Authors: Joyce Maynard
For my sons, Charlie and Wilson Bethel, who taught me about
the hearts of thirteen-year-old boys by their own loving and
endlessly lovable example
IT WAS JUST THE TWO OF US, my mother and…
WHERE WE LIVED THEN—THE TOWN OF Holton Mills, New Hampshire—was…
MY MOTHER WAS A GOOD DANCER. More than that. The…
THEY WERE LOOKING FOR HIM all over town of course.
MY MOTHER DIDN’T HAVE A REGULAR JOB, but she sold…
THERE IS A THING THAT HAPPENS sometimes, where you wake…
AFTER MR. JERVIS LEFT, I went back to the kitchen. I…
THAT SUMMER, MY BODY HAD BEEN changing. The fact that…
SATURDAY. WHAT WOKE ME WAS the sound of knocking on…
I THOUGHT WE’D JUST LEAVE BARRY where he was, but…
THEN MORNING CAME—SUNDAY NOW—and we had to deal with things…
OVER BREAKFAST, FRANK HAD TOLD US about the farm where…
MY MOTHER ASKED ME TO GO to the library for…
YOU PROBABLY WONDER WHY YOU don’t have a brother or…
IT WAS THE MIDDLE OF THE afternoon when my mother…
THAT AFTERNOON, THE TEMPERATURE reached ninety-five. The air had a…
MY FATHER AND MARJORIE HAD BOUGHT a minivan, where the…
YOU WOULDN’T HAVE THOUGHT IT COULD get any hotter, but…
TUESDAY MORNING. SCHOOL WAS SUPPOSED to start the next day.
WEDNESDAY. THERE WAS NO COFFEE that morning. My mother had…
THEY CHARGED HIM WITH KIDNAPPING my mother and me. This…
EIGHTEEN YEARS PASSED. I WAS thirty-one years old—losing my hair,…
SEX IS A DRUG, ELEANOR HAD TOLD ME. When sex…
T WAS JUST THE TWO OF US
, my mother and me, after my father left. He said I should count the new baby he had with his new wife, Marjorie, as part of my family too, plus Richard, Marjorie’s son, who was six months younger than me though he was good at all the sports I messed up in. But our family was my mother, Adele, and me, period. I would have counted the hamster, Joe, before including that baby, Chloe.
Saturday nights when my father picked me up to take us all out to dinner at Friendly’s, he was always wanting me to sit next to her in the backseat. Then he’d pull a pack of baseball cards out of his pocket and lay them on the table in the booth, to split between Richard and me. I always gave mine to Richard. Why not? Baseball was a sore spot for me. When the phys ed teacher said, OK, Henry, you play with the blues, all the other guys on the blue team would groan.
For the most part, my mother never mentioned my father, or the woman he was married to now, or her son, or the baby, but once by mistake, when I left a picture out on the table that he’d given me, of the five of us—the year before, when I went with them to Disney—she had studied it for at least a minute. Stood there in the kitchen, holding the picture in her small, pale hand, her long graceful neck tilted a little to one side as if the image she was looking at contained some great and troubling mystery, though really it was just the five of us, scrunched together in the teacup ride.
I would think your father would be worried about the way that baby’s one eye doesn’t match with the other, she said. It might be nothing more than a developmental delay, not retardation, but you’d think they’d want to have that child tested. Does she seem slow to you, Henry?
Maybe a little.
I knew it, my mother said. That baby doesn’t look anything like you either.
I knew my part, all right. I understood who my real family was. Her.
T WAS UNUSUAL FOR MY MOTHER
and me to go out the way we did that day. My mother didn’t go places, generally. But I needed pants for school.
OK, she said. Pricemart, then. Like my growing a half inch that summer was something I’d done just to give her a hard time. Not that she wasn’t having one already.
The car had turned over the first time she turned the key in the ignition, which was surprising, considering a month might have gone by since the last time we’d gone anywhere in it. She drove slowly, as usual, as if dense fog covered the road, or ice,
but it was summer—the last days before school started, the Thursday before Labor Day weekend—and the sun was shining.
It had been a long summer. Back when school first got out, I had hoped maybe we’d go to the ocean over the long expanse of vacation ahead—just for the day—but my mother said the traffic was terrible on the highway and I’d probably get sunburned, since I had his coloring, meaning my father.
