I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of glass shattering. I rubbed my eyes and debated rolling over and going back to sleep. My sense of concern got the better of me and I decided I should at least go see what had broken. It probably hadn’t been an intruder clumsily knocking things over, but it was silly to take the chance on ignoring the possibility.
It was just Mom and me living in the small apartment; a mother and her eighteen year old son. It was a living arrangement that left me with more responsibilities than I really wanted, but I didn’t mind too much. Mom was the only close family I had, and vice versa. We had to look after each other.
I rolled out of bed with a heavy sigh and stumbled out into the hallway. It was a short walk to the kitchen where I guessed the offending sound had originated. Sure enough, Mom was on her knees on the floor cleaning up the remains of a glass.
Mom didn’t hear me approach, or if she did she ignored me. She had her back to me so she couldn’t see me. She was wearing a nightie, and given her position it was riding up dangerously high on her legs. I decided I should let her know I was there before I got a flash of something embarrassing.
“You okay, Mom?” I asked.
She jumped a little and turned her head so she could see me.
“Oh! Sorry, honey,” she said, briefly startled by my appearance. “I didn’t mean to wake you. Go back to bed.”
“Let me help you get that cleaned up.”
“No, it’s fine. I’ve got it. I wouldn’t want you to cut yourself because I was clumsy.”
“Mom, you’re kneeling in broken glass. I’m not the one who needs to worry about cutting myself.”
“Your concern is noted, but I’m the mother here. Me worrying about your safety beats you worrying about mine. That’s just how it works.”
“Fine. But I’m not going to bed until you finish. I’m not going to have you cutting yourself and bleeding to death in the middle of the kitchen because I left you alone.”
Mom laughed softly. She got the last of the glass fragments swept up and dumped them into the garbage, then leaned against the counter.
“I don’t know when you started getting so protective,” she said. “There was a time when you would have assumed that Mommy could handle a little incident like this all by herself.”
“Yeah, well… that was back when I was too young to do any good anyway. Plus, I’ve since learned that even moms can do stupid shit sometimes.”
“Language,” Mom chided gently.
The faint smile on her face betrayed any attempt at a serious rebuke. It was far from the worst thing she’d heard me say.
“Sorry,” I said. “Are you going back to bed?”
“I don’t know. I thought I might stay out here and throw a few more dishes on the floor.”
“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Mom. Leave that to the teenagers.”
Mom walked over to me and gave me a soft kiss on the cheek.
“Good night,” she said. “I promise I’ll try not to wake you up again until morning.”
“Deal,” I said.
I followed her back down the hallway to our bedrooms, which were right next to each other. We entered our respective rooms and went to bed. I left my door open. I sometimes wondered if Mom assumed I was masturbating when I closed it. I never dared to ask her.
I found myself staring up at my ceiling for the next little while. I was tired, but somehow unable to drift back off. It was one of those times where I had no idea what my body wanted from me.
There was a slight creak from the floor in the hallway. Mom stepped into sight, just barely passing the threshold before stopping.
“Are you still awake?” she called softly.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m awake.”
“Sorry. I know I said I wouldn’t bother you again.”
“You said you wouldn’t wake me up again. You’re still good.”
A brief smile flashed across her face. She padded closer and sat down on the edge of my bed. I scooted over to make more room.
“Your father was always good at remembering details too,” she said wistfully. “You remind me of him so much sometimes.”
“In a good way I assume?”
“Mm-hm. I think you managed to get all of his best qualities.”
Mom reached out and ruffled my hair affectionately. I kind of liked the way it felt when she did that.
“I got half my genes from you, you know,” I said. “That probably helped.”
“Now you’re just humouring me.”
“Maybe. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong. If you think I have a lot of good qualities, that has at least as much to do with you as Dad. Probably more.”
Mom went silent for a moment. It was hard to read her face without the light on, but she seemed to be off in her own world. Maybe she was reminiscing about Dad. I caught her doing that sometimes.
“I still miss him, you know,” she said softly.
“Me too,” I said.
“I know, sweetie. It hasn’t been easy on you either. It’s just… I miss sleeping with him. And I mean actually sleeping, just before your mind goes somewhere else with that.”
“Mom, children do their very best to pretend like their parents never, ever have sex. I can assure you.”
“Yes, well… anyway, the point was he always used to be able to help me fall asleep when I was having trouble. I don’t know what it was, but all he had to do was hold me. It was better than any pill or breathing technique I ever tried.”
There was a trace of sadness and longing in Mom’s voice. I wasn’t sure whether to comment on it or not. Prodding her to talk more might help, or it might hurt. I wasn’t really sure which.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She wiped her hand quickly across her cheek. I wasn’t sure if she’d started crying, or if it was something else.
I sat up and hugged Mom. She seemed a little tense at first, but she soon relaxed into the hug. Her breasts pressed against my chest as we held each other for a moment. I felt kind of embarrassed for noticing them, but I’d gotten used to pretending I didn’t.
“I should get back to bed,” she said eventually.
“Okay, Mom. Good night.”
“Good night, sweetie. Sleep well.”
