t quite get the connection between you two; not that I’m complaining. I’m glad you care for him the way a mother should.” Jay knew all too well how connections between mother and child work, but continually downplayed that loss in a life otherwise fulfilled.

Jay looked off somewhere else in a way; it wasn’t easy trying to forget how much neglect and pain had to be endured with a stern-doesn’t-quite-describe-the-hurt by a father and a mother who died giving birth to her only child, in a manner of speaking, on the fourteenth anniversary of Jay’s birth. Even the word ‘should’ pierced Lisa; feeling for Jay that more-than-lingering anger for a mother whose only sin was to abandon her child by her own death. It skewed everything, but it was all about retracing paths and righting wrongs and resentments every day.

“I know, sweets.” She kissed Jay on the cheek, interrupting a very serious looking train of thought. Not to sympathize, but to bring things back down to earth, so to speak; leaving the dark clouds of resentment and bitterness behind in favor of the blue skies of their own relationship.

“I’m so sorry. I’m such a bad parent,” Jay said, putting cheek nearly to chin in shame. A product arising much from confusion in one way; albeit a very significant if disappointing resemblance to a father’s insecurity. In many ways, Jay was still stuck at fourteen with all-too-tenacious adolescent demons for company; some of whom at least had become ‘risen angels’ in a way. Jay sat down on the couch; feeling entirely discouraged in the midst of what should have been encouragement and acceptance.

“You’re a great parent, honey…. And a terrific…spouse.” She sat down and they held hands.

“And you were a great kid, no matter how things started or even how they finished. A wonderful, loving child who overcame. And I love you!” Lisa leaned over with a soft caress against a tear stained cheek.

“Don’t… Please?” A protest even as she massaged tense neck muscles with a firm hand. No one deserved more love than her spouse and no one pushed it away as much either. She ignored all the protests and resumed her ministrations.

“All of you.” She continued kissing even as tears rolled down; wetting her lips.

“He’s too much like me,” Jay said, looking away in fear and sadness.

“If he’s anything worthwhile, it’s because you are worthwhile…. You are lovely.” Lisa pulled Jay’s face back to her to continue to kiss. Jay had tried, but could not stop crying.

“I love everything about you…. Everything.” She reached into under the robe and touched a heaving chest, evoking memories both good and bad, remembering the waning days of childhood….

Many years previous...Fairport, New York...

Watching me, you know I cry,
you wave a kiss to say goodbye,
Feel the sky fall down upon me!

“Jared? Can you come here, please?” He heard his mother’s voice coming from his bedroom. At once he thought and then abandoned quickly the idea of correcting her grammar; a running banter between them that they both enjoyed. Her voice was weak, and he sighed in worry as he walked down the hallway.

“You know your father will throw a fit, right?” She pointed to an old Sibley’s shopping bag lying on its side on Jared’s bed; the contents spilled out in glorious disarray. The boy’s face grew hot and he rushed to the bedside. He reached to put the contents back in the bag; shame and confusion and fear gripped the boy like a vise until a soft hand touched his cheek.

“I won’t tell. You know you’re safe with me, right?” Her voice expressed the hurt inside; as if by trying to hide himself, he ignored the love his mother had offered every single day of his life. Having one parent nearly intolerant to everything other than his own beliefs will do that to a child.

“I….I’m sorry,’ Jared stammered. Tears began to flow and he went to turn his face but once again his shame was met by the gentle acceptance of a caress to his tear-stained cheek.

“It needs to be said, honey. You have to hide. I won’t…” she choked up at the thought of the inevitable loss the boy would suffer.

“No….You’re going to stay… you can’t go.” At fourteen the boy was still a child inside; cowering and fearful from a stern father and devastated in denial over the fate life held for his mother.

“I don’t want to, my sweet child.” She began to cry, as if her disease was solely her fault. As if by succumbing after a brave battle she was betraying his trust as she had feared. He stared at her almost blankly but for the slight downturn of his mouth. He went from sad to angry in a second.

