We met on accident. I wasn’t supposed to meet her. But when I did, I saw familiar eyes looking back at mine…the hunger and desperation seated inside of them. She was quiet. Molded into a chair, rocking along and humming to a song that only she could hear. I introduced myself and she offered me a cheap smile, more automatic than genuine. I tried to shake it off, but my insatiable appetite for people-pleasing made me replay her callousness over and over again. However, when he greeted her, it was like the icy disposition she delivered me, melted away like he was the August sun. She turned into a TV sitcom mother, a Clair Huxtable type. Perfect. Interested and focused on treating her child, a grown man, like he was the embodiment of everything special. They performed their embrace in front of me. She held his face in her aging hands. He would sway her in his arms, side to side. A warm gesture I had yet to experience.
“Mom.” He announced. “This is my girlfriend…A.”
She nodded abruptly in my direction, turning into the emoji with the straight smile. I smiled a teeny-bit harder, inflated by his acknowledgement of my promotion. I watched them. Her attention to his needs. Her over-concern for his slim frame not being more bulky because of the need for better eating – a clear, direct, attempt to throw shade at how I was under-performing as his girlfriend. I recognized us in them. How he took a firm voice with her when she softened a bit too much. I noticed the way she customized her wants to meet his needs. One time, she sat in her chair, obviously in pain from an arthritic condition many her age were crippled with and he insisted on her baking, right-then-and-there, her infamous homemade biscuits. I wanted to save her, acknowledge her obvious pain, but even as I presented my closing argument in her defense, she cut her eyes at me. Her eyebrows burrowed into its familiar position for my kind, frown and disapproval, pulling the reins on my female camaraderie to save a sister from old school bullshit.
He had, like so many, become a placeholder of male companionship for a single Mom wrecked with the foot-track of repeated love loss. His Dad was never really in the picture. He had long since outgrown the little boy waiting on the steps with his fishing rod for Dad to pick him up this weekend. She only thrived in his presence and he only stood taller in hers. They needed each other, and it made me feel terribly uncomfortable to be his distraction, and her competition. Later I would discover, there was a B, C, and a D that she had to also keep up with. Meeting his Mom was his bait of choice to make women feel special. Unfortunately, she had expectedly grown weary of trying to keep up with all of us. Her mind just wasn’t sharp enough to remember so many details. Our names, which one had kids, who was Dominican, who didn’t go to church, which one grew up in foster care, which one was allergic to nuts.
As the frequency of my presence at family functions increased, it eventually softened her hard exterior. She invited me to the women’s table of candid conversations concerning men and the series of unfortunate events she and so many of them had endured and still had battle scars to show for.
“Men ain’t shit!” They expressed time and time again, like it was an anthem only they knew the words to. Repeatedly, one after the other, shared the gloom and doom of how men came in and out of their lives like revolving doors. I listened to her and the other female relatives who had parked at the intersection of Bitter and Heartbroken, go on and on and on, over how their sons were the epitome of their sperm donors. Even though most had absentee fathers, they had somehow latched on to a peculiar DNA strand that aided and abetted their demands and expectations, just like their former lovers did. I recalled the day she baked him those homemade biscuits, the very thing she was now complaining of, showing off the arthritis in the joints of her fingers. I didn’t feel sorry for her, but they did. They exploited their passive-aggressive and codependency on needing to be needed, but hating it all the same. In those moments, I pondered on what our future would look like. Me, passive aggressive, wanting to please him, but hella spent on what it would cost me. To be like her. Aged in a cushioned seat, with crippling arthritis, waiting for my son, to fulfill the role his father had been too pussified to become and I was too emasculating to let him be…a man.