The morning was clear and calm. Luke and I sat, staring out the greasy, kitchen window as the school bus slowed down, waited, then moved off again. The grocery list was slapped up on the refrigerator as if this was just another damn day and somehow that tan had returned to my boy’s face that hadn’t been there the night before.
I drove Luke to school knowing I was ditching another waste-of-a-life meeting at work and he’d be late for his first class, but to hell with his teacher. I was the real teacher, and look what that had done for Luke.
At two a.m. the night before, the ghost of Luke’s ashen face hovered above me. His eyes were frenzied, urgent. I saw two, black holes boring into me and one hand kept jittering up to scratch the same spot on his cheek that was bleeding. He was whimpering and a sheen of sweat layered his face.
A sea of pain opened inside me.
All the signs had been there. Days I couldn’t get him out of bed. The lock he hammered on to his bedroom door. Screaming at me to stay away from his stuff. I used to spend hours reading to him. When he was twelve he’d come running home to tell me about some girl or an asshole at school who was bugging him or anything at all, and now he barely put two words together.
Luke was taking the rocky course through life, like I had. His story was like a chain that swung back at me. He was scared, wasted on something that had started out so sweet and harmless like that kitten we once found stranded in a back alley. But over the isolating hours of the night, that fun little high had become a loose rabid tiger ready to snap him in two.
I knew it all. His lurching movements, the sniffling nose that never stopped, the cuts on his hands and face from dirty, bitten fingernails and those pupils as fucking large as a continent and that pallid invisibility of fear.
I sat with him through the endless hours of the nightmare until he stopped pacing, scratching and collapsed on the floor next to me. I held a mug to his lips while he slurped down chamomile tea. I rocked him in my arms, talking, talking, talking softly to bring the child in him back to me, to this house, to this room, while through my whispered words, I heard my own fears buzzing over them like some acid-green aura – once an addict, always an addict.
I wanted to lock my door and suck life through a pipe until all I could see was a haze of what wasn’t supposed to be. I thought I’d been clean for so damn long, but I held my boy tightly, rocking him with those snapping jaws around us, and knew it would always be chasing me, closing in on me, burning me down slowly.
published 19 January 2011