All that June after school let out, and all that July, and now just having ended August, I kept wishing something different would happen, but it never did. Not just my father coming to take me to Friendly’s and now and then bowling with Richard and Marjorie, and the baby, or the trip he took us on to the White Mountains to a basket-making factory, and a place Marjorie wanted to stop, where they made candles that smelled like cranberries or lemon or gingerbread.
Other than that, I’d watched a lot of television that summer. My mother had taught me how to play solitaire, and when that got old, I tackled places in our house that nobody had cleaned in a long time, which was how I’d earned the dollar fifty that was burning a hole in my pocket, for another puzzle book. These days even a kid as weird as I was would do his playing on a Game Boy or a PlayStation, but back then only certain families had Nintendo; we weren’t one of them.
I thought about girls all the time at this point, but there was nothing going on in my life where they were concerned besides thoughts.
I had just turned thirteen. I wanted to know about everything to do with women and their bodies, and what people did when they got together—people of the opposite sex—and what I needed to do so I could get a girlfriend sometime before I turned forty years old. I had many questions about sex, but it was clear my mother was not the person to discuss this with, though she
herself brought it up on occasion. In the car, on the way to the store, for instance. Your body is changing, I guess, she said, gripping the wheel.
My mother stared straight ahead, as if she was Luke Sky-walker, manning the controls of the X-wing jet. Headed to some other galaxy. The mall.
HEN WE GOT TO THE STORE
, my mother had gone with me to the boys’ section and we’d picked out the pants. Also a pack of underwear.
I guess you’ll need shoes, too, she said, in that tone of voice she always had when we went places now, like this whole thing was a bad movie but since we’d bought our tickets we had to stay till the end.
My old ones are still OK, I said. What I was thinking was, if I got shoes on this trip too, it might be a long time before we came here again, where, if I held off on the shoes, we’d have to come back. Once school started I’d need notebooks and pencils, and a protractor, and a calculator. Later, when I brought up the shoes, and she said, Why didn’t you tell me when we were at the store last time?, I could point out the rest of the items on my list, and she’d give in.
We finished with the clothes part. I’d put the things I picked out in our cart and headed over to the section where they sold the magazines and paperbacks. I started flipping through an issue of
though what I really wanted was to look at the
s. They sealed those up in a plastic wrapper.
Now I could see my mother across the rows of merchandise, wheeling our cart through the aisles. Slowly, like a leaf in a slow-moving creek, just drifting. No telling what she might put
in the cart, though later I would learn: one of those pillows you put on your bed so you can sit up at night reading. A hand-held battery-operated fan—but not the batteries. A ceramic animal—a hedgehog or something along those lines—with grooved sides where you scattered seeds that you kept moist until, after a while, they sprouted and the animal would be covered with leaves. It’s like a pet, she said, only you don’t have to worry about cleaning out the cage.
Hamster food, I had reminded her. We needed that too.
WAS ENGROSSED IN AN ISSUE OF
that had caught my eye—an article called “What Women Wish Men Knew That They Don’t”—when the man leaned over and spoke to me. He was standing in front of the section right next to the puzzles, which was magazines about knitting and gardening. You wouldn’t think a person who looked the way he did would want to read about these things. He wanted to talk to me.
I wonder if you could give me a hand here, he said.
This was where I looked at him. He was a tall person. You could see the muscles on his neck and the part of his arms that wasn’t covered by his shirt. He had one of those faces where you can tell what the skull would look like with the skin gone, even though the person’s still alive. He was wearing the kind of shirt that workers wear at Pricemart—red, with a name on the pocket. Vinnie—and when I looked at him closer, I saw that his leg was bleeding, to the point where some of the blood had soaked through his pants leg onto his shoe, which was actually more like a slipper.
You’re bleeding, I said.
I fell out a window. He said it the way a person would if all that happened to him was he got a mosquito bite. Maybe this
was why, at the time, this didn’t seem like such an odd remark. Or maybe it was that everything seemed so odd back then, this comment in particular didn’t stand out.
We should get help, I told him. I was guessing my mother would not be the best one to ask, but there were many other shoppers here. It felt good, him choosing me, out of everyone. This wasn’t usually how things went.
I wouldn’t want to upset anyone, he said. A lot of people get scared when they see blood. They think they’re going to catch some kind of virus, you know, he said.