Walcott, Iowa. Our new home. What, you never been here? Didn’t think so.
Based on my limited exposure to the local nightlife, the best thing to do in Walcott is sit on the side of a bed and rock back and forth in an oversized t-shirt that reads “If you bought it, a trucker brought it!” and sob, sob, sob about all the ways your life is ruined. If that sounds lonely, bring some cigarettes. Better be the cheap kind because you’re going to need a bunch.
Stan and the dentist dropped me off here yesterday. When I met my mom she was her basic normal self: all dressed up on the outside and all in a million pieces underneath. Who could blame her? Today more than ever.
She got a ride here from one of her regulars at the bar. She told him she was being reunited with some long lost cousin. I came here in her car, with that creep dentist behind the wheel and Stan following us in a little punch buggy. Nobody plays punch buggy here, and anyway it’d be pretty boring to play punch buggy when you’re being followed around by one.
When I got out of the car she hugged me and got lipstick all over my face, thanked the gangsters and made like we were going back to Chicago with all our lessons learned, but then she turned us around and checked us in here. Said we needed a plan.
My plan was something like this: 1) Go back to Chicago, 2) Get a dishwashing job or something else straight, 3) Save up and start up school sometime, 4) Never go back to Iowa.
According to mom, step one in that plan was no good for at least a little while because there’s nowhere in Chicago we’d be safe. She spent the whole day mumbling all these names, Rosso, Lenny, Stan, the dentist, all mixed in with a bunch of gibberish about the bar, the money and the car. Whatever she was getting at, you could tell by the look on her face it mostly didn’t add up, and when it did, it wasn’t pretty.
My mom smokes as much as anybody but I never saw her go through so many cigarettes as she did that first day at the Econo Lodge. Pack by pack she ran threw the list of everyone that was to blame for how we ended up in this mess. Rosso’s name came up a lot. Dad’s name came up a bunch of times, which only seemed to make sense because, whenever she wanted to feel pure anger, alls she had to do was think about him. Lenny came up too, but every time she said his name it was just so she could start crying harder and harder. I guess now that I was back okay it was time for her to start worrying herself sick about him. Poor Lenny. I was worried about him too. He’s no angel but he’s good to my mother.
“You should take a shower, Mom,” she was still in her work clothes from the day before. Stayed in them all night, and was still wearing them when I got here yesterday morning. She must have had four separate layers of makeup on her face.
What’ll break your heart the most about my mother is the way that, more than anyone, she blames herself.
She’ll never let on, but I can tell. I’m her son. I tried to console her, but I’m no good at it. Moms are just like that anyhow. They act like they’re being hard on you so they can distract you from the fact that they’re really being harder on themselves. Misdirection. I see right through it.
Every time they yell at you for being late for school, or for never doing your homework, or for pulling a gun on an old guy and getting knocked out and sent home from your first job. Every time, they’re really just mad at themselves. They can’t forgive themselves ever for stuff they didn’t even do.
Every little thing you do bad, it’s like you mother did it herself. Or maybe it’s just my mom. What do I know about mothers? Alls I ever knew of mine is this ball of nerves, this pretty, trembling, stringy haired, red lipped ball of nerves. It’s weird–she gets up first, she makes all the food, she cleans everything up, does all the hard boring stuff in life, but she shakes and shakes like the slightest nudge and she’s going to crack. She’s tough, but she’s barely holding it together. These days, I’m not really sure she’s holding it together at all. I wonder if this is what people look like when they’re finally broken for good. I think how it’s my fault, then I think how my dad used to always say I’m too much like my mother. If I could see him right now, I’d tell him to his face how glad I am I’m like her, and not like him.
She stopped her crazy mumbling for a while and everything got real quiet. I turned on the hot water and guided her into the bathroom. Even in this state she knows to recognize that the thing to make her feel better is to get cleaned up and to run a brush through her hair.
I turned on the TV and helped myself to one of her cigarettes.
When she got out, the frail, broken silence continued. We sat there all night, she was in her truck stop t-shirt, sitting on the side of the bed and staring at her feet. I sat at the little table by the door, staring at the TV but not listening to it.
It’s weird because everything was so messed up, yet suddenly, for the first time, my head started getting pretty straight. I still don’t have the words for it. I don’t know what form it’s going to take because I never really thought about making something of myself, but all of a sudden I started to see real clear: I gotta make something good of me because then, when I do something good, she’ll feel like she did something good. I don’t know what she could be proud of me for, but suddenly, all I wanted in life is to some way, some how make her more proud of herself. She works the hardest of anyone, she should feel good about what she does, about who she is. But moms aren’t like that. Not my mom anyway. She needs everyone around her doing good if she’s going to feel anything good about herself. She and Dad were divorced, but every day he spent being a fuck up she took it as a reflection on herself. When he died in that job, she said, “See, he can’t even be a fuck up right,” and she’d degrade herself all the time for having ever gotten involved with him. Then she’d look at me and say how I’m a little miracle. Say how I’m this beautiful miracle that came out of two complete losers. That’d generally be right before some superintendent at the school district would call her up and say how they’d had enough; her little miracle baby was going to have to find a new school to skip classes at.
I’m going to do good. She says we need a plan, so I decided I’m going to come up with one for her. A good one. And I’m going to see it all the way through.
She fell asleep eventually, and I was still sitting there at the table, watching her, smoking her cigarettes. First thing was I needed to find out everything that she knew, and that meant she needed to get her head on straight. I let her sleep as long as she could.
24 hours into our stay, a new day was dawning and when she saw the light come in she got up like a robot. She probably assumed we were late for something.
I gave her the blue jeans she had packed and said it was time for breakfast. She still looked tired and confused and preoccupied, but she followed me outside and down the stairs nonetheless. I was taking the lead, and she was trusting me.
We went to the diner. Pancakes and coffee are the glue to put my mom back together. The waitress brings them and she eats. Now that’s a miracle. I assumed she would just stare at the plate but she was really going at it. She was going at it just as if she hadn’t eaten in two or three days, which is definitely the case, at minimum. Seeing her eat was a good thing. It meant she was forgiving herself and that meant, soon, I’d be able to forgive myself too.
I’m not in a hurry anymore. We can stay in Walcott as long as it takes. I can look out the window at this enormous, flat wasteland and I can bide my time. I’m like a chess master. Mom is eating her pancakes. The pieces of this puzzle will come out in due time, and when they do, I’m going to make them add up to happily ever after.