I sit in the dentist’s chair with my mouth pried open like a plundered grave. I tap my foot along to Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” which is weakly coming from the overhead speaker. The laughing gas is crawling like an infant around inside my veins. My mom’s voice has a heavy echo as she provides entertainment for the dental staff.
Three dental assistants are crowded around her, admiring the handmade scarves she’s brought in to show off and sell to these strangers – even though it’s the middle of June and 90 degrees out.
“Oh, I love this red one,” one of the women says, wrapping the glittery scarf around her neck. There’s real awe and wonder in her voice, as if my mom has just rubbed two sticks together and discovered how to make fire. “How do you make them?” she asks.
“It’s a lot of work,” Mom says proudly. “There’s a certain technique. I can show you.” My mom reaches inside a large lime green bag that’s filled with crochet hooks and yarn, and takes out a scarf that’s in progress.
The women ooh and ahh as Mom instructs them. As I break out into a laugh, my tongue pushes the dentist’s cold implement.
“He thinks I’m embarrassing,” my mom mutters. The dental assistants all laugh.
“How long are you back from college?” the dentist whispers to me when my mom returns to instructing the women.
“Too long,” I respond, but because of all of the stuff in my mouth, it comes out as “Ooo ong.”
Surprisingly, he understands; patient gibberish must be a language requirement in dental school. He laughs. “You’ll miss it when you get older. Trust me.”
“Mphm,” I say with an eye roll.
Mom sells the dental assistants two scarves for $15. It’s the first sale she’s made, and I know this is only going to inflate her Macy’s-Day-Parade-balloon-sized ego and encourage her to make more. You’d think she was crocheting Versace scarves, the way she shows them off.
I feel a pang of guilt for thinking this, but the laughing gas quickly helps it fade away.
See, the reason Mom started making scarves is because she has so much free time. She takes care of an old white woman 24 hours a day, Monday through Thursday. And because we’re black, it’s like Mom is one of the women from “The Help.” Most of the time it’s her and the old lady sitting watching TV. Or the woman’s other old white friends will come over and they’ll sit and drink champagne while a musician plays for them on the grand piano. So Mom passes the time making scarves. Every Friday at noon, Mom comes home wearing a smile of liberation. She wants to go everywhere and do everything, while I just want to crash and alternate between napping, scrolling through Tumblr, and watching TV shows online.
But I go with Mom because she likes to take me on shopping sprees. She feels bad leaving me by myself in the house four days a week. Little does she know that I do things like go to Brody’s place and party. Or have Kayla and her boyfriend, Peyton, come over and hook their gaming system to my living room TV. I make coffee for us all at midnight so we can keep yelling and screaming at each other as if it was noon.
I even let Kayla and Peyton crash in our guest bedroom once. “You just have to leave by ten,” I told them, “because my mom will be here at eleven. And you’d better not fool around in this bed.”
The next day Mom found a random board game instruction booklet in the living room. “What’s this?” she asked. It must have fallen out of Kayla’s bag.
“Nothing,” I said casually. I started walking away.
“I know you probably have a real party up in here when I’m gone.”
“No, I don’t,” I said as I walked to the stairs.
“Turn around and say that to me. I wasn’t born last night.”
“I told you. I don’t have any friends!” I yelled as I ran up the stairs, silently laughing.
So the least I can do is let Mom have her scarves. “You can give one to your friend that you visited in California,” Mom said as we drove to the dentist. “What’s her name? Rachel? And her mom too. That’d be a nice thank-you gift, don’t you think?”
I looked out the window at the rows of fast food restaurants. “Yeah. Okay,” was all I said. And then, like a jerk, I tilted my phone away from Mom and texted Rachel: “My mom wants to send you one of her haute couture scarves BAHAHAHA.”
I’m an awful son.
She even gave my cousin Marvella a bag of them when she came to visit. “You can sell them in New York,” Mom told Vella. “We can make a business of it. You wear one and when your friends ask you where you got it from, you tell them ‘Gurl, I can get you one for twenty dollars.’ Can’t beat that.”
“Okay, Auntie Audrey,” my cousin said, laughing.
When we got back from dropping Vella off at the airport, Mom went into the guest bedroom to straighten up. I went into my room to take my usual afternoon nap, but Mom came in soon after, holding the plastic bag of scarves.
“Look at this,” Mom whined. I pried open my eyes. “Vella didn’t take the scarves with her. Why would she leave them?”
I lay my head back down. “She probably didn’t have enough room in her luggage,” I lied for Vella. I closed my eyes to let Mom know the conversation was over.
“Last time I give her something,” Mom muttered as she walked out.
I don’t know why the scarves are so important to her. And I don’t know why I can’t just let her have them as a source of happiness. Maybe it’s because I wish she’d focus her energy on something else, like finally going to nursing school or finally getting that phlebotomy job she’s been talking about since I was 10. If she can find a way to sell scarves in the middle of summer, go to night school, work, send me off to college, divorce my stepfather, and find a way to support us all on her own, I know that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the May 2015 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.