(Re-publishing this short story in honor of Black History Month. I realize that I don’t have to have the kinds of conversations with my boys that other moms have with theirs, simply because of skin color. This story is a way to demonstrate my support for moms who deal with inherent fear each time they send their child into the world.)
Lennia handed off the lunch bag to Jameson and waited for her hug. He gave it without hesitation and accepted the usual kiss on the cheek, which had a corresponding tear that tried to creep out of one of her eyes.
“You have a good day, baby. And mind your teacher and keep your head down. Momma loves you.” She looked him in the eye as she said it; at thirteen her son was as tall as she was now. He nodded his head and muttered, “Yes mum, I promise.”
“That’s my baby. See you later Jameson,” and like other mothers on their dilapidated city block, she sent her child out into the world.
She went immediately to the toilet and vomited.
Every day Lennia sent her son to school, every day since that Jones boy got killed, she had thrown up her breakfast and worried the next eight and a half hours for her child to come home safe. She’d lost fifteen pounds by now and while she could afford ten of them, her friends were growing concerned that she was getting too skinny. “Your Tommy gonna be wonderin’ where your ass went girl,” Jazmin kidded her.
She couldn’t help it. Something in Lennia had snapped when she heard about the Jones kid who was shot by the police. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, but he got scared and ran. Two small squeezes of a finger on a small piece of a metal trigger and his fifteen-year-old body was stopped, dropped, and would never get up again. Lennia knew that things like this happened often, but for some unexplained rationale this shooting made her realize that it could have been her baby lying in a puddle of blood. It could be her baby lying on a cold table, a blueish face, eyes closed never to open again. It could be his funeral pamphlet she was ordering. There were no guarantees.
It wasn’t enough just to be polite anymore. It wasn’t enough for the kids to keep their head down and mind their own business. It wasn’t enough for the Jones boy, it wouldn’t be enough for her Jameson. She knew her son – he would be scared and probably run as well.
Jameson was a good kid, a bit on the quiet side which made it difficult for him to make friends. Lennia worried about whether or not he felt like he fit in. She worried that he might get in with the wrong crowd at some point just to feel like he belonged somewhere. She worried that his gentle spirit would make him a follower and not a leader. She was sick over the fact that she couldn’t be with him all the time to protect him.
She was better for a bit right after he left; the adrenaline rush from vomiting gave her a measure of focus. But that would wear off and then the tightening of her chest would set in and make breathing a chore of consciousness. She could be sweeping and it would hit her, frozen in fear, standing in the kitchen with nothing but panic for a companion. She could be folding towels and the weight of worry would drive her to her knees, “Please god, keep my baby safe. Please god, keep my baby safe. Please god, keep my baby safe.” She could be taking a shower and be unable to move until the hot water ran out and the cold water finally registered in her brain. She could be sitting down at her sewing where the pounding of her heart would become louder than the pounding of the needle moving up and down over the fabric so that she would end up with a crooked stitch that needed to be ripped out and done over again.
Lennia couldn’t count the minutes and hours of time she was losing to her anxiety attacks, but she knew they were robbing her. She couldn’t explain to her toddler daughter why she was crying, but she knew it upset her. She couldn’t get her husband to understand why the housework wasn’t getting done, but she knew she was slipping.
The clock became her focus. Nine. Eleven. Twelve twenty (lunch time). One. Two. Two Thirty (he’ll be out of school in ten minutes). Three fifteen, he’ll be home soon, The hours took their time to come and go as if they were torturing Lennia, testing her patience, making her a prisoner to their beginnings and endings.
Another rush of adrenaline helped her through the last half hour of waiting. Jameson walked home from school, a mile and half of exposure and vulnerability. The prospect of danger sent her into frenzy: she paced the kitchen floor, checking the window for his visage with each pass. “Damn this knotted heart.” she thought. “Curse this horrible world.” she lashed. “Get home safe to me.” she begged.
When she did see his face, Lennia raced to the entry. She tried to muster a calmness within herself before Jameson opened the door but there was no mistaking the wild, primal wave of relief he saw each time in his mother’s eyes or the hug that cut off his own breath and smelled of desperate worry.
“I’m home safe momma, it’s okay.” He said these words to comfort her, knowing that they didn’t matter; her only solace was his warm, breathing, upright body.
“So you are, baby, so you are,” she said as she released him.
Lennia was almost herself the rest of the day. Her baby was home safe under her roof where she could see him and hear him. She hummed while she fixed dinner. She laughed at the sit-com on TV. She cooed over her daughter. She would even make love to her husband.
But the next morning, as soon as she told her son goodbye and closed the door after him, she went immediately to the toilet, and vomited.