Lately, all there is to do is think. About what could have been. About all the myriads of choices you made in your life, the one (but actually two) you didn’t.
About what Ricky’s father had said to you just yesterday.
Ricky is a constant breathing reminder of how you never wanted kids. He’s been struggling with depression for as long as you can recall. You just want him to get it over with one way or the other. Break out from the constant state of sadness or kill himself. You’re to the point where the latter might be preferable. Make you, in effect, childless, like you’ve wished you would have remained these past two decades.
Ricky had turned 16 three weeks ago. You had brought up his driver’s license, how getting it might help him gain some sort of independence that might actually mean something to him.
If I have the legal authority to drive, I’ll just drive off a cliff.
Good, you think to yourself. You bite down on your tongue to restrain yourself from vocalizing the thought. But as soon as he leaves the room, door slamming shut announcing his angry departure in such a cliché teenage way, you let the word slip out, you let yourself know how electric it feels, how right it sounds.
Hannah, your eldest and only other child besides Ricky, was the lesser of two evils growing up. Not that this is saying much, only that she was always a bit more independent-minded, a tad more capable of fending for herself in the cold hard brutal real world. And not that you recognized this then, only now, only in hindsight, only after it was too late to even have the slightest tinge of appreciation for it.
Hannah had moved out the day of her 18th birthday. You had planned a sort of celebration for her, in that you had bought her a cake, invited two of the only “friends” you knew she had. The rest they could figure out themselves. Hannah had waited until 7 minutes after the party’s official start time, then she had pounded down the stairs, one packed duffel-bag slung over her shoulder, matter-of-factly announcing Alright, I’m out. Her “boyfriend” (or at least a boy she had been seeing in person, often alone) was waiting out front in his beat-up Toyota Camry. Hannah hadn’t even waited for a response from you or her brother, taking her leave before being able to notice the slightest of smirks you had to catch yourself from fully revealing. She had raced out the door and was opening the passenger car door by the time you even realized you should make a show of caring (after all, you didn’t need her brother reporting back to his father how you hadn’t even shown a single sign of resistance.) And so you rushed out, with exaggerated speed, forcing yourself to yell Hannah! Hannah what do you think you’re doing! But Hannah knew better, and you saw her rolling her eyes as the car pulled away. And you knew it was her way of saying one final silent seething Screw you mom. Well, right back at you kiddo.
You walked back into the house. Party’s over. The two girls you invited didn’t need another excuse for escape, for they could sense your hatred towards them bordered on a sort of physical repulsion. And when they did immediately leave, you let out a long sigh. It was one of relief, and Ricky had recognized this. Unreal. Absolutely unreal. You didn’t even try to contradict him, for you didn’t even care what he thought, what he knew.
Let him think. Let him know. You never wanted kids.
Ricky’s father had left you for some blonde thing. It was inevitable, you should have seen it coming. Always had a thing for blondes—natural or bleached, worn long or cropped short—it didn’t matter, he hadn’t been selective about the manner or style, as long as the color fit.
The signs had been there from the get-go. You had been dating nearly 3 months, things were already quite hot and heavy, there was a tracking towards marriage, you both knew it, you both understood it. You know, you’re the only brunette I’ve ever been with. And you would have felt quite special for this revelation, had it not been for his tone of voice which implied a sort of subconscious disappointment over this fact. But at the time, you had dismissed it. The full coming to the surface would come far later. Specifically, 11 years and 2 children too late.
Two weeks after the divorce was finalized, you had questioned him. Would things have been different had I gone blonde at any point before all of this?
Don’t be ridiculous, Rachel. And had it not been for the following words, which seemed to subconsciously slip out of his mouth, you (silly you!) would have faked yourself into believing this. Besides, I knew you brunette first.
And so with this utterance he had left you no path towards pretending, just an immediate arrival at the truth. Cold. Hard. Brutal. And late. 2 kids and a decade plus too late.
Now, Ricky’s father complains about you to you at least 5 times a week. Often he’s just repeating different versions of the exact same thing.
Kids need a mother, Rachel…
Kids need to feel like they have two parental figures, Rachel…
Kids need someone they can look up to, who can they aspire to, Rachel. That starts with me, and that starts with YOU…
In addition to these tiny variations repeating the same perceived issue (what else but a lack of mothering skills), Ricky’s father had the obnoxious habit of blaming you for other people’s terrible decisions. It had been your fault he had an affair, it had been your fault he divorced you. And most recently, it was your fault Hannah had moved out, had shacked up with some lowlife dead-beat, had opted not to attend college.
In short: It was always on you. It was in all ways on you.
You hear Ricky storming into the house. Wasn’t depression supposed to be a quiet disease, a silent killer? Except it’s not Ricky, it’s Ricky’s father. He’s hysterical, blubbering something about how he can’t find Ricky.
What do you mean can’t find Ricky?
He tells you how he hadn’t shown up to the house, how he had agreed he was to be there by no later than 4 pm so they could leave for a play at the local theater beginning at 4:30. (Ricky’s father believed getting Ricky into the arts was the key to unburdening himself from his own unhappiness.) But 4 pm rolled around, and there was no Ricky. Then 4 became 4:30 and now it was 5 and Ricky’s phone was going straight to voicemail which meant Ricky’s phone was off or dead (DEAD!) and here Ricky’s father is in front of you an emotional wreck jumping to the worst of conclusions (but was he wrong?) and here he is expecting you to alleviate his fears (but did he really expect that?) and here you are both unable and unwilling to do so.
Have you called the cops? To you, this is the very logical next step.
