Jay Artale discovers that in trying to support his mother he just might save herself
You are always trying to keep it real
I'm in love with how you feel
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
Ridgewood High School, Ridgewood, New Jersey….
“Hey!” The girl turned around at the voice,
“What a fucking idiot.” The boy pointed at the girl’s stomach. She glanced down at the child she was carrying and sighed heavily. She was already under the scrutiny of the ignorant elite at her school, but this latest assault was not only rude, but threatening. He stepped closer and spun her around; throwing her to the ground..
“Ooops,” he chortled as his entourage of ignorami joined in the chorus of cruel laughter. She rolled over and glanced at her stomach again; the ‘sympathy’ belly had been flattened somewhat and shoved sideways against her hip.
“Leave the kid alone,” another voice came from off to her side. The bully went to respond but found himself face-to-face with a tall boy wearing a Ridgewood Lacrosse windbreaker and a mean glare.
“Leave him alone.” Danny pointed to the prostrate figure, his brother Jay. The boy wiped the mixture of dirt and tears from his face and sat up, accepting a proffered hand from him.
“Why the fuck do you do this. I just don’t get you, Jay/”
“I.. I didn’t know you were supposed to get me, Dee.” He stood up and started to walk away.
“Make sure you take that shit off before you get home. Daddy is pissed off as it is.”
“Don’t worry, Dee. I wouldn’t dream of disappointing him… oh wait. I already do.” Jay shrugged his shoulders and returned to his afternoon oblations with another wipe of his face with his blouse sleeve. He didn’t hear his brother’s last words.
“Well…you are a disappointment.” It really would have mattered little because apart from his mother, Jay felt like he disappointed everyone on the planet.
The family gathered around the dinner table; a truncated and disjointed version of some Norman Rockwell painting. Jay sat quietly while hoping his approximation of a hero caught his father's attention. Senior instead got right down to business; an odd but accurate description of his interaction with his wife and sons.
“You go to the doctor?” Senior practically snapped at his wife. She looked down at the life nestled inside her and sighed.
“That…That’s tomorrow. I was hoping you could come… she’s scheduled an ultrasound.” Her posture displayed her frustration.
“I can’t” He snapped. He had time tomorrow, but he had plans. He always had plans.
“I can go with you, Mom.” Jay glared at his father. Laurie put her hand up in caution. Just being positive in the midst of his father’s indifference always risked an argument. He didn’t disappoint.
“You won’t.” He went to rise, as if Jay’s offer to support his mother was a declaration of some moral war. Senior eased back down in his chair and changed the subject.
“You hear from Colgate yet?” Danny cringed. No news was always bad news in the Artale house.
“Nothing in the mail, Dan,” Laurie spoke. He shot a look at her that said ‘I was talking to my son.”
“See what happens when you wait to send in the application? Didn’t I tell you? Why doesn’t anyone listen to me?”
“I…” Jay paused for effect, an inward cringe already growing even as his face betrayed nothing. He raised his hand like a kid in class.
“I looked into going to hell like you suggested last night, but all the flights are booked.” Jay smiled even as Senior hit him in the face with the back of his hand, knocking him onto the floor.
‘Dan. Please?” At one point in time Senior might have hit her just for the plea, but she was carrying his child. He pushed away from the table and stood up, pointing to Jay.
“And take off that…” He got a bit flustered at the sight of number two son wearing one of his mother’s maternity dresses over his jeans.
“Or what? You gonna hit me? Oh gosh what will I ever do?” His voice was almost a falsetto sing-song.
“You just wait…” Senior’s bravado began to fade as Jay’s defiance subsided. The child was never given to displays of emotion, but Jay had glanced up at Laurie. Her face was a mixture of fear and sadness; the anger had long buried itself in her hopes to navigate through Senior’s increasing abuse. Jay stood up, his fists balled in frustration.
“You can do anything you want to me, Dad. But…” He turned and faced Laurie.
“Leave her alone.” Jay fought off crying since tears had to be a sign of surrender to his father.
Senior looked back and forth between Dan and Jay and Laurie before offering something akin to a growl.
“I’m going out.” A frequent delving into the art of foregone conclusions since dinner usually resulted in Senior getting disappointed over some frustration or even worse, an unfulfilled if never-expressed demand. And that in turn nearly always resulted in him storming out. He stopped at the front door and turned. His eyes flashed with disdain.
