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Judith loved her son. How could she not? He was polite, so well behaved, and had never been sucked into the void of trouble that seemed to plague every single one of her friends’ children. Besides, she was his mother; she was the one who had dressed and fed him and tucked him into bed when he was nothing but a small pile of baby fat and diapers. She was there when he first wandered into the daunting hallways of pre-school, when he first learned to walk, run, talk, write, count, draw; she fought his battles with him, fixed him when he was broken, cured him when he was ill. She loved her Mitchie, her dream son, her Super Son, the envy of every mother and baby-sitter. All she wondered was why lately it was taking her so much more effort to love him.
“Mitch come downstairs, breakfast is ready,” she trilled from the kitchen while flipping a Mickey Mouse shaped pancake; his favorite.
“I’ll be right there Mommy!”
“Hurry up, we’re going to be late again.”
Judith tensed her ears and heard the familiar pitter-patter of his footsteps drumming on the wooden floor above her.
“Your uniform is in the third drawer from the bottom.”
She heard him as he let himself plop to the floor with a soft thud and scramble to find his clothes and jam his feet into a beaten up pair of sneakers. A few minutes later, his bulky figure trotted down the stairs, his cap, bandana, and long row of badges bouncing in synch with every one of his clumsy steps.
Judith felt a pang of guilt reverberate through her body as her heart hardened the tiniest fraction at the vision of her son in his uniform and knee-length socks. What kind of mother was she? Why couldn’t she feel herself glow with pride for him like the birthing coach promised she would? Instead she had a rock, a piece of marble embedded in her chest that would grow and grow and expand at the mere sight of him and envelop her whole body, until she was as cold and hard as marble herself. She tried to repress the disease of her heart, tried thinking of warmth: hot cocoa, toasters, radiators, July, fur coats, fireplaces, love. Yes, love, ironically the warmest feeling of all was the one Judith so desperately wanted to give.
“Would you like some syrup with that Mitchie?” she asked him with a flat voice as her glassy stare followed the fork stabbing a piece of pancake as it was engulfed by his rosy lips.
“No thanks, I’m good.”
Sometimes she wondered whether or not he could tell. Could he feel her skin turn icy when she touched him? Did he know how hard she had to try to make herself love him?
“These are delicious Mom,” he said with his mouth half full. Methodical munching and chewing muffled his words and blended them with the shredded particles of food.
“Thanks sweetie,” she said, a tiny smile creasing the soft skin underneath her eyes, “so Mitchie, have you been talking to Alyssa?”
“You know, Alyssa Schneider, Tracy’s youngest daughter. She is very pretty.”
“Oh right. Her.”
“So… so what?” he stifled a nervous giggle.
“So have you been talking to her?”
‘Say yes,’ she thought to herself, ‘please Mitchell say you have. Do it for you, for me, please, tell me you talked to her.’
“Uhm, not really. I don’t think she wants to talk to me. She has lots of friends,” he added, as if that explained everything. Judith wondered what exactly had gone wrong with Mitchell, and most importantly how she had failed as a parent.
“Oh but that’s nonsense, you are such a handsome young man!” She was lying of course. The bulging lumps of fat that threatened to burst out of his shirt and piggy eyes would hardly be defined as good-looking.
“Well, maybe I don’t want to talk to her,” he said defensively, and Judith interpreted that as the end of the conversation. She exhaled softly and felt around her bag for her car keys, consumed by anxiety for Mitchell.
Twenty-two and still a boy scout. She simply couldn’t believe it; instead of spreading his wings, Mitch was retreating farther and farther into is childhood, living the past two decades backwards; the opposition to growth was so strong he had refused to enroll into college.
Judith’s heart had split in half the fateful night when he had made his announcement; he had said that he simply wasn’t ready for it, that he felt like he owed her something, so maybe it would be best if he stayed. ‘What,’ she had asked him, bewildered, ‘what could you possibly owe me?’
He had muttered an inarticulate response in which Judith detected the words “since dad left,” and “you would be alone. ” That hit her like daggers and arrows, more damage to her already fragile heart. She had snapped. ‘Don’t mention your father, don’t mention him! I don’t ever want to hear you speak of him again,’ she had yelled near hysterics, face white and red and blotchy, the veins on her hands thick tunnels poking through her skin. Then Judith cried, and cried, and cried and Mitchie was there for her, ready to hold his mother like any good son should.
“Come on sweetie, it’s late already,” she said, ushering him to the back door that led to the garage as he shuffled out of his seat and bobbed to the car.
“Today’s gonna be fun, we’re going to Lake Greenview,” he announced a little too eagerly as he pulled the seatbelt around the obstacle of his stomach, still gnawing the last partial bite of his breakfast.
“That’s great hon,” Judith said half-heartedly, and the lines in her skin inched deeper and deeper into her skull. Time was sucking her flesh away.
She took a last frustrated glance at Mitch sitting beside her before driving away, taking in every detail of his face and body. It had been her fault, she thought, all of it had happened because of her. Who else was there to blame? She had built herself a family, and she alone had been responsible for destroying it, ending Mitchell’s life in the process, and she hated herself for it.
She sighed loudly as the car purred to life, forcing every last particle of air out of her lungs until she thought she could feel the two organs sagging in her ribcage.
Mitchie was, after all, her child, she simply had to love him. Could it be possible that the love for him had evaporated along with the love for herself?
The thought scared her; she shook it out of her brain as she gingerly stepped on the accelerator, willing the love she knew she was meant to feel for him replace the oxygen that had just left her body.
She couldn’t help it however, the spiteful thought sneaked into her mind one more time: twenty-two.
Her son was twenty-two and still a boy scout, and she knew that destiny had reserved for both of them, mother and child, a life to be spent together. She also knew however, that no matter what, they would always be alone; they had build themselves their very own private prison, and now they were locked into it.