Best of 2009: Motherhood of Boys

The following is a re-post from August 12th. I kept comments closed on the original post (which I've edited slightly below) so I'm going to keep them open this time, for those with similar stories to share.

...

I spot them right away behind the far tennis court, huddled together with their elbows in each other’s sides. They pass joints oblivious to the consequences of so openly smoking in such a public place. They talk loudly and drink cheap bourbon, yelling at each other to "fuck off, motherfucker."

"There's one, Daddy!"

Archer, scurries toward an empty court, dragging a bag of tennis balls behind him. Hal follows and I after him, pushing our baby with bottle propped against her tiny folded hands. It's late. 8:30, maybe 9:00, but we promised Archer tennis so here we are, the four of us playing hooky from bedtime under the bleed of white lights.

Archer picks up his racket, poised for play.


"I'm ready, Daddy," he says, his shrill voice overcome by an argument about vert vs. street skate taking place behind me - the words of boys I've never met but know so well.

In high school I lead a double life. By day I was blonde and popular, the host and producer of our high school television show, organizer of Battle of the Bands, ASB commissioner, Homecoming Queen. I lived the southern California cliché: my first car a convertible Cabriolet with cow-print seat covers, my first job, serving sub sandwiches clad in a bikini top and cut-offs to bleached-haired surfers. I was an honor student with a side job writing angst-ridden poetry for a best-selling book series, the poster child for lucky, normal, have-it-all teenager. I was THAT girl...

...Except, not really.

At night I became someone else. Instead of hanging out with my fellow ASB members or honor students, I gravitated toward a completely different crowd: an all ages collective of lost boys, their wounds gaping without bandages, battle-scarred from years of being abused, abandoned, told they were mistakes, or worse. They found a gang in one another and spent all their time together, suburban vagabonds with duct taped sneakers who lived in guesthouses and one-room studios in the basement of chiropractic offices. In a way, I was romanced by their underworld, their carefree lifestyle, the way they bled and broke without crying. I came to them bearing bandages.

"Let me in and I will dress your wounds, tuck you in, love you past morning..."

Some were dropouts and drug addicts, many of them motherless. Fatherless. Futureless. To me they were beautiful, hiding depth and introspection under baggy pants and shoelace belts. Many aspired to be artists, painters, filmmakers. I found great pleasure in cheering them on.

“You can do it! I believe in you!”

It started as a sort of rebellion. I wasn't supposed to get high behind liquor stores with dudes who "showered" in the ocean. I wasn't supposed to fall in love with the kinds of guys who streaked through strip malls, got arrested, passed out in gutters with one shoe on. But it turned into something else. I became dependent on their phone calls—on being some kind of savior, an adolescent superhero who snuck out through her bedroom window to attend to the fallen. I was their beck and call girl, queen of the lost boys, addicted to the kind of attention they gave me in return for my care and sweet nothing whispers.

"I know you're hurting. That's why I'm here. I will take care of you. You need a mother? I’ll be your mom. So what if I'm only sixteen, seventeen, eighteennineteentwentytwentyone... I am here for you. Lean on me."

After graduation, I started a new life rooted in old ways. The boys were men now, but hardly. And I worshipped them, cooked for them, cleaned after them, shuttled them around, let them crash on my couch, in my bed. I lent them money I knew I'd never get back, told them over and over that I loved them. Felt it. Believed it. Would have done anything for them and did for many years.

“I'm saving them," I thought. "I'm saving them all."

But even in my early twenties I was too young and naive to understand that all I was doing was parading around the boulevards with badges of martyrdom sewn like girl-scout patches on my favorite denim jacket.

"This weed is bad."

"Do you want me to smoke you out or not?"

"Yeah."

"Then shut the fuck up!"

A lighter flicks and several of the boys crowd around it. They inhale and exhale all at once and recline against the fence, their backs against mine. Swirls of smoke quickly reach me and I pull the shade over my sleeping daughter to block the fumes.

"What time is it, dude?"

"Who the fuck cares?"
...

One night my friend, "Charlie", pulled up his sleeve to reveal my name carved with a razor into his arm. It was the first of the many wake-up calls I needed to climb out of my woman-hole and pursue a new kind of life.

"You can't just carve people's names into your arm!"

"Why not?”

I looked around the mildew stained basement apartment littered with razors and dirty spoons and empty bottles of pills stashed like buried treasure under heaps of unwashed clothes. What the hell was I doing there?

Ten years I had spent combing the streets for bloodstains to follow home, offering bandages and therapy, a warm bed, a warm body and for what? People don’t change unless they want to. Just because I offered life vests didn’t mean I was going to save anyone from drowning. Instead, it was me being sucked into the underworld, surrounded by things that shot up in the night.

"I have to go now," I said.

I cried the whole way home.

Months later I would meet my husband, and months after that I would become pregnant and have a baby. And then an unexpected visit from Charlie involving a withdrawal seizure in front of my hysterical one-year-old would lead me to lock doors, screen calls and build a wall around my family, instating a zero tolerance policy for emotional offenders and drug addicts and Neverland escapees. No more taking care of those who refused to take care of themselves. No more trying to save the world, one "I love you" at a time. I cut off all contact, abandoning them like their parents had done.

Except unlike their parents? I wasn’t their parent. I wasn’t their mother. I was the mother to a real live little boy who I would do anything in my power to protect. A boy I wanted nowhere near the boys I spent the last decade of my life trying to take care of.

