My Son the Juvie
The phone call made her mind go numb and her hands feel cold and fizzy. She stood leaning against the kitchen counter, trying to breathe steady, holding her head for several minutes after the call completed. What could this mean?
“Your son has been arrested.”
The words batted around her head, teased her thoughts, choked her calm. She had gone into a daze and automatically agreed to come to the station in thirty minutes. She didn’t know if she could collect herself in time. She did know she had to continue resisting the urge to down an entire bottle of vodka.
Why did the news bother her so much? Didn’t she know Aaron was good for nothing? She had tried, tried ever so hard to knock some sense of respect and character into the boy even once she knew he was incorrigible. She felt it was her duty to her late husband to hold the boy accountable for the love taken from her life. She was responsible for correcting him and keeping him from steering into further destruction. Now had she failed him somehow? Was it her fault Aaron had collided head-on with the law?
No, it couldn’t be her fault. She was a good mother. She had to be, or what other purpose did she serve? No, this was all Aaron’s fault, and he alone should feel the guilt. She couldn’t let herself get dragged down by the slimy feelings of inadequacy.
Once she had fully shifted the guilt to the responsible party, Mrs. Hotchner thought of another dilemma. What if Aaron told lies to the police, spinning pitiful yarns to gain their sympathy? Would he try to implicate her and Charles as the root of his problem? Would he point to their strict parenting as some sort of... abuse?
Mrs. Hotchner’s hand went over her heart and she took a deep breath. Oh, no. Surely she could not be accused of abusing her dear husband’s only child. That simply wasn’t true. Aaron required a lot of handling, to be sure, and maybe occasionally... once in a while... she got a little out of control in her handling. But she didn’t hurt him permanently, she didn’t disfigure or disable him. It just wasn’t easy getting through Aaron’s stubborn outer shell. The police must understand, some kids require extra force. If Aaron dares to tell them otherwise, well, he’ll pay for that.
Oh, Aaron. Don’t you know I love you? You wouldn’t want to hurt me, would you?
She glanced at the clock and decided to get ready for her visit to the station. She passed Charles, who lounged on the couch smoking in front of the TV, as usual. The slob.
“What was that about?” drawled Charles.
“Aaron’s been arrested for trespassing. I’m going down to the station to pick him up.”
“Arrested?” Charles sat straight up with a growl. “What’s he doing, messing with the police? You bring him right back here, and I will pound every inch of him until he’s forgotten how to get up. Hurry, before he tells tales to the cops. Why, if he so much as opens his mouth, I’ll break every bone—”
“Understood.” Mrs. Hotchner hurried past him and trudged upstairs to change. She had been planning to bring Aaron home and “handle” him into promising never to get mixed up with the law again. Now, listening to Charles’ angry rant, she realized Aaron might not last a few minutes under his stepfather’s rage. As much as she despised the lawless rebel he’d become, Mrs. Hotchner could not subject Aaron to a very likely death. Maybe he could serve a jail term instead.
After touching up her make up and fixing her hair, Mrs. Hotchner woke baby Sean from his nap. Sean never wore much more than a onesie, but she knew she couldn’t carry him around town dressed like that. She found a dusty cardboard box on the top shelf of an upstairs closet and pried it open. Inside was a mass of old clothes for a child aged 1-10. All of Aaron’s childhood clothing, still packed together in this forgotten box.
Mrs. Hotchner rummaged around for a suitable baby outfit. Memories flooded back as she recognized old shirts and tiny pants. What an innocent boy Aaron used to be. Mrs. Hotchner remembered him toddling around her legs, carrying cooking utensils and offering to help in the kitchen. He would sing the most repetitive songs, too, usually involving cheerios and “yucky, yucky celery!” Mrs. Hotchner often took the hint and geared her cooking more to his taste.
Once he climbed into her lap while she was reading, looked up with those big brown eyes, and asked, “Would you be mad if I ran away?”
She set the book aside and returned his thoughtful stare. “Where would you go?”
“I want to join a pirate crew. They have all the fun.”
“Daddy and I would miss you.”
“But you’d soon move on.”
“Oh no, we wouldn’t, Aaron. We would never forget you. In fact, we would be very upset if you ever left us.”
The tyke looked down and shifted uncomfortably in her lap. “I don’t want you to be sad.”
“Then stay here. You’re safe at home.”
He had then put his tiny arms around her neck. At the time, she found his hug too tight and awkward. Now she would give anything to find his innocent embrace wrapped around her. Whatever happened to youth and pure love?
Mrs. Hotchner wiped the tears from her eyes. She would have to redo her make up again. For now, she selected a blue, collared shirt and overalls, put the box back on the shelf, and returned to her room. The clothes fit Sean perfectly, and she could almost see baby Aaron fiddling with the overall straps. How he always hated new clothes.
Sean was her second chance, her fresh start. If anything should happen to him, if any of Aaron’s bad influence were to rub off on him, she would feel lost and hopeless again.
With the baby and herself finally ready, Mrs. Hotchner drove to the police station. By the time she arrived, her eyes were red and cheeks flushed from crying. Perhaps now she could use that to her advantage.
