It's a pity you didn't have me for a mother, Little Sailor Man. You'd be a lot sharper than you managed with her.
Why? It should be obvious why.
I don't need you. That's why.
Your mother needed you, and so she clipped your baby wings. Be brave, Princess.
That's what mothers tell children on the most terrifying day of their lives; the first day of school. "You need to be brave." It's a terrifying day for mothers, not the children. Why would the children be frightened? It should be the happiest day of a child's life; Independence Day. Emancipation. Freedom from their mother's tyrannical domination? Escape from the suffocating hassling? A chance to play with kids their own age without the nature of their play being used to judge the woman fronting them as her best foot forward? Mothers really only care about making a good impression but the first day of school should be the day children are freed from the need of mothers to keep up appearances. You ever met a kid that hated freedom?
Kids should be champing at the bit for the day they leave their mother behind and live life for themselves. They'd catch up with her later. Whenever. What do they care? She's not going anywhere.
You see the problem?
I was watching schoolchildren one day without the slightest expectation I might see something interesting. I was bored. Then horrified. Just like that. Life can be like that.
I was watching mothers drop their children off for their first day of school. It's supposed to be a special day for the children but of course mothers have to make everything about them. I hadn't the slightest interest in mothers or children at the time but I had nothing to read. I just didn't want to be a father so I came along for the ride. It was either that or remain in their home alone. When she told me to make myself at home as she dropped her daughter off at school, I might have panicked. I was not okay with that. I declared, "When you leave, I leave." I think she understood. I imagine she would have.
There wasn't really any time for discussion as things were pretty hectic. She was two hours late waking up for a very important day. I knew why she was late, her alarm had woken me up. I'd instinctively turned it off. Who gets up at 6am?
I then spent the next 90 min talking to a pretty cool kid, who told me some pretty scandalous things about her mother, who -- it would seem -- had abandoned her. I had a sinking feeling that I knew who was really to blame.
The kid had nailed it. Her mother dropped the ball.
Why the fuck would it be my problem? I knew what I had to do. I needed to get the fuck out of their equation because we were fucking up this kid's life and until that morning, I had no idea she even had a daughter. We'd been sleeping together for months. At her place. I don't think she ever hid anything from me. I'd been living in my own bubble world of ME. Until, pop.
"What's your name?"
I had been making myself at home in the kitchen. I spun around in shock to see this tiny little girl standing there, eyeing me off with suspicion, challenging me as if she were a snobby maitre'd at an overbooked restaurant. This little kid was actually pretty cool, as it turned out; but I only met her that one time. She was indignant but also confused, so I never saw either of them again. It's not that I didn't want to, it was more like the opposite. It makes sense. I just can't write.
Anyway, all that was just the answer I didn't have to give to the non-existent police officer who didn't ask me why I was sitting alone in a car staring at 5yo schoolchildren. The answer to the question: Because I didn't want to be a father. Is that cool? May I continue, Officer?
As I was saying, I was sitting in her car bored out of my mind. I had no idea how long the process of tears and emotional farewells and everything was supposed to take, but it seemed to be dragging on. I was vaguely aware this was all standard but I'd never really given it a second thought because I don't have kids. I was starting to get impatient, as I'd already made up my mind from talking to her daughter that I'd be out of their lives for good. So I had nothing to think about. Restless and irritable (I have ADHD), I tried to concentrate on the dramatic proceedings underway.
I was ignorant about the nature of mothers at the time. I watched this one mother blubber and weep after she'd said her farewells, refusing to let her son go. It was pathetic. A little queer. Her son was fine. But she was an embarrassment, bawling like a toddler, an emotional wreck. I laughed out loud, "What a mess." I was disgusted yet amused.
She kept telling him how brave he needed to be and he was like "Yeah, okay" and trying to leave but she just wouldn't let him go. I'd started a running commentary on what was really a farcical emotional drama unfolding -- "He should be telling her to be brave, this is just tragic" -- when my sneer was wiped off my face and replaced with a gasp. I'd just witnessed something horrifying. I felt like I was supposed to scream but I didn't really understand what I'd just seen. I knew it was evil, there was no doubt about that, but it was over quick as a flash.