“No…you can’t. I won’t let you.” He laughed nervously before bursting into tears once again as he clung to his mother. She wanted to disagree but she had no strength for a losing argument, much less for the struggle she continued to wage. And she thought of agreeing with him; as if he indeed did have the power to stop the ravages of the cancer and heal her. She did neither and just hummed an old lullaby.

“Mommy…please…Don’t go…” The boy cried. He pulled away slowly and stared at the clothes lying on his bed. More suited for a daughter than a son, the clothes shouted the words he feared to even whisper but still spoke at last to the only person in the world who would understand.

“My name… I’m….” He stammered again as sobs choked back the word. She finished his sentence; another habit they enjoyed as mother and child.

“Jay…your name is the same it has always been…. Just different,” she said, patting him softly on the cheek.

“It’s so sad that your father will never get to know you,” she shook her head as tears came to her eyes. He knew what she meant even if she didn’t even dare to speak the truth about her only child. And her silence, borne of her own fears after two decades of sad neglect and abuse, consigned their secret to a tomb. Hidden in a dark cold place — buried along with her hopes and dreams for the daughter she only was beginning to know herself.

“Please…Mommy,” a girl’s voice pled; the only time in his mother’s life that she’d hear her daughter speak instead of her son. She stared at Jared and fell into his arms and wept; for her child and for herself. Jared stroked her hair and hummed a long-forgotten lullaby,

“As long as you’re living your baby I’ll be….”

A few weeks later...

All I am,
a child with promises
All I have
are miles full of promises of home.

If only I could stay with you,
my train moves on, you're gone from view,
Now I must wait until it's over.

The boy stood in the middle of the room; surrounded by boxes and bags of clothing. He brushed his hair out of his eyes; maybe his father might not care with all the activity to distract him. Certainly his mother never minded and perhaps indulged her own dreams in her child?

“I thought I told you to clean up all this before lunch,” Jared’s father pointed to the piles of clothes on the bed as if his late wife’s possessions prevented him from moving on. The boy stared at the dress in his hands before dropping it in a box; a hasty recovery made safe by his father’s indifference, he hoped. He stared at the garment; trying as much as possible to give it the reverence he felt it due before it was given away.

“Get this done before I get back or there’ll be hell to pay!” He snapped and walked out of the bedroom. If only hell was that easy; there was always tribute to pay no matter what he did. And deadlines meant nothing since his father’s protracted departures never left the boy knowing if he ever did enough if at all to please his father. The boy reached down and retrieved the dress. No time. He held it against his chest as he recalled just how pretty his mother made the dress look; the reverse of what anyone else might expect.

“And another thing….I want…” His father stopped in mid-sentence, staring at the child before him. If Jared had known his father’s rage before, there had to be another word entirely for what he felt at that moment as his father took two long strides toward him before knocking him to the floor with the back of his hand.

“No!” He glared at Jared. The boy tried to rise to his feet but his father shoved him back down once again. Jared fell against the box, splitting it open with the weight of the impact. His father stared at the contents and at the boy’s face; the look of disappointment in Jared’s eyes were overshadowed by the pure disgust his father’s glare displayed.

“We will not speak of this again.” There seemed to be a finality in his father’s voice, but the relief he felt was short lived as his father pulled his belt from his pants and folded it calmly; a cruel, almost detached look crossed his face as he stood over Jared.

“Never again,” his father said in a monotone before he raised the belt.

“Never again.”

All I am,
a child with promises
All I have
are miles full of promises of home

Years later, Rush, New York...

“Dad? You got a minute?” A timid voice spoke from the doorway to the garage. Jared had just finished changing the oil on the Volvo and was wiping his hands with an old rag.

“Sure. Give me a second to finish cleaning up and we can go inside.”

