Driving down Main, late afternoon after work, I notice the shift in seasons. Growth erupts from decay all along Main Street. People out walking the sidewalks wearing hoodies in place of winter parkas. Bright colors popping out from Illinois winter gray and the Apple blossoms line the road.
Ah, spring—soft poetry and sonnets; a reminder that winter does not last forever. And that everything is in the process of impermanence.
A call comes in from my industrious and lively twelve year old. He informs me that he is home. I launch into the usual mom questions. His responses: one-word, predictable.
“Okay then, I’ll be home shortly. I need to pick up your brothers. I’ll see you soon.”
Silence. And then a small voice with very little air behind his vocal cords: “She broke up with me. Mom (in long drawn out syllables), she broke up with me.”
His voice was almost unrecognizable. This child rarely cries. Only if I cuss or get angry at him. I looked at the clock on my dashboard and quickly assessed whether I’d have time to go home before picking up his brothers.
“I’ll be home in a minute.”
I knew this day would come. He is, after all, in seventh grade. Over the last year I even tried to imagine this moment.
Such a sweet friendship existed between the two of them: dances, sporting events where they cheered each other on, awkward holiday gifts, and Valentines. Oh, the Valentines. And despite never really being alone together, they shared a connection at school. In the privacy of their daily texting sentiments, they shared their lives. It was “real,” as he reminds me later. I already knew this.
It’s the first in many layers of heartache, right? Truthfully, this is a good thing, I pep-talk to myself. An opportunity. And so it will be, as I shift out of momentary panic. I quickly let go of feeling sorry for myself, too. If I am honest, it’s been a hell of a week. No dinner plans in the making, I hardly have time to stop this train.
But spring reveals its shift again as I pass a cherry tree covered in blossoms.
I find him covered up on his bed, against the wall with his knees pulled up, playing a video game on his phone. I slowly slide in next to him. His face is blotchy and red. His eyes full of hurt. I know this child. He wants me there but will not give an inch.
I am silent as I put my hand on his chest without making eye contact. I stare at his phone with him as he blows up a battle field. I notice how little movement there is in the rise and fall of his breathing. He has a tendency to hold things closely to his chest. At twelve, he has already learned that crying is not permitted—unless you lose a major basketball game.
But my presence, at least for now, blows this rule.
He tries to talk but the tears well up in his throat again. He says, “Can I text you what happened while you sit here?” I contemplate the ridiculousness.
“No. Don’t talk. You don’t have to.” To which he then pushed past and told me the story. I’ve learned this trick with clients, and now with the boys. If one doesn’t feel pressured to find the words, the words will come.
We continue to stare at his phone. I rest my head on the top of his as the texts come in like rapid fire from his boys. Things like “Sorry.” and “What happened?” He interrupts his story to text back, continues his mission on the battlefield with seamless transition, and returns, too, to his words.
I close my eyes and visualize him at three years old. Then as a man in the future. I feel nothing but pure love for him.
I make tea. More for me than for him. All the while I worry about the damn time, about and needing to pick up his brothers. He seems to be naturally shifting, away from the story. I drink my tea as he continues to stare at his phone. But he’s watching me, too, as I set a cup next to him.
Optimism comes over me. It’s authentic, in no way implying his sadness has to disappear.
“All boys with broken hearts get to pick anything they want for dinner.” A smile spreads across his face and he makes eye contact with me for the first time. “Monical’s Pizza. It must be Monical’s! Pepperoni and extra cheese please.”
Later, back in the car with his brothers, another call comes in. “Mom? And ice cream too.”