I would have looked like a lunatic. I was spinning around in the carseat, frantic, looking for someone -- anyone -- to confirm they'd seen the same thing but there was no one else watching. This lady had played a cruel, sadistic trick on her kid. I wondered what kind of crime I'd seen and whether I should tell the police. I briefly considered telling no one. I could pretend I hadn't seen it. It's what I wanted to do. But someone had to be told. Should I tell the kid's father? Nah. I scratched that option as soon as I thought of it.
This was some evil shit. My mind was spinning. The mother was telling him he needed to be brave over and over, sobbing. He was confused, but totally fine. He wasn't stressed. I'd swear to it, but not on a Bible because that's a filthy book of lies and I know what I saw. This mother was going on and on and it was ridiculous. But she knew something I didn't, I certainly didn't see it coming, but she knew her son. Or she knew some dark Matriarchal secrets mothers likely exchange in covens, when they gather to chart out the misery of their children's lives. It may be more innocuous, maybe mothers are just creeps who need their children to suffer more than children could ever need a leech for a mother. I don't know these things.
Somehow, I'm not sure how exactly, but somehow she just knew; it was only a matter of time before he cracked. I watched as the kid cracked. She was blubbering about the need for him to be brave and he started getting afraid. He started looking around nervously, his lip started quivering and just when he looked like he might burst into tears, his mother shot to her feet and just walked away, leaving him standing there. The timing was unmistakable. I watched a 5yo kid get brutally played. She could have left at any point in the five or ten minutes prior and he'd have been fine. But nup, she wanted him terrified. I knew I just seen something evil but I didn't know what to do.
So I kept watching the kid, who was far from okay. He was crying and scared, running around in confused circles, tripping over himself, picking himself back up, stumbling and falling over again. It was heartbreaking, he thought there was danger and he just wanted to go home. His mother had made that shit happen. She made him scared and then she was off, not once looking back as she made a beeline for the car park. She'd clearly planned it. I'd never seen anything like it.
My horror then turned into rage. The mother had reversed out of the car park and was heading in my direction, so I turned to look as she passed. She was looking at her fucking Blackberry, with a smile on her filthy dial and I tried to punch her through the window which wouldn't open, tried to rip my seatbelt off but it was stuck, tried to exit the vehicle but the door was locked so I was just banging on the passenger side window yelling abuse as her vehicle sailed away without any consideration for her son, who was sitting there -- all alone -- crying. And the mother I was sleeping with yelled, "Whoa, what the fuck?" as I was just banging on her window seemingly shouting at nobody for no reason. I spun around and I'm like Omg this happened and then this happened and that happened and... and then I was done.
I was hyperventilating.
She just shook her head and slowly got into the car without saying a word. She was calm. I was staring at her, stupidly; the way I used to stare at my mother when she'd ignore my demands to know "Why?" My contempt was rising when she finally turned and said, "So?" She placed the key in the ignition, started the engine, put the car into gear and calmly reversed out onto the street.
So the world had gone mad.
"So..." I thought to myself, never once imagining I would end up reacting the way I did. This is the reaction, fast-forward a decade. "So!" I yelled, certain that what I'd seen was a crime. "So where is the police station? I need to make a report. It's child abuse!"
She looked at me as if I was technically right but completely unreasonable. I couldn't see why she felt that way. All I knew is that a kid had been hurt right in front of my eyes when I was smirking at his pathetic mother -- who was not as pathetic as I'd assumed -- or perhaps she was even more pathetic? It's so hard to know in this, our Pathetic Age.
She'd ruined her kid's first day at school. She might have ruined his life. Domino effect. You can't screw around, life is tough enough without mothers kneecapping children. I was trying to think if I'd ever seen something as evil when the mother I was sleeping with asked, "You really want me to take you to the police? What are you going to tell them?" I wasn't sure. I'd just tell them what I'd seen, I guess. I didn't perceive a need to rehearse the truth so I said nothing. It seemed like a dumb question.
Ignoring my ignoring her, she continued to make her point. Holding her hand up to punch out the headline blocks, she said, "You think tomorrow's papers are going to read, BREAKING NEWS: MOTHER LOVES SON?"