Soon Mrs. Hotchner sat at the sergeant’s desk with Sean cooing in her arms. She sniffled, and the sergeant offered her a Kleenex.
“Ma’am, I know this is very difficult for you. Do you understand the charges brought against your son?”
“Yes. I just never thought it would get this bad. It breaks my heart seeing him like this. He’s been behaving worse and worse lately, but I still hoped he could change.”
“Well, he cooperated relatively well, but he is facing up to three days in jail. Unless, of course, you would like to post bail.”
“I wish I could afford to,” Mrs. Hotchner sighed, wiping her eyes. “But then again, if what you say is true, it might be best for him to stay in jail until he’s learned his lesson.” She shook her head as more tears fell. “I feel like I’ve failed my baby as a mother.”
The sergeant cleared his throat and adjusted his papers. “Ma’am, we noticed several marks of old injuries on the boy. Would you happen to know anything about that?”
Oh dread. Had they examined him? What kind of condition was he in, anyway? “Well, Aaron can be a troublemaker at school too,” she quickly explained. “Always fighting. I don’t know where he gets his aggression.”
“Some marks are more consistent with beatings.”
The drop of the Kleenex. Eyes wide, jaw slack. “What—what are you implying? You think I hurt him? All I ever tried to do was love him and show him what’s right.” Mrs. Hotchner pulled Sean into a closer embrace. “I could never hurt my babies.”
“Then how did he get all those marks?”
“Most probably from school. He’s such a bully, everybody wants to beat him back. I hope he learns something in jail, poor boy...” She eyed the sergeant warily. “What did he tell you?”
“Not much, actually. We asked about his scars and bruises, but he said to ask you.”
Mrs. Hotchner sighed, looking away in feigned disappointment. “He’s too ashamed to admit anything after all the fights he’s been in. I always feared this would happen.”
“Mrs. Hotchner, let me ask you a question. Do you or your partner ever hit or beat your sons?”
She looked him straight in the eye with a slightly offended gaze. She found his question very unfair and difficult. Was he trying to make her out as some sort of monster?
Flatout denial would be harder to fake, but a full confession was sure to raise even more uncomfortable questions.
“Within reason, yes, I have used minimal force to get him to behave,” Mrs. Hotchner said unsteadily but convincingly. “Hasn’t every parent? Aaron has a most determined sense of disobedience and I can’t get through to him with words alone. I’m sure you understand. But to think that I would ever cause the kinds of injuries you described, to think that I made him suffer just for the heck of it—” More tears began breaking through the dam. “You are sorely mistaken, sir! I don’t want to see him hurt.”
“I understand.” The sergeant rose to his feet. “We may consider investigating bullies at the school due to the extent of his injuries. In the meantime, thank you for coming down. Would you like to speak with your son briefly?”
Mrs. Hotchner also stood. She wiped her eyes on Sean’s sleeve and lifted the baby to her shoulder. “Yes, please, Sergeant. Take me to him.”
At the end of a long, dreary corridor and with the sergeant still at her side, Mrs. Hotchner looked through the metal bars. Aaron sat slightly hunched on a narrow bench against the far wall. He wore a navy blue inmate jumpsuit and nothing on his feet. His dark locks hung untidy over his forehead. And Mr. Hotchner’s face, only more youthful, gazed cautiously up at her.
“Oh, Aaron!” Genuine tears tumbled down her face. “How could you do this to me?”
Aaron said nothing. The wall of bars and the sergeant’s presence kept his mother from taking him by the collar and shaking an answer out of him.
“I heard you broke the law, honey. It broke my heart. What got into you?”
“And now they’re going to investigate the school for bullying! Sweetheart, why didn’t you tell me you’d been fighting more? Why didn’t you say you’d been hurt?”
No answer, but a slight twitch of his lips.
“I’m going home now. The sergeant says you have three days to serve. I’ll see you at the end of it, and Aaron, please think about what you’ve done. Think about our family and the pain you put us through.”
Aaron’s stare carried an Arctic coldness.
“I love you, Aaron. Don’t destroy yourself.”
That glare unsettled, convicted her. She had to leave now.
“Don’t you love me too? Won’t you say something?”
It was the look of one who was betrayed by someone who should have been closest. It was a look that brought to mind all the evil in her life. She couldn’t handle it anymore.
“Oh, Aaron!” Her free hand went to her eyes, and she went sobbing down the corridor. Sean began to whimper in her arm when they left Aaron’s sight. Mrs. Hotchner ducked into the women’s room to calm herself and try erasing the memory of Aaron’s stare from her mind. She could not chase away the depth in his eyes. They forced her to brutal honesty: she did hurt him, and they both knew it.
She finally pulled herself together, then went out to sign the necessary paperwork. Before she left, she turned to the guard. “Take good care of my son,” she said. “See that he is warm and well-fed.”
“Sure thing, ma’am.”
As she left, she looked back at the station. “Stay safe, Aaron. I do love you.”
It sounded real when she said it. The only problem was, she didn’t know anymore if she loved him more than she hated him.