He has been sober since late summer, a result of finally being jailed — not for drug use as we had all expected, but for excessive noise and property damage. The irony is that he was not under the influence when he finally lost it. He had just emerged from a haze that was years long.
I first heard his voice on my answering machine, calling me from booking. I had always said, “If you get arrested, I won’t bail you out. You will have to ride that train all the way to the station.”
So I left him to the system. And each day that passed, I heard myself say to the three-year old that he had been so long ago, “Mom will always be there.”
But I was there, all through those days when the heat in Arizona is not just a temperature, it’s an entity. I was there through the nights when the cement still held the rage of noon. I was there, middle aged and battered in the mirror at 3:00 a.m., when I couldn’t sleep and I knew he was awake in a bunk, wondering why I refused to take his calls.
Eventually, the system set him back on the street, and after he gathered what was left of his belongings — most of which I had supplied during my attempts to help him get basic survival accomplished with items like towels and silverware — I agreed to see him. My child of decades ago looked through the mask of a death camp survivor. His bones lay breathtakingly close to the surface of white skin. His teeth have been destroyed. His blue eyes, which once flashed and twinkled, burned through the gray of his face. I touched his hand, and traced the scars left by his pulling at the sensation of bugs crawling through the flesh of fingers. I pulled his six foot frame to me, and kissed him.
His voice was warm and relieved. “Mom,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
And so it began, the visits with me while his father kept vigil in the room nearby. His father, who had somehow always managed to love this boy despite what was hideous, what was heartbreaking. His father, who I had never realized was as savaged by his child’s destruction as any figure in the Pieta. His father, who had also held a front row seat to the crucifixion of the wife as well as the son.
The visits continue, one brief hour at a time, and their normalcy is fragile. Yet they survive the test of close proximity, and the small rituals have emerged again. He mows the lawn, I make supper, and we talk about the leak in the roof that defies repair.
It is mundane. It is sacred. It is what we have for now.