Chapter 40: Could Have Been Me - The Struts
“Nicky, I am so happy to have you back where you belong.” My mother hugged me to the point of near suffocation.
“Let the boy breathe, Deb. You call him every evenin’. “ My father locked the garage door was had just used to enter the house.
“He’s my baby, Arnie. I birthed him. I can do what I want with him.” She stepped back and put her hands on the outside of my biceps.
“Tess is your baby. Nick’s able to serve his country; he’s too old for you to be lickin’ your thumb and wipin’ smudges from his cheeks.”
“Don’t even joke about such a thing. He’s not built like you. He’s staying right here at home.”
“I will not allow you to live in this house past age 24. It’s for your own good.” He shuffled off to the den.
“Don’t listen to him, snookums. You can stay here for as long as you’d like.”
“Actually, I –“
“I was just telling Peggy the other day that I shouldn’t have let you go to that boarding school. You are just too far away. I can’t stand it.”
I swallowed hard and looked down, feeling guilty and ashamed for wanting to live across the country.
She brought me along on her errands. We went to the grocery store first and picked up Tessa on our way home.
“Tessa will be so excited to see you. You’ll be happy to know she’s still in piano lessons.” She drove her mini van with an anal-retentive level of observation and traffic vigilance.
“I thought she didn’t like them.” I looked out the window.
“I think she just jabbers on in disgust for the thrill of it most of the time. ”
“But she – “
“Does Morgan know you’re pinin’ for her yet?” She changed the subject to something she felt she had more control over.
“You have been friends for so long. She is such a nice girl. There is no reason you –“
I tuned her out and watched the pellets of rain slide down the glass that separated me from the outdoors. The car ride was more enjoyable that way.
Tessa hopped into the car and shook out her umbrella. “Nick!” She cheered.
I put my hand in the back seat. She slapped it with a smile.
“Put on your seatbelt and keep your muddy boots on the towel on the floor, Missy.” Our mother adjusted the rearview mirror.
“When did you get home?” She remained upbeat as she buckled herself into her seat.
“A few hours ago.”
“I begged daddy to let me stay home from school so that I could see you right away. Mama made me go.”
“I sure did. You had a spelling test.” Mom glanced up to eye her in the mirror.
“You coulda let me skip the music class. I hate it. Mrs. Haskins still has me doin’ scales. Can I please quit?”
“No, we have already paid up through December.”
“Okay, but can I stop after that? I reallllly wanna play softball in the spring? Can I? Can I? My friend Haley says it’s so much fun –“
“No, I will not have you rolling around in the dirt like a boy.”
“Why do they get to have all the fun? I just wanna play, Mama.” She pleaded.
“No and that is final.”
“You don’t let me do anything!” She crossed her arms.
“I let you do what is best for you. I do the same for your brother. Look how well he is turnin’ out. He didn’t wanna go to speech therapy. I made ’im do it and now listen to him.”
“When? You never let him say anything!”
“Hold your tongue and mind your manners! I will be taking to your father when we get home. You are getting out of control!” She dismissed with finality.
Tessa huffed and crossed her arms.
Her tantrum forced me to realize I had less courage than a nine year old. I was home for three hours; the snippets of words I was able to get out during my mother’s one sided conversation totaled roughly two sentences. She didn’t notice. That was the first time I was actively annoyed by it. I was Mr. Nice Guy to everyone. I wanted to be kind, but I did not want to do it to the point of disregarding my own needs, thoughts, and desires anymore.
Upon returning home, I sought my father in the den. He was watching a football talk show from his recliner. I sat down on the nearby couch.
“I am surprised you’re not running around with Tess.” He sipped his beer.
“Mama has her on punishment for talking back. She is helping her cook.”
He chuckled. “She’s always had a mouth on her.”
“All she wanted was to quit piano and play softball.”
“She’d be good. She has a killer arm.”
“Do you still play catch with her?” I leaned back in my seat and rested my arm on the couch’s arm to appear more casual.
He nodded as he brought his can back to his lips. “I’ll do it for as long as she asks me to.”
