To the Little Boy Crying Himself to Sleep in the Next Room.
Our house is small, so i can hear you. I can hear you, face in pillow, letting out small sobs. I am glad you opened your door a crack and took in the dinner I left in the hall.
I am glad our house is so small, it leaves no room for secrets. I can’t even hide your birthday presents in this house, but our binding physical proximity day in and day out has made you too sweet to go hunt for them.
It’s always been just the two of us — save the times a friend down on their luck needed a room or the times a man with grand plans of hitching to our family would stay the night — so it is perfect how small our house is; I can hear you when you finally sleep.
I cannot change your homework, but i can pour you chocolate milk and sit at this old wooden table and check over each answer with you. I cannot make the school bullies be kind, but I can thank you for your empathy and gentleness as you wade through their taunts. I cannot keep other people’s promises for them, or make excuses for those who have let you down.
I also cannot keep people from leaving you, but I can show you how to move on from them. As your mother, I can free you from that particular pain by remaining steady and present. After I have kissed you goodnight and I hear that you are sleeping, I can quietly lay awake and take on the regret myself.
I watched your face in karate class the other night, when you were corrected by your peers. I watched your face redden with embarrassment and I watched your brow set into place — a place somewhere between wanting to cry and wanting to hit. It frightened me.
And on the news that same night, a boy not much older than you shot his classmates. He shot to kill, much like another boy did the week before in Texas, and another boy in Maryland and another boy in Florida, and another, another another. It frightened me.
I wondered how this boy, this boy not much older than you, how this boy’s brow looked when he went into the classroom with a gun. Was it set into a place somewhere between wanting to cry and wanting to hit?
I thought that night about the broken boys; the boys who believe they have been wronged because we told them they deserved the world. Nobody, after all, deserves the world. I think about the broken men that I have known; the men who have been told they can be anything and everything. Nobody can be everything. I have loved some of these men.
Sometimes these broken men are violent, destructive men — grabbing, slapping, hurling insults. But sometimes they are not violent, but instead malcontent, sorrowful, unfulfilled. They can be bitter men who were promised something that never came. Men who seek the next thing, the younger thing, the better thing, the what-they-have-been-told-is-theirs-but-they-just-can’t-seem-to-get-it thing. Acerbic masculinity and discontented men. These men have frightened me.
Did I ever tell you I wanted to be a lawyer? That i got into my top law school, but I had to move away because that is sometimes how the shakes roll? I am your mother now, and I am not going to be a lawyer. I am not going to be a stay at home mother, like I once thought maybe I could be able to be when you were first here. I am not going to be a writer. I am not going to take you to a beach house this summer like I had hoped. I am not going to live in Montana. I am not going to travel to Cuba. I am not going to take a summer to hike Alaska. I am your mother now.
But I am free because I was never promised anything.
So, I promise you nothing even as I want so much for you. I want you to dream big and want the world, but I never want you to think you deserve it — let me be the one who knows you deserve everything.
I want you to know how to be sad. How to be disappointed. How to have things change and not go according to plan. I want you to feel the sting of rejection and not succumb to the pain of revenge. I want you to be able to experience loss without having to seek replacement.
I want you to not get everything you want.
I want you to be able to break but not be broken.
I also have always wanted a moonlight garden to sit in. White flowers all around a small patio. White lilies, white wisteria, white scabiosa, hibiscus, hydrangea, sweetly scented southern magnolias. I could sit in my garden at night and it would light up with the moon against the petals, like small perfumed summer lanterns.
Many things will never be mine, but I might still someday have this garden with all the white flowers. Perhaps I can plant one plant this summer, in that little space behind our little house, just to start. Perhaps a hydrangea.
Someday you will move out of this little house. It will feel very empty to me, I am sure. But it will be a happy empty, for I know that you will only leave here for great things. Great things not because it is your birthright, but great because you will try.
You will leave here for college and adventures; maybe even law school. I hope you have a chance to hike long trails in high mountains. Perhaps you will explore Montana. Cuba. Alaska. Perhaps you will send me photographs.
Perhaps I will find another person down on their luck to share our house with. Perhaps our little home can help them as well. But I will always keep your room right here for you, the first door down the hall. I will always keep your pillow in it in case you need to cry.
And after you have had your cry, you can come out back and join me in the garden, even with the lights off the petals will be shining. We can listen to the silent sounds from our small house, together quietly, and think of things that we have, and not what we think should have been.