March 22nd, 2014
My mother, with all of her naïve excitement, would take my father’s suit coat, wrap it around my shoulders, and tell me how one day I would have a coat that fit my own shoulders.
There are all kinds of things that a mother should want from her son: Some of them deserved, some of them not. I burdened my mother with many unfulfilled expectations, although rarely did I do so intentionally.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be the mother of another human being, and yet even as I admit that, I’m attempting to picture the immense and terrific simultaneous joy and struggle of parenthood. I’m sure that my own imagination falls short. There must be some deep dark place in the human imagination that cultivates the imagining of emotion – like a part of our brains that are for our hearts.
Deep inside my twenty-seven year old male brain is a chasm dedicated to this sole purpose: Imagining what the feelings of someone in such a different walk of life might be.
I can only imagine what my mother was like before I was born – Perhaps she was eager, maybe she was worried or concerned, maybe she was excited. I can imagine all of the things she had planned for me – the things that she wanted for me. Perhaps she was naïve to think that I would fulfill all of them, or even some of them. I’m sure, like any mother, lost in the midst of heavy anticipation, that she had outfits picked out and a bed made and maybe even my college major declared at the state’s most popular University that I would no doubt attend. It was with this same excitement that she would take my father’s suit coat, wrap it around my body, and tell me how one day I would have a coat that fit my own shoulders.
There is one moment in my life that erupts in my mind when I think about this kind of shattered naïve disappointment – After a trip to the grocery store, if we had behaved well enough, my sister and I would receive a quarter to put into the candy dispenser and in return get a sugar glazed ball of processed bubble gum that would be chewy for ten seconds and then become as hard as a rock. But to us, this piece of concrete bubble gum was the highlight of our day, and we would struggle like a tempted disciple to stay well behaved in the grocery store. But my zeal and my faith waned when one afternoon I hurriedly fitted the quarter into the machine, only to receive nothing in return. I gazed through the clear plastic double helix pipe through which the gumball was delivered and saw that it had gotten stuck half way down. My hands were empty, my mouth was still watering with six-year-old gumball lust, and I had no quarter.
I slowly tore away at my mother’s expectations and plans for my life, and the part of my brain that tried to imagine her emotions slowly became less and less vivid. When I dropped out of school, when I started dating Jenny, when I moved to Chicago, when I took a job as a bartender, when I didn’t come home for Christmas or thanksgiving or the next Christmas, the images became less and less real and my mother’s plans become funny ideas that you might read about in a comic book. My life became like a gumball that my mother was waiting to be delivered.
But at the end of the clear plastic double helix pipe that I found myself in, I visited my mother. I wasn’t what she wanted, and I wasn’t what she expected; in all regards she’d given up on ever having me live anything close to the way she had wanted me to. I took the bus to Shenandoah, an hour and forty-five minutes from my apartment, and arrived at her doorstep. I rang several times, but there was no answer. Ironically, I still had the key.
I stepped in to my mother’s house. It was hollow and clean, which felt strange and unlived in. The kitchen and the table was set, just how she liked it. The coffee table had been dusted and the floor had been vacuumed. The calendar was almost as messy as usual, but slightly less busy than the past years.
I felt a magnetic urge pulling me away from the house, like I should leave before she came back.
I had only come for one reason, and even with that reason, I didn’t know how to share my life with her. So I decided to leave it there.
I took off the suit coat that I was wearing – the one that I’d gotten only weeks before. It fit me perfectly – The collar hugged the neck seamlessly, tucked tight around the shoulders and hugged the chest. I laid it around the chair where I’d sat every night at the kitchen table for sixteen years. But that wasn’t enough. I took a piece of paper from my journal and scribbled:
“I have a coat that fits my shoulders, with love, because of you.”
I left the note at my place at the kitchen table, and left.
Sign up to receive A Story Each Day via email: