“I’m dying,” he says.
We are all dying. I think but do not speak.
I pick him up from the ground. Broken leaves from the tree he fell out of stick out angrily from his hair as if they are growing from his brain. He bites his lip to help hold back the tears. I am his mother and I must love him but he lashes out at me with fists that strike my flesh. I know I will see the bruises later in the mirror when I brush the leaves out of my own hair.
You are killing us all. I think to myself.
So quiet within my own brain that I imagine it in words, printed out in the smallest type. Possibly they appear in italics just so the thought will takes up less space in my cerebellum. So small and delicate that it looks like this:
You are killing us all
Meanwhile, his brain speaks like neon art splashed across his forehead. His words appear in bold and I follow them across his brow like ticker tape.
LISTEN TO ME
How can I help but hear him when he screams at me with mental moonbeams? How can you argue with a seven year old who beats his fists against the wall and then cries for you like you hold his last breath in your arms?
He thinks everything is about him and for the most part he’s right.
When my husband and I fight, I know where our son gets his anger. Later, I brush my teeth and notice my tongue is sore from licking my own wounds. I long for a daughter and imagine she would be able share my grief like they share that lust for bloodshed. We stay together for him but, then again, he is the one who is tearing us apart.
He says these things that are so terrible. My husband whispers to me.
I cannot help but wonder if somehow he can read them off of us. I blame my husband for them and as a result another piece of me turns to ice. I am turning into an island afloat on the Antarctic. No matter how hot it is outside, I wrap myself in blankets and scarves and sweaters to fight the chill that stems from inside. Other times, I am afraid to look at our son as if he is a reflection of myself staring back at me.
I take him to Griffith Park and we hike all the way up to the observatory. He is a bee buzzing his way through the crowds and it takes everything in me to keep him contained while I buy our tickets to the next show. My arms grow tired from the tension they must endure of constantly reaching out like wiry worn tentacles. I see him eye an elderly man in line and watch as that look crosses his face. Before I can worry about what he will say, his mouth opens like the trap I know it to be. His mind so sharp his words are like razors that cut the innocent.
The man smiles (because that is what you do to a child) and exposes his softness. My son’s eyes narrow and he goes in for blood.
Do you think about dying more because you’re old and will probably die soon?
If this were fifty years ago I would be able to smack the smirk from his face but it’s not and we no longer hit our children. I rush him into the show and try and explain how unkind his words are.
But they’re true. Do you want me to lie?
When I was pregnant I dreamed of a clever boy but this is too much. How will I survive the cold waters of Europa?
Later it is time for a nap that will never come, and we are home. The words continue to hurl from his mouth as I empty the dishwasher.
You used to be pretty. He tells me as he picks up a photo from before he was born.
I clutch the Tupperware bowl I was putting away. My thumb digs deep inside the lip of the bowl and I feel the fabric like strands where the plastic has been pulled at by forks that once scrapped the sides, picking up the last bits of leftover comfort. I thank him for the compliment and try not to put emphasis on the past tense.
How is he today? My husband speaks again in a hushed whisper.
There is only enough air in the room for two of us and we look at each other like stranded survivors on a mountain because we are three. Our son is the wind that whips around us in a snowy furry. I wonder which one of us will cannibalize the other in order to survive. Other times I am comforted in the way we still find each other in the middle of the night. Rare moments of limbs entwined we remember how we once loved each other. In the morning glow, that calm lasts like the kiss of a darting tongue, gone before you can realize it was ever there.
I was once a free spirit. I think to myself.
A voice answers. And now you are a prisoner.
How can you blame a child who grew in your belly and taught you how to love only to take it away and use it as a sword with which to make you bleed? I thought love was complicated but had no idea.
Later, I tuck him into bed and wrap my arms around him as I read a story.
I love you, mama. He curls his hand inside mine and I smell his head filled with sweat and sugar and the baby he once was.
I love you, too. I tell him. Because on Jupiter’s moon, it is the deepest truth.