“Call up the admissions office,” he pointed at Dan, his calm demeanor completely ramming oddly against the angry display only moments before. It would have been enough, but he took it further as he turned to Laurie.
“Call me at work tomorrow. I want to know what your doctor has to say.” He turned abruptly and walked out. Dan looked at his Mom, wondering what was so urgent. Jay walked to Laurie and stopped to readjust the sympathy belly to approximate again a kinship with her. He kissed her on the cheek and she fell into his arms, weeping. Jay turned and faced his brother, hoping to convey some truth in the moment.
“What?” Dan raised his hands just a bit, pleading to understand. Jay shook his head as his own tears spilled onto his mother’s sleeve. He mouthed the reply, knowing that even speaking out loud might fulfill his father’s expectations.
“She…: Even silently his words were halting at the rawness of what he had to say.
“She’s having trouble. He wants her….” He shook his head as his own sobbing took over. For the first time in ages Dan recalled just how things actually were. His hopes for escape to college had fueled his denial for what life had in store for his mother and brother. He mouthed back.
“To..to lose..the baby?” He shook only somewhat as Jay nodded. Dan put his hand to his mouth but failed to stifle his response.
“Oh fuck no….”
The next morning…
"Hmmm." Jay began to sing to himself, trying to sound like Ellen Page in a movie his mother and he enjoyed.
"Juno? Nah.. Hair's too red and long. Maybe I can learn to play the guitar? We both have shiny happy fits of rage...
I want more fans, you want more stage... I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else but you..."
He walked to his dresser. He had decided to ‘up the ante’ in the one-person solidarity movement he had established. Instead of wearing a maternity outfit over his clothes, he had grabbed a pair of black stretch pants and a magenta iridescent maternity top. And the accompanying stuff underneath. He didn't think much of that last detail for the present moment. His longish hair was pulled back in a pony tail.
“Should I?” He tilted his head at the reflection in the mirror over the dresser. As he picked up the eye shadow he felt an urging. Something was trying to emerge that he had not so much denied as instead postponed in the midst of his family’s daily chaos. As he applied the shadow something…someone inside spoke softly in his head.
“I want to help, too.”
An odd thought that he immediately dismissed. He grabbed some lip gloss from the dresser. As he finished applying the makeup the voice spoke again. Not quite the falsetto he used to tease everyone, this voice was soft and almost demure and somewhat familiar. Like the voices that are oh so close but just different enough to be themselves in families, Jay heard the voice in his head and realized he sounded almost like his mother.
"Please?" The voice pled softly, a patient understanding request instead of an urgent demand.
He shuddered as long-buried feelings brought guilt and regret to the surface. The clothes weren't the thing, but a strong if very sad reminder of what the thing actually was.
“I…I’m so sorry,” his own voice replied, sounding more than just somewhat like the voice in his head. The voice…the girl inside was more forgiving than Jay could be to himself.
“I know…It’s okay,” the voice felt just like the sister he never had and he sighed. Not the sister he never had, but the sister Jay had felt he was since kindergarten. Trucks and action figures never lost their appeal, but the nurturing Jay who cried when the teacher took the baby doll away seemed to feel almost urgently in the moment.
He looked down at the ‘baby’ he bore beneath the clothing and began to cry. Jay came back… The need to be in solidarity with Laurie retrieved Jay…saved the Jay finally who wanted to BE like Laurie. The image in front of him was a sad reminder of who he wanted to be…who she really was, and he threw the lip gloss at the mirror in frustration. The tube broke and fell onto a pile of comic books on the dresser. He glanced at the top of the pile. “Wonder Woman.”
He would have laughed at the irony except he was too busy trying to stand up under the weight of helplessness as he began to sob. He fell against the dresser and laid his head on a sweater lying next to the comic books; another item of Laurie's that drew him further into that solidarity he hope would help. And behind him, his mother stood silently at the door to his bedroom, her own tears only somewhat mirroring the child who wept before her. The girl who cried while her mother stood unnoticed. Laurie softly spoke a brief prayer while her mother’s tears fell freely before smiling as she whispered.
“There you are.”
The pebbles forgive me, the trees forgive me
So why can't, you forgive me?
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
Anyone else But You
Words and music by
Adam Green and Kimya Dawson
as performed by
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