The Heat Death at the Center of the Universe
I am named for my grandmother. And I woke up a little early today. This is because my son has to go to school; he is in the 4th grade. I love him. But he’s selfish. Very selfish, frankly. And he antagonizes me! For sport, too. I think, at least. You can’t tell with him — he doesn’t really share that: probably out of spite.
There’s just a lot wrong with him. Like this morning; I’m waking him up right now. He doesn’t want to go to school. I can tell it. He’s not even stirring as I turn on his light and then he pulls his head under the covers. I sigh:
“Really… again with this?”
He says nothing and rolls away from me, then groans.
“Do not do this today.”
‘I’m tired, mom... I just woke up…’
“Well it doesn’t matter. You know this has to happen. Wake up,” I paused “or I’ll tell your father and he’ll come in, and be late for work, and that’s going to make everyone unhappy.”
He said nothing.
I had no interest in waking up his father — I moved over to my son’s bed, took his blanket off him, and informed him I would see him downstairs in 20 minutes.
I walked down to our dining room and grabbed my morning cup of tea, then walked out to our porch. It was a cold, bright October morning. I was alone in our neighborhood, again. The house across from us looked like ours; it had no lights on. No signs of life from the houses next to us (which also looked like ours) either.
I stood on our “porch”. It was a raised bit of stone with a railing on it and the color of the stone matched our steps; those matched the path that leads to our driveway. We don’t use the path, though. My husband parks in the garage and my son knows to enter the house through there.
I looked at my coffee. No, it’s tea. Used to be coffee. My doctor said I had to kick coffee: too much caffeine. I have a racing heart, he says. So no more coffee. Tea is ok, he said. But only after I asked. I can only have two cups a day. I normally don’t.
The tea was murky. I couldn’t really see my reflection in it. Used to be able to with the coffee. There was no steam rising off it this morning, either. It was lukewarm when I drank it; I made it before doing battle with my son. I probably shouldn’t have. This always happens and my tea always goes cold. Another little slight against me.
I bushed my hair off my shoulder and looked up again. Something about being outside in the cold and that motion, all while holding something, took me back to college — the memory of me holding a cigarette, outside on someone’s balcony, looking down at a quiet New York City street.
I smoked back then, but only when I was drunk. I had a lot of fun then; we all did. The cigarette I was smoking was one I had at a party at a friend’s house — Justin? Yeah, I think it was. He was a drinking buddy. We lived near each other in my freshman year dorm. We went to a lot of parties together and I dated his roommate for a while. His parents were rich, so he had a gorgeous apartment senior year. That’s where I was, mentally. That apartment’s balcony.
I could feel the cigarette in my hand and smell the smoke about me. I was in that world until something caught me off guard — a engine sound? My husband’s car. White Lexus. A sedan, but a classy one. Lots of leg room for him. He was off to work, driving away while I was standing outside. I didn’t realize he was going in early today.
My son’s bus pulled up in front of our house; I turned around to see he wasn’t in the kitchen. It had been 20 minutes.
I waved the driver on — he looked at me and waved back, smiled, then slowly accelerated away. He was a nice man: an old black man with a short, grey beard. Wore a blue baseball hat that said “VIETNAM VETERAN” on it. My Uncle Teddy had one like that. He was a nice man, at least when I knew him: always seemed to be wearing that hat, a red vest, bottle-cap thick wire-rim glasses, a chamois flannel, green pants, and thick boots.
I think his wife put him in an old folks’ home. He’s there now, probably.
I felt a shiver down my spine. Memory things — like he has — run in my family. I finished my tea, crossed my arms, and looked down. I wondered if Steve would be putting me in a home, one day.
Or worse, after Steve’s gone — god, my son?
Would he have the money to? Even if he did, would he be plugged into the damn world enough to do so? Kid’s a space cadet. We had him in little league two years ago and he just picked blades of grass in the outfield and chased butterflies. Embarrassing. He didn’t realize what he was there to do. Or that you need to look out for baseballs. Otherwise they hit you in the head. He “quit” one day after a fly ball hit his temple. But we told him we paid for the league, and that his team counted on him, and he had to go. He refused to. And of course he fought us about it, and he even cried these stupid little crocodile tears about it. But he went back eventually. Finished the season, too.
I didn’t sign him up for the next one. Wouldn’t have been worth the stupid little war over each practice. You know, he never even wins any of his little fights, but he still does it.
I don’t get it. What’s so hard about respecting your damn parents and listening to what they say? And doing what you’re told? I don’t know where he got any of this from. It’s embarrassing. I can’t stand it — who wants a child who won’t even listen to them? It’s absurd.
