You are a terrible mother

On the cracked volleyball court of his grandfather’s back yard, near the bark-filled patch that gets replaced once a year, Ryan and his band were limbering up, getting ready to pay tribute to his mother. Ryan was a good kid. That was his reputation; his identity even. Good kid. Nice kid. Bit of a nerd, maybe, but nothing that wouldn’t make a single mom proud. And laugh. Ryan had the kind of mug, the demeanor, and general air that stirred preparatory chortles on sight. Part of it was the elasticity of his face, plus a wide and gleeful pair of eyes. Make him smile and his jaw would stretch, forcing a bug-eyed cartoon to the surface. At dusk, he stepped towards a microphone and flicked an organizing gesture at his bandmates. As he coughed, a cheering “whoop whoop” sounded out from a small but devoted gathering on the nearby lawn. Ginny, forty-something and now celebrating one more of those forty-something birthdays, jumped up and clapped, ready to dance or pump a fist with awkward musicality. Cool mom. Not embarrassing mom, despite bad, hopelessly out-of-date dance moves. Best friend mom. Psychoanalyst-but-not-with-her-son mom. Ryan’s biggest fan mom.

             “Thanks mom. Thanks everyone”, Ryan duly announced. He extended a hand, signifying her as the guest of honor. “So, as you all know this is her latest birthday—not saying which one, of course. But lets’ hear it”

             (more whooping, clapping, an odd calling out of something pleasantly snarky from the back)

             “Anyway, I wanna’ thank you, mom, in front of all our friends, plus grandpa and nana—thanks for letting us use your home again…(another round of whooping, plus clapping, but no heckling this time. Ryan gulped)

             “So…there’s a lot I want to say, but I’ll keep it simple. Or not (another chuckle). Here we go: thankyou, mom. I mean, thank you for teaching me that while desire, or orality as you sometimes put it, is human nature, we are not wholly selfish beings. Justice, peace, and equality are the ideals to shoot for in this world. So, here we are together, in honor of your day. Thank you all for wearing masks and staying six feet apart. I’d wear one too but for the fact that I can’t really sing with it on. Anyway, here is my ode to you, mom—my expression of a well-adjusted, integrated mind for your ever tolerant ears. I know you’ll get it, hope the rest of you will, too.”

             With that, Ryan turned to his right and motioned to a guitar player flanking him, one of his friends—one of his crew, as he put it, with tongue firmly in cheek. Ryan’s cheek plus the rest of his face turned serious; then, amid another flurry of clapping, it turned into a grimace. He counted in and jerked his head forward, cueing a jarring chord backed by a furious drum beat. The D, G, F, A chord sequence, sounding a bit like the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the man”, rumbled for just a few seconds before Ryan stepped again to the microphone, this time to shout the following:

You are a terrible mother

D,G,F,A chords

You are a terrible mother

D,G,F,A chords

Because you suck

D,G,F,A chord

Because you wouldn’t let me suck

(then, upon a bridge)

You are a terrible mother

(and on and on, with a D,G,F,A chord sequence)

You are a terrible mother…

             The snarling refrain was no surprise to anyone. Though not amused necessarily, some of the assembled stood or sat with blank expressions, listening reverently, as if Ryan and his crew were a chamber music quartet. A half a dozen or so others, including Ginny, got up and bopped—that is, they jumped, flailed arms, moved in sloppy circles like toddlers stirred by music but un-moved by its form. One or two girls, ambiguously platonic yet possibly more than friends of Ryan or another band-mate, affected a distinctive move from the punk rock repertoire. Green and purple hair flopped before their eyes, obscuring mock-anger, an expression of style for those who have known exclusion and now dance for the abolition of standard. Ginny, holding a half-drunk glass of white wine in her hand—an almost ubiquitous accessory for her—bopped with alternative purpose. For everyone looking on, she danced like she spoke in social circles: not quite seriously but ever with a bristling edge, perpetually waiting upon a critique of her life. Otherwise, she exuded resilience; fun in the face of trouble; stay at-home Friday nights, waiting up for her teenage son, but only to chat, to bond; not to regulate or nosily inquire. Between themselves, they shared most things, but privately, while she recognized the echo of the Velvet Underground song, she’d let pass the implications—Ryan’s unconscious message that there was someone missing. She’d gotten it; seen it in the grimace that cued the performance and departed from the nice. Some still wait for the man.

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