I wasn't sure but I thought my son tried to kill me when he was nine.
He curled next to me in bed, his hands touching my stomach, his butt
pushed out, his feet touching my legs. I was playing Candy Crush on my
phone. He pulled out the pillow from under my head and put it on top of
me. We were laughing, then he leaned his weight against it. I told him
to stop, I quieted my hysteria and explained I couldn't breathe. Maybe
he thought I was laughing. I passed out. When I regained consciousness
he was gone. I found him asleep in his room, lying next to his stuffed
rabbit the same way he laid next to me, his butt pushed out.
In the morning while we ate breakfast I asked him why he left me like
that, if he wondered why I had gone quiet.
He said, "I thought you fell asleep. Like when you drink a lot of wine
and I can't wake you up."
"I wasn't asleep. You were hurting me with the pillow."
"I'm sorry, Mom." He piled several Cheerios on his tongue and showed it
to me, making an "aaahh" sound like he was at the doctor. It had made
me laugh before, but my stomach turned.
I said, "Don't do that, it's rude." He seemed confused. "Never mind," I
said. I looked away. I stared at my phone, swiping aimlessly.
I told my oldest sister about the incident with the pillow while we sat
on her porch and watched the boys, her three and mine, play in the
backyard. They sprayed each other with the garden hose. I said I looked
up the signs of a sociopath on the Internet and he possibly fit: he
laughed when people got hurt on TV, but maybe that was just slapstick
comedy. I found him with the neighbor's dog, examining but not
extracting a thorn in her paw; when I asked him about it, he had said,
"I tricked her into stepping on it." I had been too scared to ask more.
I watched the boys chase each other, shirtless, their nipples pale
pink, almost colorless. My sister said if I was worried I should talk
to a doctor. She added, "You can't be searching for things wrong with
"I know," I said. "I'm trying to stop feeling this way. But what if I
"Try drinking less," she said. She was right about most things.
The boys wrestled, grass stuck to their wet feet. My son pinned down
the smallest boy. I yelled at him to let go. The smallest boy ran away,
towards my sister; she picked him up and held him, and I felt a wave of
Back when my girlfriend and I were together, we had been leafing through a
three-ring binder with details about sperm donors, and we stopped on a
photo of a man who looked just like her: pretty blue eyes, a small nose
with freckles, an overly alert expression. "He looks like a little
bird," I said. She looked like a little bird too. I had decided to get
pregnant before I had met her, but I still picked his sperm because of
her. I got pregnant after three tries.
I worried about my girlfriend, noticed when she lied. She got off the
phone with her mom by saying I was sick when I wasn't. She told the
cashier at Macy's she found the dress on the clearance rack and she
hadn't. She kept saying my birthday present was on the way, there was
an issue with shipping, but it never arrived.
They were just white lies. When she told me I was pretty I asked her if
she was lying about that too. When she told me she loved me I stopped
believing her. She moved out before my son was born. She said I was
paranoid and untrusting and I had negative energy. I agreed. I was
relieved when I rolled over in bed and spread out my legs and nobody
The doctor hesitated to give any official diagnoses to my son,
suggesting I take him to a counselor; the counselor said assessment
would take time. Once a week my son went in, talked and drew pictures
and played games with the counselor. He brought home some of the
pictures, which I put on the refrigerator. They were good, nice
drawings. Him holding my hand, a heart above his head. I wondered if
there were other pictures he drew that his counselor didn't let him
I called my sister, asked if he could come over. She was initially
hesitant, but after several months of pleading, she said yes. Sometimes
he spent the night or a few nights. He took a camping trip with them
and was gone for a week.
I loved him the most when I was driving him to my sister's house and he
fell asleep in the back seat. His breathing was fast and soft and
reminded me of my ex-girlfriend's. When I woke him up, he was drowsy
and instinctively trusting, reaching out for me. His eyes became alert
again, and he ran out of the car into house, calling to his cousins,
"I'M GOING TO GET YOU."
Later I ran into my ex-girlfriend at a bar; she was married to a dude,
admitting to me after a few drinks she had probably been straight all
along. Even later, years after that, my son was arrested for robbing a
convenience store with his friends while pointing a gun at the cashier
and shouting obscenities at her, and he called my sister to tell her,
not me. After both revelations I crawled into bed and stared at the
ceiling and wondered what kind of person knew these things before they
came true. I could have hoped for something else, I could have been
wrong. I could have tried harder before letting go.
Rebekah Matthews is the author of HERO WORSHIP, a novella. She lives in Boston.
Read her postcard.
See more of her work in the archive.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Rene Mensen.
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