I spun around to look at her. I was sneering. What an imbecile. I was about to snort That Is Not What Love Is when I stopped. A dim light was flickering in my reduced mind and I thought, "Hang on. THAT Is -- exactly -- What Love Is." I suddenly realised what I'd witnessed wasn't so evil, after all. Well, it was. But it was evil that needed to be done for love. I understood. I sympathised. I knew love; or at least, we'd met a couple times. At the time, I was hopelessly in love with another girl. A girl I knew I'd never see or speak to again, never laugh or fight with again, never wake up next to ever again. And the things I was prepared to do to roll back time, the things I would have turn the clocks back, well...they were horrifying. But you know love.
Everything made a twisted kind of sense. I groaned. "She loves him!" I explained to the mother who had just explained it to me. She looked at me with a quizzical expression that was like, "What did you think? That she was just fucking with him?" She didn't say it, she just looked at me in disbelief. I nodded, "Yes." And she cocked her head with a tender look, patronising but certainly apt.
That's literally what I had assumed, that she was just fucking with him. But this new explanation made a lot more sense.
And so I never told anyone. She drove me the rest of the way home in silence, as I stared out the window. I liked this girl a lot more than when I asked to be dropped at a police station but not enough to change anything. She had a kid, a great kid. We got along famously. I'd been ruining her life for months without even realising she existed. It's unbelievable how self-centred I was, blind to reality. I only saw what my eyes wanted to see and her mother had never mentioned her. Awkwardly, I considered whether I'd have been interested if her mother had been honest when we met. I decided, probably not. It's not a great opener, is it? "Hi. I'm a single mother."
It's rarely going to be a plus, certainly not Birdies where I'd met her. There was a lot of stupid girls there, which of course was the reason I was there. I ended up going home with the mother of a kid who was the emotional superior of every girl in Birdies, but had I known she existed...? Do I want to go home to your broken puzzle, where I am shaped like the missing piece?
It's rarely going to be a plus. I was deciding how unethical it was for her to simply omit the fact when I realised, I didn't give a fuck. It was understandable and it was wrong. We were both to blame and that meant I needed to kick along. If telling the truth to me is not going to be a plus, my schoolboy understanding of mathematics suggests I was a big fat minus. But I already knew that. Still, I had no interest in ruining the lives of 5-year-olds.
I didn't like her mother that much.
And that's when it all became very clear to me and I got angry. We were both to blame. We'd been freaking a little kid out, stressing her out. We were hurting her in a way that could have an impact for the rest of her life. How could I have been so blind? I was furious. Her mother hid nothing from me and I saw nothing, how convenient. I was thinking how it was so unlike me to fail to notice everything, but this line of thinking was becoming routine. Increasingly likely yet so unlike me? I recognised that insanity instantly. I knew what that was all about, I'd seen girls do it countless times as they abandon clothes with practised ease.
"You know, I never do this! I can't believe I'm doing this."
They could be a little more convincing but they're as convincing as they need to be; and no, they didn't need to convince me. They had someone else to deceive. So unlike me.
But you can only not be yourself so many times before you have to accept that what you do is who you are. I was getting sick of seeing only what I wanted to see; it had been happening a lot around that time. 1.5 adults ruining the life of a tiny child, for what? Late night hookups. Convenient sex. We weren't even together. She was just my "Sunday Girl" available 24/7 and I knew -- I fucking knew -- it was too convenient to make sense. But I never tried to make sense of it. Not until it all made sense. I was disgusted with who I was becoming. With who I'd become.
As she dropped me off in the Valley, I turned to make sure we were on the same page. I don't do all that creepy shit like letting people down gently, I don't feign awkwardness to signal incoming bad news, I never apologise the way girls do when they dump you. As if they shared your sense of loss, as if their betrayal was regrettable. Staying with you, to make sure you're okay. And if you're not?
Girls are creeps. Of course they Know Best -- but I know better, so I've never delicately phrased bad news (as if the awkward babbling can soften betrayal) or beat around the bush or...eww. I hate all their creepy considerate bullshit. It's all so degrading, but then I think that's the point. They just want to make you feel worse.
I'm Decent. Honest. Direct. No whore compassion needed. No one needs that shit.
"You know I'm not going to call you again, right?"
She gave a curt nod, keeping her eyes on the road. She knew.
Easy. I turned to walk away, realised something and quickly turned back.
"You know it wasn't the kid, right? I liked her, she was cool. You know your kid is cool, right?"
