The Turn Around

I remember the feeling well, the embarrassment and annoyance, the pull away from her when she hugged me, kissed me, tried to hold my hand. I was older than Archer. Twelve, maybe. Eleven. I woke up one day and saw my mother for who she truly was: the worst.

That didn't change the fact that I knew, deep down, that I'd be lost without her. Even when I slammed the door in her face and called her names. Even when I threatened to run away and find new parents who let me watch R rated movies, stay out past midnight, hang out behind 7-11 after school...  Every morning, the mere sight of my mother would make me feel limited. Like I had a barrier I had no choice but to scale in order to get to the clearing. My mother stood in the way of every happiness I could possibly conceive and for many years, those feelings did not change.


I knew it was coming. I knew that one day my son, and then daughters, would wake up and roll their eyes at the mere sight of me, too. I knew that one day I would also be the worst. I just didn't know how soon, how sudden, and how completely off guard it would take me.

I woke up one day and my mother was intolerable.

My son woke up one day and his was, too.


"I love you," I say as he climbs out of the car, backpack in hands.

He shakes his head, turns around and walks off toward the school entrance.

"Have a great day," I say to his back. "HAVE A GREAT DAY I LOVE YOU! SEE YOU AFTER SCHOOL!" even though he's already disappeared through the double doors in the same building I used to hold his hand, walk him to class, kiss his cheeks goodbye.

"Have a great day!" Fable says to me, hugging me around the neck.

She waves twice as hard, walking backwards toward the gate blowing kisses.



She compensates for her brother's lack of affection by hugging and loving and drawing pictures of everyone in the family holding hands. But all I can think is that someday this will be her, too. That one day she, too, will leave the car in silence with eyes rolled back in her head.

I don't want to think about it but I do. Of all my siblings, I was the most attached to my mother as a child. And of all my siblings I was the one who became the most insufferable. 


At first I think his sudden change is just a fluke -- a bad day, a tough week, an off month...

Before long I realize that this is just the way it's going to be right now.

I tell him I love him and he says nothing.

I ask him a question and he doesn't acknowledge me.

"Archer? Are you listening? Hello?"

"Uh, Mom. Just because I don't turn around doesn't mean I can't hear you."




We traced it back to the play. Or maybe it was just a coincidence that the week he became someone else, he became someone else. Something about exploring a new skin, perhaps. 

In order to compensate for the blanket he had to hold, sing and dance with during play practice, he had to distance himself from all other attachments. Almost as if playing the part of someone attached to something juvenile, had motivated him to grow up overnight...


Two weeks into rehearsals, he loses his script. He checks his entire backpack and it's nowhere to be found.

"Are you sure it's not in your bedroom? Your backpack? Can I at least, check?"

"I already did. It's not there."

I promise him I will search the house and deliver it to him at school when I find it. We are in a rush to get out the door and I don't want us to be late. Again.

But when I come home to search the house, I find nothing. I am sure he has it with him. I am 99.78798 sure it's there, in one of the pockets of his backpack.

So. I write him a note saying so and drive it to school.

"Archer,"  it says. "Please check your backpack again. All pockets? It's not in your room and I looked everywhere..."

He is standing in line with his class, in the school hallway, when I arrive.

"What are you doing here?" he asks me.

I hand him the note.

"I couldn't find your script. I brought this for you so you could double check and -- "

He grabs the note from my hand and hurries after his friends toward class.

"You're welcome?"

"Thanks, Mom," he mumbles under his breath, clearly mortified that I am here, in the hallway, acknowledging him.

Why do I even bother, I text Hal from my parked car. I spent my whole morning looking for the stupid script and he doesn't even care. 

"Yes, he does."

"He does not."

"He does."


"He needs to turn around," the director tells me when I ask how play rehearsals are going.

"He's not facing the audience for the first part of the song."

"I know the feeling," I mumble.

In the car on the way home from rehearsal, I talk to him. I explain to him in way I hope won't be too annoying that he needs to work on turning around.

"If you don't face the audience, we won't be able to hear you. We won't be able to see your face."

He hears me even though he pretends not to listen. I am used to this now so I don't repeat myself.

Just because he doesn't turn around doesn't mean he can't hear me. 

I have begun to familiarize myself with knowing when to say what and respond where, when to hug him and when to lay off, ask questions, let him come to me... 

My own mother reminds me that sometimes it was easier for me to talk to her with my back turned or a door between, in a letter. (We wrote each other letters my entire adolescence. Sometimes it was the only way we were able to communicate without completely losing our minds.)
photo 1
Letter from my mom circa '96. I had just turned 15. 

"I'll work on it," he says and backs away down the hall.

"Cool," I say. "Thanks."


Everyone is here for Opening Night of his big performance. Archer is Linus, one of the leads in his very first play. We realize now that he got the part because of his voice. My parents and my grandparents are here and my friends. We take up an entire row, we are so proud. 

One of my greatest fears is singing in public so I am in awe of him. I have always been in awe of him. Before he sang. Spoke. Spit up all over my shoulder. 

Nothing he can do can turn me away. I'm stuck like glue. My guy, my guy, my guy. 

We're already crying and the show hasn't even started. His name in the program is enough. We squeeze hands and Fable sits up in my lap with big eyes and we are the biggest assholes in the audience, beaming and crying and passing the kleenex and shhhhh, shhhhh... the show's about to start. It's starting. 

He faces the audience. And then... his voice.

His voice. 

He sings beautifully. With poise and confidence and a sort of honesty that is overwhelming and completely spectacular. He is grown and he is small and he is huge and he is tiny all at once. He is Linus. He is Archer. He is ours. And himself. And ours.

And himself.


The play is over now. No more rehearsals. No more performances. I remove his script from his backpack. It's faded and worn and taped in two places and I flip through the highlighted pages, the songs we have listened to on repeat since January, all of which I now know by heart.

You're a good man, Charlie Broooooowwwwn! 

It's my blankie and Meeeee... 

Happpppppiness is...   

"I'm sad it's over," I tell him.

"Yeah. I kind of am, too."

"I'm going to miss all of these songs in my ears, you know?"


"I'm going to miss hearing you sing."


"We all love hearing you sing."


"We're big fans, you know."

I continue to thumb through the script. I hum along to the songs and the back, behind the very last page, a piece of a paper. Archer's name is on it and it's in my handwriting, and, wait, is that... did he... he kept it? 

And suddenly, just like I did for almost all of the notes my mom wrote to me over the years, the notes I saved in folders and journals, in manilla envelopes, email inboxes, tucked away in drawers I, to this day, still revisit, I remember that feeling well, too.

The feeling of knowing that no matter what I did or said or how hard I turned my back to my mom who was the worst, she still loved me. She always would. Even when I said I didn't care. Told her to go away. Refused to acknowledge her in the halls.
photo 1
I tuck the note back into the pocket of Archer's script and go into the living room where my tinyhuge son sits cross-legged on the floor doing his homework.

"I love you and you don't need to say it back or turn around because I love you and I know you can hear me right now and I love you."


And then, I pick up the phone and call my mother.

"I love you, too." I say.