I was in a bad mood when I got home the next day. I didn’t really have a good reason for feeling that way, which only made it worse somehow.
The root of most of my troubles lately was a girl. I liked her, but she already had a boyfriend. The smart thing would have been to move on, but that turned out to be more difficult than expected. About a week ago she and her boyfriend had broken up. The event had given me a dangerous amount of hope that maybe I had a chance with her after all. I decided I couldn’t just go ask her out immediately and should give it some time. Today I’d learned that they were back together. That small piece of news was enough to put a negative spin on the rest of my day.
I sat on the couch in what was ostensibly the living room of our apartment to watch TV and try to forget about my troubles. I hoped I could get into a happier mood by the time Mom got home. I didn’t really want to explain to her why I was cranky, nor did I want her to worry about me.
My mood hadn’t noticeably improved by the time I heard Mom come in. I put on a neutral expression and pretended to be engrossed in a show I hadn’t really been paying attention to.
“Hi, sweetie,” Mom greeted me.
She walked over gave me a kiss on the cheek before sitting down beside me.
“Hey,” I said without looking at her.
“How was your day?”
“Fine. How was yours?”
“Pretty good, actually. One of the girls at work is getting married, so there’s a lot of stuff going on with that. I swear, every lunch she’s so busy planning that she doesn’t even eat.”
I tuned out as Mom kept talking. I felt kind of bad for not paying attention, but at the same time I knew she wouldn’t expect me to care that much about most of it anyway. She was very aware that ‘girl things,’ such as wedding planning, were not something I was interested in. Sometimes she liked to tell me about them anyway, and I didn’t mind being someone for her to talk at.
“So what did you do today?” she finally asked me.
“Um, just… you know. Stuff.”
“Ah. Must have been a good time.”
“Yeah. I s’pose.”
I knew I should have given slightly longer answers if I didn’t want Mom to pry. It was possible that somewhere deep inside me, I secretly wanted to tell her about my girl troubles, such as they were. Overall, I maintained that I was happier keeping them to myself.
“I can tell something’s bugging you,” Mom said softly. “You don’t have to tell me what it is if you don’t want to, but you can.”
“I… it’s nothing,” I said. “Just wasn’t a great day is all. I feel kind of silly for letting it get to me.”
“We all have days like that, honey. You don’t have feel bad about it.”
“I know, but… I guess I’m just cranky.”
“Well, you’re allowed to be. I’m still here for you anytime you need me.”
I nodded and forced a weak smile. We sat there for several minutes without saying anything. I expected Mom to either try and engage me again or leave, but she did neither. It was somehow both reassuring and infuriating to have her sitting there beside me while I was trying to wallow in self-pity.
“There’s a girl,” I said.
I wasn’t sure why I felt the need to say anything. I’d been doing a good job of shutting up until then.
“A girl you like?” Mom asked.
“Yeah. A girl I like. Only she’s already with someone.”
“It’s fine. Whatever. She’s not even that great.”
“But you can’t help what you feel.”
She sounded more like she was stating a fact than hazarding a guess. Either way, she was right.
“I should just move on, right? That’s what I keep thinking. There’s lots of girls out there and there’s no particular reason to obsess over this one. I just… I can’t help it.”
I waited for Mom to offer advice of some sort, or maybe a sincere but unhelpful declaration of belief in my many virtues. I was resigned to getting something along those lines. I wasn’t dreading the inevitable so much as I just wanted to get it over with and move on.
Mom surprised me by scootching closer to me on the couch and putting her arm around me. I didn’t really have it in me to resist at that point. She hugged me in my awkward, half-turned position until I gave in further and turned toward her, allowing her to pull me deeper into her embrace.
I leaned my head against her shoulder and allowed myself to be held like a child. It was slightly pathetic to be comforted by my mother this way, but somehow it actually helped. The longer she held me, the more my feelings of bitterness and resentment seemed to fade away. I gradually relaxed enough to stop worrying about how embarrassing the situation was.
Mom started gently rocking me while making barely audible shushing noises. At some point my childhood instincts took over and let me enjoy the moment without over-analyzing it. I didn’t care that I was being treated as younger than I was, or that I could feel Mom’s breasts pressed against my chest, or even that a few tears had leaked from my eyes. I felt safe and loved.
“I’ll have to disown you if you ever tell anyone about this,” I said quietly.
“Don’t worry,” Mom said. “Mothers may enjoy embarrassing their children, but we also understand the value of discretion. Besides, there’s nothing for you to be embarrassed about.”
“If you say so.”
“Really. I mean it. It’s kind of my responsibility to look after you, you know. You needed someone to make you feel better, and that’s all I did.”
“I guess. Promise you won’t ever mention this again?”
We sat together for a while until I started getting hungry. Mom made us supper, then I went off to my room for a while. I had to admit my mood had improved substantially thanks to my mother, even if her methods were questionable.
I was getting ready to go to bed that night when I heard the TV. I walked down to the living room in my t-shirt and boxers to make sure it hadn’t accidentally been left on. Mom was curled up on the couch in her nightie watching a movie.