Still, it hurt. I missed them and still do, those that have passed away and those that remain estranged. I have dreams where we're all together again, passing cigarettes behind the old AMC theatre, watching movies on mute while blasting Clash City Rocker.

But I changed, thank God, and in the end, the person I saved was myself.

...

These days I can spot them from a mile away. I know their voices before they speak. Their musty smell before they're close enough for me to take a whiff, the way their hair would feel if I touched it. Ten years ago I might have bummed a light and sat with them in the gutter in my tiara and red dress. Ten years ago I felt confident around them, beautiful and intelligent and special. Ten years ago I was all of those things if only I could have known. I watch the girls that hang on the outskirts of their circle and see myself.

I tell Archer I love him a thousand times a day so that he knows. Because so many don't know, go through life not knowing.

"I love you. Did you know that? I love you so much it's insane."

"Stop saying that. You’re hurting my ears.”
...

“Did you see that, Mommy? I just hit the ball very far.”

I watch Archer play tennis against the chain-linked fence that separates us from them. I am tempted to turn around. To acknowledge their backs against mine, to take swigs from their bottles and mourn friends gone and years lost and love unrequited. Part of me will always want to hug them and help them and apologize for failing them, abandoning them without explanation.

I wish I could have saved you. I'm sorry I could not.

But an even larger part of me wants to tell them to get lost, boys. I’m afraid of them and what they might offer my children.

For the first time since we arrived at the tennis courts, I turn around. I glare at them and sneer and judge and think terrible things. I want them away from my children. I want them to disappear with their safety-pinned backpacks and dirty hoodies and paper-bagged alcohol canisters and wounded limbs. I want them to Go. Away. Now.

They glare back at me, roll their eyes, and mumble something about me being a "dumb lady" while casually exhaling smoke in my face.

I say nothing, turn my back to them and face my son clutching his tennis racket, my husband rooting him on.


I'm not one of them anymore.

And then I pray. I pray to whatever god will listen to keep my children as far away as possible from these boys. Because I've been there. And I came very close to never coming back.

GGC

13 comments:

Amanda | 9:32 AM

I'm so glad you kept the comments open this time, because I loved it so much and wish I could told you.

I had been trying to write something similar, maybe I still try. But you captured it so perfectly. It's one of my favorite posts of yours and I've been a longtime reader and commenter.

So thank you so much for this.

-A fellow band aid barer, now and always.

Chantelle {fat mum slim} | 11:37 AM

This is such a beautiful post. I am so glad that you saved yourself, and now have your beautiful children.

Thank you for sharing. xx

mrs.notouching | 12:33 PM

After reading all of the Best of 2009 I had and urge to re-read your book. Done in two days. You are briliant.

Anonymous | 1:50 PM

Rebecca,
This is my favorite post of yours since I've been a reader.
I identify with this post so much it's painful. I too, like you wish I could've saved my friends. But you can't, I can't. No one can. We're lucky to have realized that. Merry Christmas to you and your precious family. May 2010 bring you all you hope for--and then some.
XO Rob www.housewifecooking.blogspot.com

Chanel | 12:32 AM

I see so much of myself in who you used to be. I'm always the girl who's trying to help. The nuturer/band-aid. Reading that post made me realize that I need to help myself and let the negative go. I've known that for a long time but I couldn't bare to admit to myself. I desperately needed the confirmation of what I've already known. Thank you.

Caitlin | 1:45 PM

Rebecca,

Just wanted to say this was absolutely one of my favorite posts, I think one of your best ever. It reads like a dream. There's just so much in it.

Beautiful.

Caitlin | 1:50 PM

Although I just finished reading it and must say, I like the original better. :) I've read it so many times since, I noticed the differences.

Jo@Mylestones | 5:17 AM

I found your blog only a few days ago via a link from Adventures in Babywearing. And already I feel the need to say "Wow." Your writing is riveting, and your story powerful.

Kristin | 9:42 AM

I missed this entry before but I'm so glad I saw it this time. I guess there's a reason we dig each other: we're so very much alike. I lived a lot of this, too, about 5 years before you did.

You're a gem, and I'm so glad to see you sparkling in full glory now.

Ray | 4:02 PM

This is one of my ALL-TIME favorite entries from you. It’s absolutely awesome. And when I read it the first time it made me emotional. I seriously think you should make this into a script. It would make for an awesome movie and I’d definitely pay twelve bucks to see it in theaters. (Think about it.) ;o)

SuSaw | 12:12 PM

hey mama, this post brings tears to my eyes. Is our job to just love our kids ALL up, look out for our own? what IS our responsibility to others? Maybe, it's just to be judgement free. Do the best that we can in the parenting dept. I'm just askin' bc I struggle with this - having only ever been the good girl. I can't help but wonder now that I'm the "good mom," how can I relinquish the judgement and focus on my own (with an occasional shout out to yours truly, that is, me). let me know...meanwhile,love to you and yours, @susaw

mel | 1:45 AM

I can fully relate to everything in the post, but I wasn't trying to save any lost boys, I was a lost girl. But unlike you I remained lost even after having my girls (at the same ages as you). I met my current love in a den of iniquity, and somehow we saved each other. I've been able to pick of the pieces of that life, and turn them into something wonderful. And now when I see people from my old life, I feel at once as you used to and do now. I want to save them too, but I want them gone as well.

Lovely post Rebecca.

Pearmama | 11:38 PM

Loved this post, lady! Beautifully written. I was the same way....only not with skaters but with graffiti writers. Then I married one of them. :-)