“I’m sorry it was never you and me out there in the yard.”
“It stung at first, my boy being disinterested in sports. Then I went to your first music recital. You were very shy and didn’t talk much because of the stutter, but up on that stage you came alive. I was content. It was a bonus that a little ball player came around nine years later.”
“Don’t come back here after graduation. Your mom will fight to keep you from leaving again.”
“I am going to California. I have a friend that can get me an internship at a record label.”
He nodded. “Sounds mighty fine.”
“How am I going to convince Mama to get on board?”
“She might never do it and that is okay. She’s still your mama and she’ll love you.”
“I don’t want her to be mad at me.”
“Well, you’ll be mad at more than just her if you let that stop ya. She’ll rule your life if you let her. She knows you will.”
“No, I won’t.”
He turned his head in my direction. “Prove it.”
“At dinner. You’ll see.”
“I guess I will.” He smiled into his beer can.
I washed up for dinner and sat in my usual seat at the table. Food was served and grace was said.
“Nicholas, I have been thinkin’. You would make a fine music teacher.” Mom sparked a conversation.
I looked up from my plate. “No, I – I am not the best with public speaking.”
“The kids at the school up the road would just love you.”
“I am going to California.”
She dropped her fork. The loud clank against the china stiffened the tension in the room. “I beg your pardon?”
“I am going to California to work after graduation.”
“Says who?” She sought to intimate me by staring.
I began to falter. I looked to my father for help. He casually drank his tea as though nothing was going on at the table. Tess was all ears.
“There are good opportunities out there for me. I can make good use of my Sella Moora trainin’” I utilized all the confidence I could muster.
“You can do that here at home, where you belong.”
“No, I cannot. I will have a job lined up there. It makes sense. Why would I come back to nothing?”
“It is where we are! Arnie, say something!” She demanded, banging her fist on the table.
“Tess, how was piano?” He looked at her instead.
“Boring. I wanna quit.” She answered between spoonfuls of corn.
“You wanna play ball?”
“Mhmm.” She picked up a piece of corn that missed her mouth and inserted inside.
“You will, then.”
“We have talked about this! Is everyone in this house ganging up on me? All I try to do is help and all of you –“
“Ma, you are not gonna guilt trip me this time. I worked too hard for this!” I stood my ground.
“Who do you think you are talking to?!”
“I am sorry about my tone, but you never hear me. I – I have a say in this. I am going. I will make my way. I can do it. –” I spoke too quickly to breath. I was red in the face at the end of my speech.
She stormed off enraged, throwing down the napkin that was in her lap. My father smiled at me and dipped his head, expressing his approval. He left to mend the damage my honesty created.
I exhaled, my heart still pounding.
“That feel good?” Tess reached forward to pick up her juice.
“You have no idea.”
“You’ll be back sometimes, right?” She wiped her mouth the sleeve of her striped sweater.
“Yeah, I would miss you too much.”
“Good, you give me half your dessert when I am on punishment.” She eyed my slice of chocolate cake.
I pushed the small plate across the table.
She did not hesitate scooping into it. Chocolate frosting coated her lips and cheeks.
I shook my head at her happily messy appearance. “You might wanna to slow down.”
She shook her head, licking her lips. “It’s mine. I’m gonna eat it how I wanna.”
“Cake is the only reason you will miss me?”
She shook her head, her pigtails swinging. “You are always nice. I like it a lot.”
“I think I’m too nice.” I resumed eating my dinner.
“Nah, you laughed at my chicken pox.”
“No, I laughed at the calamine lotion you had on because of them. I brought you ice cream to apologize.”
“Nice is good. People like Nice. I do.”
“But you are so mean.”
“I’m not the one that just made mama cry.” She scooped up more cake with a wicked grin.
“I did not make her cry.”
“It doesn’t take much.”
I left the table to apologize.
I was still going to California. I meant every word I said. I did not regret speaking my mind. But my mom was important to me, I wanted her to know that I wouldn’t be leaving her behind to start my life.