“Actually…can we talk out here?” He used his eyes to indicate the doorway into the kitchen. Jared nodded at the boy stepped into the garage, closing the door behind him.

“What’s up?” Jared smiled but his expression changed to mirror the frown on his son’s face. The boy stepped closer and shrugged his shoulders slightly in embarrassment.

“You know you can tell me anything, right?” The boy nodded slightly but quickly looked away.

“Can I ask you a question….a personal question?” The boy anticipated his father’s response and quickly added,

“About you?”

“Sure,” Jared said. He hoped his face didn’t reveal any fear, but he was worried about what Conner might ask.

“You and Mom…you’re okay, aren’t you?” Not at all what Jared had anticipated but Conner continued.

“I mean….you talk a lot in whispers lately….like something is wrong and you don’t want me to …to be worried.” They had been talking, but it wasn’t about the boy’s worry…at least not in the way he might have expected. Jay tossed the rag on the workbench and smiled nervously. He and Lisa hadn’t wanted to talk so soon about what was going on, but now that he was anxious.

“I think you and I and your mom should have a talk…okay?” Including Lisa immediately seemed to put the boy’s anxiety to rest, at least from the look of relief on his face. Jared put his hand on Conner’s shoulder and half-smiled; his own nervousness almost betraying the relief they felt just moments before.

“Are you okay, Dad? Please tell me….” The boy’s eyes widened at Jay’s silence.

“I’m okay…we just need to talk with you about something… something you need to know, okay?”

A few minutes later the three sat in the living room. It had gotten cold with the sun so low in the sky, and Lisa had three mugs of coffee sitting on the table in front of the sofa. Jared had pulled the easy chair close so that they could talk without any distance…the subject was going to be difficult enough, and required a physical closeness.

“You know your dad has been going to meetings every week.”

“Yeah…one on Wednesday and one on Sunday night.” Conner seemed anxious all over again, and Lisa touched his knee to ground him. The boy winced only slightly before his shoulders seemed to relax a bit.

“He’s never hidden his problems with drinking, right?” Lisa made no excuse, but the boy needed to remember how accountable his father had been; almost setting up what she was about to discuss.

“He ….Granddad used to beat him…. And he started drinking when he was a kid….right?” The boy wanted to be correct; our inheritance doesn’t always arrive only after a death, and Connor shared the same tendency to insecurity that his Grandfather had given Jared.

“Yes… but that’s…that’s not all, honey?” Lisa rubbed the boy’s shoulder and he leaned closer to her.

“When I was your age…maybe just a bit younger? I realized something about myself. Something that I wondered about all my life but my father couldn’t accept.” Jared put his head down; the shame of every moment of anger his own father had shared seemed to pierce his heart even from beyond the grave.

“You started drinking because he beat you,” the boy repeated the words, but even he anticipated something secret; a shameful past brought to the present to be faced with… The boy looked back and forth between his mother and father and while the mood was almost sober he still could see how much love they shared. Whatever it was his father hid would not harm him. He smiled as if to say, ‘It’s okay, no matter what.’ Lisa nodded and smiled back as tears fell from her face; a pride that she could not contain over the two she held most dear. She reached over and touched Jared’s hand; a go-ahead of sorts. He breathed out and smiled; his nervousness still apparent but hugely abated by his son’s acceptance.

“Your grand mom… my mother. She was about the sweetest person I’ve ever met.” He cringed just a bit, but Lisa nodded. Mother’s can hold that place in a child’s heart and it was perfectly alright with Lisa.

“There was a connection…a connection that most boys don’t share with their mother.” Connor tilted his head in confusion. Jared shrugged his shoulders; a last gasp of breath before plunging into icy waters. Cold but brisk and perhaps even invigorating, Jared’s past finally gained a safe place in his heart as he spoke.

“I wanted…almost from the time I can first remember anything…that I wanted to be like her.” He smiled and breathed out a nervous breath.