Ricky’s father gapes at you, a bewildered look upon his face. No, I haven’t called the cops, Rachel! I called our son’s MOTHER 27 times in a row before speeding over here. Twenty-seven times, Rachel!!
You didn’t have a response to that, only a thought in your head. You never wanted kids.
And meanwhile, Ricky’s father continues to berate you and blame you and berate and blame and berate and blame. And this is how the vicious cycle of life continues.
And this is what Ricky’s father had said to you just yesterday.
You know, I see right through it all. You kept both babies because you didn’t want the taking of lives to be on your conscience. But instead, this—letting them into this world, washing your hands of them immediately, saying no this is not for me, this is not what I wanted. You want to know what I think of that?
He knew it was a rhetorical question he was asking. He knew you wouldn’t respond. He would let you know his opinion regardless.
That’s crueler than killing them would have been. And I want you to know that. And I want you to carry that.
But if Ricky’s father had wanted it to be guilt you would carry, that would be a useless wish. (Always. In all ways.)
And it turns out Ricky’s father didn’t have to call the cops, for they called him less than two minutes after he had stormed into your house. The good news—Ricky had been found. The bad news—Ricky was still undead.
When you and Ricky’s father showed up at the scene of the accident (that’s what the paramedics and cops were calling it) and you saw Ricky (beaten up, badly—but conscious, speaking), you felt an overwhelming sensation of fear. For you were genuinely scared. Yet you weren’t sure of what. The fact that Ricky had indeed come up with a premeditated plan to kill himself. Or the fact he reconsidered at the very last minute—the sudden swerving of the tire marks, a clear indication of that. The fact that he indeed intended to drive off a cliff, just as he had told you. Or the fact that he veered from that course, in the most literal of senses, at the very last moment. The fact that Ricky was still alive, but certainly not living. Or the fact that he wasn’t yet dead, merely breathing.
Despite these uncertainties, there was nothing left for you to do but approach your son. There was an audience, it was expected of you. Besides, perhaps it would bring you some sense of clarity.
I’m sorry, mother. And the hidden meaning in those words. And the four words that were left unsaid, left hanging in the air between you, I couldn’t do it.
I’m sorry too. And the three words you couldn’t say, left lingering behind your lips, I love you. The understanding that sometimes people have to be talked off the edge. In this case, that was literal. In this case, you could not be the one to do the talking. You wouldn’t have believed the words you were saying. But you could apologize and mean it, for you were genuinely sorry for who your children wound up with as their mother. It’s not like they had a choice in the matter after all. (That choice had been always yours. That choice had been in all ways yours.)
And so, it could only be I’m sorry too.
And then there was nothing left for either of you to say, nothing left to do but wait out the silence. And think. And your first thought centered around relief—not because your son was still alive, but for the fact that this whole episode couldn’t be blamed on you. For it had been Ricky’s father who had ended up convincing him, after a week and a half of non-stop badgering, to get his license a mere two days before. But then again, Ricky’s father would still find a way. (Always. In all ways.)
It’s been two weeks since the accident had occurred. At least that’s what everyone else was still calling it. Even Ricky’s own father, even he was as in denial as that. Nothing in your life had changed. Nothing had gotten better or worse. There was no drastic shift by your son attempting to kill himself. There was only so much of the same. And how much insanity there can be in sameness. You’d have preferred an altered state, even one far worse. But no, life wouldn’t grant you that.
You still nurse a glass of wine every afternoon, two when Ricky is scheduled to be staying with you, before he gets to your place from school. You still barely acknowledge his presence when he does arrive. He hardly notices you. It’s going through the motions. It’s living out the monotony.
Meanwhile, Ricky’s father had started giving him tasks to carry out. It was his way of giving the kid some sort of purpose, a sense of responsibility, the feeling that we trust he is capable of doing things. To you, such a pathetic generalization couldn’t be understood—and revolving around someone who had just contemplated suicide? Absolute madness. But still you played along with the absurdity, you gave this line of unfounded reasoning a half-hearted try, you put his father’s baseless theory into practice, allowing Ricky to pick you up a few items from the store. Truthfully, you’d rather continue doing these things yourself.
And the paper towel you grab now—printed with pretty little bullshit words like Bliss, Hope, Cheer—just one such reminder of that. This also results in your using far more paper towels than necessary on any given occasion, in an attempt to more quickly be rid of looking at such banal clichés, such failed attempts at forced cheer (society’s obsessive pursuit of happiness—in itself a contagious disease). And you know the selection of paper towels had been a deliberate one by Ricky. His silent seething way of saying Screw you mom.
Well, right back at you kiddo.
You’re halfway through your second glass of chardonnay. Ricky storms in. Another rough day at school, you suppose. And you suppose most mothers would find it in them to ask. But you’re not most mothers, you don’t even want the distinction of being a single one.
And so there’s nothing to do but quickly drain the glass empty, close your eyes, take a deep breath, try not to cry.
And think. One of these thoughts is your own. The other is in a man’s voice, whiny, complaining, always to you, in all ways about you.
It’s not your fault. It’s all your fault. You can’t be blamed. You’re the only one to blame. The back and forth, the polar opposites. The stumbling through motherhood, the guilt-tripping you refuse to fall over.
And another lingering thought forever echoing in your head. You never wanted kids.
Keilly Austin Ulery was born in NorCal, raised in SoFlo, and recently relocated to Athens (in Georgia). She attended Vanderbilt University, participating on the women's varsity tennis team all four years. Since graduating in 2011, Keilly has worked in real estate. She considers herself to be a foodie and aspires to one day open a gin bar.