I walked back in the house. The whole thought was too depressing.
He still wasn’t in the kitchen. Of course.
I marched myself upstairs and pushed his door open. There he was, in his school uniform, his backpack on — and sitting on the ground, playing with the “city”. The damn “city”.
It made my blood boil. Another slight. Typical.
The “city” is a collection of toys and hotwheels cars and teddy bears he arranges in the middle of his floor. He does these elaborate stories involving the neighborhoods and the characters and their “lives”. This infernal... thing… is the the bane of my existence. He never picks it up once the cleaning lady is here on Wednesday. He just sits there and stares at it. Hell, he never moves it when I need to vacuum the rug before she gets here. God forbid he does what I ask — no matter how important it is! He always has to hem and haw for twenty minutes before doing it while making a big show of not saying anything to me. Or even, god forbid, apologizing.
And, plus, he always comes home and does this instead of his homework — instead of homework! He’s a child, for Chistsake! Going to school is his job. And he quits it. Routinely.
I’ve tried to barter with him — he can play with the city after his homework, I say! What do I get back? The same ridiculous excuses — I’m in the middle of the story. He’ll try to explain it to me, to distract me. And I always tell him that we need to focus. He can never focus. But I tell him this anyway! I tell him that he needs to focus and just do what he needs to do. Not this. But no. He always drags his feet and says “just a few more minutes,” or “just let me finish this because…”. It’s ridiculous. Insulting.
But again, he never even wins! He always gives in after these dumb little protests. Why, why why why, why does he do this? Why!
And now, for the first time, in the morning? This is even worse. This is a new form of this stupid little rebellion. I have to drive him to school now, all because of this. I have to take time — from my day — because of the “city”.
I sigh as I look at him: he’s staring back at me and not saying anything. He has no idea how frustrating his is. We pay a lot of money — too much, frankly! — for the school he goes to. But he just does no homework, nothing! And I get calls from teachers every day: he’s forgetting assignments, acting out with silly little “pranks”, misplacing things constantly… unreal. No responsibility. This whole endeavor is just fucking hopeless.
If it has to happen, I hope Steve will be the one to put me into the home. He’ll remember to do it, at least.
My son finally speaks, quietly:
‘Did I miss the bus?’
“You did”, I pause, while sucking my teeth, “yes.”
He looks down at the city.
‘I didn’t mean to.’
“Do you think that matters?”
He just sat there. Looking down, again. Trying to make me feel bad, probably! Because he’s a manipulator — this is another tactic in his stupid little wars. But I know this game. I know what to say —
“You can say sorry all you want, but you know that doesn’t change anything, right?”
He says nothing. And keeps looking down. More theatrics, again! He knows this makes me feel bad — but still! Here he is: doing it again. It’s selfish. Manipulative, too. Typical.
I knelt down next to him.
“Look at me.”
“Fine — listen. Do you remember what the therapist, said? About being at the baseball game?”
Still nothing. Of course. I sit in the silence for a bit.
“Fine, forget it. Whatever,” I paused “just get up. We’re going to school.”
I stood up and watched him.
I moved back to the doorway and stared at him.
I wish anyone — anyone, any one single person in the entire damn world! — — understood how taxing and odious these stupid little games are. But I am the only one who earnestly works on raising this clueless, manipulative child. So I have to deal with this. Alone.
He stood up, kept looking at the ground, and walked towards me. I began walking downstairs; he followed.
This sorry little procession of his trailed me into our SUV. My car was white and well maintained. I got it cleaned yesterday. It’s nice to have at least one thing which looks like it should around here — something that isn’t rebelling or left on the ground by a clueless child seeking to spite one of the only people in this world who cares for him.
I drove; he sat behind me, in silence. More of the shenanigans. Typical.
The school is 15 minutes away. After 10 minutes of silence, I asked if he remember to do his homework today.
He said nothing, again. More of this — the fake sadsacking to avoid any responsibility for his own actions. Reprehensible. I felt my blood pressure rising; my hands clenched the steering wheel. I found myself sucking my teeth again.
I started fiddling with my fingers on the wheel; tapping them, lifting one at a time — all of it was just me trying to make my hands stop strangling the leather on the steering wheel. No use. Blood pressure stayed high, too.
We finally arrived. I pulled over, craned my neck back, and looked at him.
“Not even a thank you today?”
More nothing! Because of course. This is what he does.
“Well, you’re late. Move.”
He opened the door and got out. No gratitude for what I do for him! Typical, again: typical. Nothing is new under the sun.
I sat in the silence for a moment. For a second, I remembered the cigarette and the balcony that I thought about earlier. I could taste the smoke in my mouth.