“No…that’s not quite what I wanted to say. I wanted to be….“ He bit his lip; the shame that was beaten into him still held some sway. Lisa got up from the sofa and walked to Jared and squatted down next to the chair. She reached over and grabbed his right hand and held it tight.

“It’s alright, honey. We love you.” Her eyes fell upon her son’s face as she beheld what almost looked like an angelic expression. She nodded.

“Yeah, Dad…we love you….it’s okay.” Connor still had no idea what he had just signed on for, so to speak, but he had every confidence in the love the family shared, and that was good enough for him. Jared put his hand to his mouth as if to keep on last time from speaking the truth. Lisa squeezed his hand and spoke.

“You’re safe. Your father cannot hurt you any more unless you let him. You are loved. It’s okay.” She struggled with the final few words as she began to cry in the midst of speaking. Jared looked at her and bit his lip once again; feeling ashamed even of being ashamed. She squeezed his hand once again as if to urge him on.

“I knew when I…. when I was little that I wasn’t like the boys in school. Or even my cousin Danny. I wasn’t…” he paused, shaking his head.

“Dad?” Connor tilted his head and smiled, almost as if the three had been playing a guessing game.

“Did….did you want to be a girl? Is that what your other meeting is for?” It wasn’t quite the wording he would have liked, but it conveyed every bit of insight and understanding that you could ever find in a child. Jared nodded.

“Yes…” There was a sense of timidity that was almost upsetting to Conner. He got up and knelt at Jared’s feet, taking Lisa and Jared’s hands in his.

“Remember that lullaby you used to sing to me…that book we used to read that Grandma gave to you?” It had been years since the book had even seen the light of day; probably packed in with the rest of Connor’s childhood treasures. But the words stuck with him even as they had become a part of Jared’s heart.

“As long as you’re living your baby I’ll be.” Lisa put her hand to her mouth. It wasn’t just a song or a poem any longer, but something almost sacred that spoke volumes between son and father….child and parent. Jared turned away but the boy reached up and touched his cheek, turning his face back again.

“You’re part of who I am…. I love you….. I don’t know just how to love you right now, but every bit of me loves who you are….and maybe that makes what you are just right with me even if I don’t understand, okay? I mean…you’ll always be my Dad, but I guess that’s not completely true, huh?” Connor had begun to cry; a feeling of relief swept over him when he realized that everything might be odd or strange but everything would be just fine.

Days will pass, your words to me,
it seems so long; eternity,
but I must wait until it's over

Fairport, New York...The present...

Two women stood on a slight rise under a Birch tree. The rain had let up, but they still huddled together in a comfortable hug. The shorter of the two kissed the taller one on the cheek and spoke softly.

“I bet you’re just like her. I love you, you, know that?” She smiled and looked up into eyes that had finally grown accustomed to shedding happy and content tears.

“Do you think she knows?” The taller of the two women pointed to the grave marker. Feelings of doubt and even odd shame clung ever so precariously as the woman’s face grew hot and red.

“I think she knows…every bit of who you are and maybe what you would become. And before you even go there, yes she would be very proud of you. Just as I am. Just as your son is.” Lisa looked hastily at her watch.

“Speaking of son, he’s due in at the bus stop with Kara.” An impish look crossed Lisa’s face; that look that says I know something you don’t. She giggled just a wee bit and her grin grew wider.

“ I think they have some news.” Jay gazed at Lisa’s left hand; held out as a cue; nodding and looking one last time at her mother’s grave before smiling contently as they made their way down the cobblestone path.

All I am,
a child with promises
All I have
are miles full of promises of home.

If only I could stay with you,
my train moves on, you're gone from view,
Now I must wait until it's over.

Excerpts from
Love You Forever
a book by Robert Munsch

Words and music by
Eithne Ni Bhraonain, Nicky Ryan
and Roma Shane Ryan
as performed by
Eithne Ni Bhraonain (Enya)

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