she was sitting starring at the photograph still framed above the fireplace when he found her. she had the settled look of someone who had been resting for a long time. her body print a nearly permanent indentation on the cushions surrounding her. he did not want to disturb her. although her quietude seemed to imminent from a peaceful resolve, he knew better. she was starring at that picture willing herself back into time. she wanted more than anything to be the girl holding his hand again. she wanted more than anything to be where she once stood all those years ago. she wanted more than anything to be away from this place where there was no longer a he.
he watched her from a worn stop near the doorway. unsure of what exactly his next move should be he too rested in his thoughts. he remembered a different time. she was laughing so loud it startled him and his friend. they were at the park and the sun was blazing so hot their sneakers actually stuck to the cement walk way. he and his friend snuck away from her the moment she turned to get a drink from the water sprout. they were hellbent at the time to try their hand in the new water fountain. it took forever to run the 3 yards from the restrooms to the fountain but when they got there they jumped right in shoes and all. the water was warm and cool. it tasted funny not like the water at the swimming pool and not like the water from the beach. it tasted like pennies. he was surprised when his friend dunked his head under water scrapping the bottom of the fountain he grabbed hold to something. when he came up for air he realized he was holding on to money. they had struck the jackpot. this was the buried treasure they’d been reading about for sure. completely entranced at packing their pockets with coins from the bottom of the fountain they didn’t notice the pointing and starring from strangers. they heard her calling them and hide under the sprout. under the cascading water they were sure she couldn’t see them. imagine their surprise when she came around the other side of the gargoyle hiding them laughing raucously. at first they were scared then she reached from them and together they danced the chicken dance. laughing and dancing in the summer heat under the steady unforgiving gazes of other park dwellers, had been one of the very best memories of his childhood.
‘mama.’ he called her though he knew she would not answer. it had been 12 weeks since the big announcement. 12 weeks since he had stood on stage and delivered his class president speech. 12 weeks since he had accepted honors from his band mates, school science department and along with 724 of his closest friends celebrated. it had been his day. she had spent the entire night before cooking, cleaning and decorating the living room in his school colors of black and gold. the entire family was going to come over to celebrate him and his accomplishments. even though it was june he still had not decided which of the three colleges offering him scholarships he would choose. it was his night. but his father made a decision that forever ruined it.
‘i don’t want to do this anymore,’ he’d announced into the quiet of the car. sitting in the back sit he could hear him but had no idea what he was talking about. it had taken more than an hour for him to get out of the auditorium so full was it of congratulations and hugs. he was still on a high and really didn’t want to come down but knew his father, the self appointed messenger of doom, was determined to ruin it all.
‘please don’t do this,’ mama asked him. ‘this is roger’s day. don’t do this now.’
roger agreed with his mother. his father needed to stop whatever ridiculously was about to escape from his lips, he needed to stop. but neither roger’s mind power nor his mother’s plea was enough.
‘roger deserve to not live in a lie. roger deserve to know the truth.’
‘jesus, dad.’ roger hissed. ‘must you fuck everything up every moment of everyday! can a single solitary moment belong to somebody else!’ he’d never yelled at his father before. not ever. it felt good and he didn’t know if he would be able to hold in any of the things he had been wanting to say to his father for the last 2 years he had been ping ponging in and out of their lives.
‘you don’t talk to me like that!’ his father turned in the driver seat. roger hated how much he looked like his father. hated his deep set nearly black eyes starring into him like cooked coal. hated the lashes that made them look like puppy dogs even in the midst of a rage. he wanted to ripe the curly locks from across his dad’s forehead. he wanted more than anything to mar the ebony skin that was so distinct and unforgettable for years he was known only as ‘black boy’ in a school full of black people. roger hated his father and with everything in him at that moment he wished he would just go ahead and die.
‘fuck! you!’ roger screamed and threw himself against the door. ‘fuck! you! fuck! you! fuck! you! you evil son of a bitch! i wish you would just fucking die!’
at that his father brought the car to a complete stop. ‘i’m out of here!’ he screamed and got of the car. roger was not to be out done by his father’s antics. he jumped out of the car and started screaming at him, ‘all you fucking do is leave! you’re a goddamn coward! you ain’t no kind of man! all you fucking do is leave! die! fucking die! at least then i could go to college! i hate you! you fucking loser! i hate you!’ roger was screaming and pounding on the hood of the car in the middle of the road exactly where his father had stopped the car. he was exasperated and depleted. of all days to pull this shit, his father had picked his day. his fucking day. it was only when his mother opened the passenger side door that he realized how ridiculous they looked in the middle of the road, one man walking down the center of the street in his good suit while another stood in robes and honor cords screaming at the top of his lungs. calmly, his mother tucked him into the passenger seat and closed the door. she got behind the wheel and drove them home. they had not heard from his father since. roger remember telling her on the way home, ‘not this time mama. don’t take him back this time. this time we let him go. okay mama? okay?’ it wasn’t until she reached over to wipe his face that he realized he had been crying.
roger couldn’t remember a time when his father had been anything like the dads you see on tv or even the dads you see at soccer games or band competitions. his father wasn’t just hands off, most of the time for as long as roger could remember he forgot he was a father at all and from the overheard hushed conversations roger listened to he forgot he was a husband too. enough was enough, roger believed it was time for he and his mother to just let his father go his own way without them. he always told them that they kept him down. he always talked about how much easier his life would be if he wasn’t tied down to a family. like having him around ever felt like a family. as far as roger was concerned the only family in their family was he and his mother. his father was an alien. an alien with his face and hands but an alien all the same.
now he was worried about going away to school at all. she missed him. and roger just didn’t understand it. he didn’t understand how someone who hurt her all the time was worth this kind of weeping. seeing her cry made him hate his father more. knowing that she missed him and would probably take him back even though she promised that she wouldn’t worried roger and he didn’t know if going to school tomorrow was the right thing to do. he didn’t know if leaving her was the right thing to do.
even though he had asked her she wouldn’t let him get rid of his stuff. but she had let him pack it up and put it all away in the basement so that it no longer cluttered the upstairs. the only thing that remained was the picture above the fire place. in it his mother stood between her father and her soon to be husband. she was holding onto her father’s hand but reaching for his father. it was a startling beautiful photograph in black and white, both his father and grandfather’s faces were slightly out of focus. his mother’s youthful smile and eyes full of determination were center. turning his attention to the picture along with his mother he realized that in the picture she is not looking at his father. he had always assumed that his father was the object of his mother’s affection at least on that day but looking at the picture now he realized that her eyes were not focused on his dad but on the cross above him.
roger moved from his spot by the doorway to go sit on the couch next to his mother. he was a bit surprised when she spoke, ‘i’m sitting here wondering what happened to her.’ she pointed at the picture. at the woman she used to be. ‘this girl i use to be was so full of life. so full of hope. of determination. she believed that anything was possible. how did that girl become this woman?’ she reached for his hand. giving it a squeeze, she went on,’i forgot is what i’m figuring out. i forgot that a man was not the cherry on the top of the cake of life. somewhere along the way, i made big rog my cherry and that was the wrong thing to do. that was the thing that took the joy out of me.’
sitting up she leans over to give him and hug and whispered in his eye, ‘you were my cherry. all this time you were the joy. i’m so glad so happy to have you as my son. so very proud of you. and baby i can’t wait to see what you do next.’
finally, roger exhaled.