She nodded slowly, keeping her eyes on the road. She knew.
All I could think was, "Who chooses me over that kid?" I was still annoyed, not at her so much but at the world. At people. I turned away, then back, just frustrated. I hated myself. Hated people.
"The kid is cool but her mother and I...the kid I met today deserves better than us. I only know a little about what you know a lot about, but I know she had better than us. You need to make everything go back to how it was. You need to make this right. You need to turn the clocks back."
I was pleading with her to be a mother again. I needed her to go back in time. She turned to look at me, her eyes filled with tears. I was about to cry so I turned away. I heard her start to say something but she thought better of it. At the door to my apartment, I had a moment of clarity and I spun around to yell a warning, "If I ever call you again, or text you like I have been, I'm not going to tell you what to do but if you don't hang up the phone, I'll never forgive you."
She nodded. She understood. I was relieved, chuffed with myself for taking out insurance. I had no intention of calling her but I knew me. At some point, sooner or later, maybe tomorrow or in a year, when I couldn't cope with looking forward, I knew I'd be looking back.
"What did you tell your daughter as you dropped her off?"
Her beautiful face lit up as she shouted, "Be a good girl and I might pick you up, if you're lucky. Then I kicked her in her bee-hind and she ran off with a laugh." Her face shone with pride. She knew she was a brilliant mother. I suddenly had the impulse to run back, jump in the car and say nothing. She'd drive us home. I'm glad I didn't. I'd have never forgiven myself. I was pretty fucked up at the time, which was -- more or less -- any time before I was 29, when things were explained to me for the first time.
I don't know who explained things to her but she knew what she was doing. I just had to get the fuck out of their equation. She hadn't been a mother since we'd met. She'd been a stupid girl in love. The kid told me everything. "Mommy is always asleep!"
I had to bite my lip. Not always kid.
"Is Mommy sick?"
Very. But love is a State-sponsored mental illness. You can pretend it's okay if you want it that way. But it's the other way and you know it. It's a disease like any other and it kills nearly everyone. It killed me a few times.
I almost called that kid's mother so many times. I'd always catch myself just in time. I didn't want to be that guy. I didn't want to be so unlike me all the time. I completely forgot about the warning as I never really thought she'd do it. I didn't think she could protect herself from me, it was just pathetic insurance taken out against inevitability. A pretext to blame her, an excuse I could use when I needed one. I always needed one. I knew me. Being needy was so like me. Offloading responsibility. It's the next best thing to being responsible. It was a cheap trick really; I've got a thousand of 'em.
Sure enough, many months down the line, I was dying at the tail end of a 14-hour acid trip. With a pained grimace at the accusing tone of my own query -- "Keeping that dignity?" -- I scrolled down to her name and made the call. I wasn't sure what I wanted her to do or say but I knew I was going to hate myself no matter what. So I had nothing to lose.
Acid gets really fucked up towards the end. I wouldn't even care if the play was lose / lose. I might have been attracted to those odds when I'd reminisce until misery. Acid is just too much. You feel too much. You remember too much. You can close your eyes but it's all too much. Way way way too much. Also possible is that I was overdosing. But blaming the government for your problems is passé.
I was suffering. The pain was too much. I needed her to bring me back to neutral. I had to steal the future to pay for the past or I'd never make it through the present. It made perfect sense in my broken mind, I'd been living on emotional credit my entire life. The only stumbling-block was my dignity. Undeterred, I cleared it with ease. I knew what that meant. I'd been there before.
She answered with something unintelligible that might have been a muffled "Hey" or "Hello" spoken through a doona or pillow. I didn't know what the time was. I didn't care. I wanted her, I needed her, I could deal with disappointing her daughter and her down the line. Some other time. Not now. Now I had to see her. Now I had to be that guy, the guy so unlike me. I never liked being that guy. I never really cared for me. But she'd picked up so I was relieved. I said, "Hey. It's me."
There was a long pause, then a soft click. Insurance.
I knew I was sick, and I didn't think I could make it but she would. She made it. She'd recovered. That was a good thing. Warm relief trickled over my emotional scars; soothing, forgiving, making peace. The pain had been relieved. I closed my eyes and let sleep drag me down. I was smiling.
And for the next few moments at least, I didn't hate myself at all.