FICTION: “Up All Night”
“My mom just always worried like so, so much — about everything.
“I mean, a very good example is that whenever I’d be visiting back home from Philly and be hanging out late with my friends — like at a bar or a party or whatever — she would always stay awake waiting up for me to get home. Like just about every single time. She’d wait on the couch downstairs — not even in her bed, and no TV on or anything — thinking who knows what kind of thoughts about where I was. And I’d come stumbling in eventually, and see her there with the lights all on, and all she’d say is that she couldn’t sleep.
“And this was way past the age you probably think I’m saying. It was all through when I lived in Fairmount. I lived there until I was 28 —” Sean paused to read Kayleigh. “OK, I told you that, yeah.”
Sean said this all comfortably and looked straight ahead at nothing in particular. His hand and Kayleigh’s crossed and rested on the bench between them.
“That sounds very unpleasant for her,” Kayleigh said.
“Oh, definitely. But don’t get me wrong, I felt bad about it too. I didn’t ask her to do it, but of course I’d be out sometimes just thinking about her worrying about me. I mean it’s not like it made me leave Bill’s Pub or wherever I was any earlier. I’m sure that more than once I stayed out later even than I otherwise would have.”
Sean paused, but it was clear that he’d continue to speak.
“Not that I ever thought that she was deliberately trying to make me feel bad. She’s such a caring woman, and if anything she cared too much — you know? But for the longest time we’d argue and argue. I’d tell her it was irrational. That it’s not like she didn’t sleep one wink when I was off in Philly — where I could have been smoking heroin in Kensington for all she knew. Or, whatever, more likely just passed out on the corner in front of Bishop’s Collar, but still. She never even tried to explain it, said its just a mother’s instinct, that it was just how she felt.”
“I know a lot of people say that whenever they see their parents it’s like they’re teenagers again.” Kayleigh said.
“That’s it exactly. It took me the longest time even to realize that we were doing this, like, dance. I’d get on the turnpike and drive up every month or so — all happy to get out of the city — and then just argue with her, and get upset, and not understand why.
“I told her at one point too, that we were just playing into these mother-son dynamics. That we couldn’t see each other as anything other than caretaker and care-takee.”
This had been on Sean’s mind for a while.
“It was this one time after I’d been away for a few weeks. I come home and my mind is clear and I’m ready to tell her exactly what we’re doing every time we see each other. About how she always felt that she needed to protect me, how’d I play into it by acting out and staying out late — all that stuff.”
Sean read something from Kayleigh’s energy.
“I’m sorry that I’m going on —,” he trailed off, then his voice regained its comfort. “But, honestly — and it’s weird to say — but I think that you’re lucky to have never had to deal with these weird mother-child dynamics.
“I’m aware of the stuff, but it still drives me crazy. It’s like, no matter how much progress I make as a person, how much more kindly and empathetically I’m able to treat people, once I’m around my mom, I’m every bit as emotional — fussy, irrational, whatever — as I’ve ever been.”
A tear slid down Kayleigh’s face. Sean would have seen it if he were looking at her. The sun had set and the air was cooling and some younger mothers were setting their children to sleep on this September school night. •