(Author’s Note: You enter the scene a few minutes in. Christine is on the bus to visit Chris)
I looked to see who was calling and was surprised it was my Mom. I was tempted not to answer, but I knew she’d just call back all day, and now was probably the easiest time to get it over with.
She stuttered, like I’d messed up her line by acknowledging I knew it was her.
“Uh, Chrissy, so, happy birthday!”
“My birthday’s tomorrow.” I felt a little triumphant that she got it wrong – it confirmed my existing position on things.
“Of course, I know that. I mean, happy pre-birthday, then. You’re always so literal.”
“Yeah, so, I have a surprise for you. We’re here! In the city! So I can take you out for dinner…for your birthday.”
She didn’t answer. I felt a little bad. But only a little. I hadn’t heard enough to tell if this call was even sober, so I couldn’t really take it seriously. I needed to make sure I had her attention before she got any more of mine.
“I’m playing a show tomorrow night, Mom, and I don’t want any distractions.”
“I know! Ethan sent me the link on Facebook. I’ve watched you practice – your style’s changed a lot since those shows after high school. You’re less like a little Jake, more like…”
I felt a bit creeped out that my mother had been watching my practices, let alone friending my ex-boyfriend. On the other hand, this might have been the first interesting thing she’d said to me in years.
“Not who. More like, I don’t know, more like…well, you, all grown up.”
“What does that mean, Mom?”
She laughed nervously.
“Nothing. I don’t know. Are you happy, Chrissy?”
“I’m thrashing around like a fish out of water.”
“That’s always been when you’re happiest.”
I hated when she asked me questions but really just wanted an easy answer. I wasn’t surprised, so why did I get disappointed every time? We didn’t say anything for awhile.
“Can I come to your show? Maybe…”
“I haven’t had a drink in eight months.”
“Come on, Chrissy, don’t be like that.”
“I’m a little short on energy to be handing it out willy nilly, Mom. I’ve got a lot of balls in the air right now. I can’t take care of all your emotional needs.”
“Yeah, well, be the grown up.”
“You, too, Christine. You’re twenty-five now. Be a grown-up. Come meet me, as a grown up. Maybe we might find something in common.”
“You’re in therapy.”
“But you’re on the road. With…?”
“With Bill. Yes.”
“So, what good is it, Mom? You change everything but the thing that makes it hardest, and for what?”
“For love, Chrissy.”
“Yes, I know that’s your answer. But you’re choosy about where that love goes. Maybe more of it goes into yourself than anyone else.”
I cursed myself for saying that, when I had been so determined that I wouldn’t inflame anything in this conversation. I just couldn’t seem to let her off the hook.
She sobbed on the other end.
“You’re very hard on me. I did my best. I do my best.” I could hear the snot in her throat.
I pictured her splotchy wet cheeks, red-rimmed eyes, thick mucus hanging from her nose, and it kind of turned my stomach. I had some compassion, small and weak against the crowding disdain. We’d had this conversation so many times that I felt like I was trapped in a bad play.
Her bright voice bordered on shrill – she was forcing herself to be nice with me.
“We all have to make the choices in front of us, when they are in front of us, with what we have. Maybe I should have had more, I mean, I wish I had. Would I do the same things now? No, but now you’re all grown up and I don’t get to try again. So all I can do is ask you to…meet me as someone you…don’t already hate.” She choked on the last words.
“I don’t hate you, Mom.” It was automatic, with a sigh of impatience. How many times had she needed me to tell her that?
“Are you sure?”
There was something about her inflection. This time, I paused to really check in. Did I hate her? The mix of emotions was so dense that it was hard to pick out any particular colour. From a distance, it could be mistaken for a black yarn-ball of hate, though close-up, it sparkled with multi-faceted threadwork in all the colours of the rainbow. I rarely chose to look close up – it was too hard. I sighed. I didn’t need to look closer to know that what I felt wasn’t hate.
“I love you, Mom. So that means it’s really hard for me to ride your roller-coaster with you. It makes me hurt. If I didn’t love you, it wouldn’t hurt, right? So the next best thing is to just make distance, you know? Ask you to keep your craziness away from me. Please.”
She hiccupped, and I could hear her softly crying.
“Shhhh. Shhhh, Mom, take a deep breath, okay? Breathe with me.”
We breathed together for a minute. Finally, she seemed to rally.
“All I can do is just keep going, Chrissy, and take the days as they come. I want to see you for your birthday. We pull out Sunday so you don’t have to worry about me hanging around and bugging you. The coincidence is too perfect. Let me come.”
“I don’t want to see you before the show. Or in the crowd. Stay well back out of the light. I’ll leave your name at the door. Don’t come backstage, but you can wait and I’ll come out when I’m ready, after things die down.”
“Thanks, Sweetie. Thank you.”
“Um, you’re welcome. I’m going to go now.”
I pushed the red button and held it down, so the phone hung up and turned off at the same time.