I haven’t seen this woman for years and now she’s just standing in her doorway staring at me.
“Mum? Are you going to let us in?”
Josh’s voice seems to pull her back to reality and she steps aside, letting us through into the house. Nothings really changed in here, it looks the same way it did when I moved here.
God, I hate this place.
Josh tries to make polite conversation and I try to force down some veggie pasta she’s made but it tastes like ash in my mouth. I still can’t look at her without wanting to smash a vase so I keep my eyes on my plate.
She finally can’t take it anymore and acknowledges me. “So Steve, how’s work going? Josh says you have a big launch coming up?”
This was a bad idea. “Launched a few days ago, going better than expected.” There we go, you managed to get a sentence out without referring to her by a name not even fitting for a woman.
“That’s good, I’m happy to hear it.” Sure you fucking are.
We go back to eating in silence but I can’t take another bite so just push it around with my fork. I’ll get McDonald’s on the way home.
“Um Mum... Steve said about coming to talk to you about-”
“Why are you being such a bitch about him living with me?” Fuck, control your fucking temper dickhead!
She looks stunned and honestly, so does Josh. “Um Steve, it wasn’t like that... I just feel like with everything you have going on right now maybe it’s not the right time to be adding Josh living with you into the mix.”
“Bullshit.” Yep, no chance pulling it back now.
I shove the chair out from underneath me and let it hit the floor with a crack before heading for the front door, I can’t be near her, I should never have come.
“Bro! Dude! Stop!” Josh calls out and I stop in the hall, turning around to face him only to see her following closely behind. “Mate, what did she say?”
Okay, let’s do this then. “It’s not what she said, it’s what she didn’t. The truth is she doesn’t want you living with me because she hates my fucking guts. She hated me when I was an innocent kid and she still hates me now. She thinks I’m a fucking terrible person, which is rich coming from someone like her. She never wanted me near you Josh, even when we were kids.”
He knows it’s true and so does she. She takes a shaky step forward until she meets my eyes.
“I don’t hate you, I never hated you.”
Like fuck. “Then why did you treat me the way you did? I lived here and I was broken, all you did was act like i wasn’t even here! Then the first chance you got, you got rid of me. I was a fucking kid! How can you hate someone like that!”
She starts to shake, for a split second I think I see a tear in her eye. “I didn’t hate you Steve! Do you have any idea what it was like to have you here? Staring back at me with your mother’s face? I avoided you! Every time I looked at you it reminded me what a shirty human being I was!”
Crap. Well at least she knows it.
“Then you had to go and be so fucking good with Josh, you showed him all the care and compassion I wish I could’ve shown you. You were so angry at me Steven, I understood why and I couldn’t blame you. I tried a few times but i quickly realised it would need to be on your terms so I backed off. Then you left again.”
“I left because you didn’t want me here! I didn’t fit in with your perfect fucking family!”
“You are our family Steve! Don’t you see that?! When I found out what your father did to you and your mother i was furious, I begged him to make it right but he said what’s done is done. I was nineteen, I was stupid and naive back then. I was in love with an older married man and found out I was pregnant, I expected him to throw me to the curb but instead he said we’d be a family. I didn’t want it to come at the expense of you or your mum but it did and I’m more sorry about that than you can ever know.”
I can feel the rage burning inside of me, begging to be set free. I shove my fist straight through the wall next to me and she shrieks before quivering in fear. “HE LEFT US FOR YOU! DO YOU THINK ANY APOLOGY YOU MAKE WILL EVER BE ENOUGH?!”
Josh grabs his mum, pulling her back from me but I know it’s more for my benefit. I’d never ever hit a woman but having her this close to me right now might result in a few more holes in her precious perfect house.
“It will never be enough Steve. Nothing I do will ever be enough. I put myself and my son first, I’m not denying that. It was childish and selfish but it was exactly what I did. If I could do it all again I’d change every choice I made, I would’ve done everything differently with your father but I can’t do that now and I can’t being your mum back.”
She’s pained, her voice weak. There’s something there when she talks about my father, a different kind of darkness. “Do you even love him?”
Josh looks away, he never really talks about his Mum and our Dad’s relationship for obvious reasons but now I think about it I’ve never really heard of him even mention them doing things together. It’s always his Dad is on a trip or his Mum is with her friends, never them together.
She taps Josh on the shoulder. “Give us five minutes please? Steve’s okay, he’s calmer now, right?” She looks at me and I nod, Josh steps back out into the kitchen whilst I take some deep breaths to stop myself from killing something.
“What do you want to know Steve? I’ll tell you the truth, I swear.”
Okay. “Do love your husband?”
She sighs. “Our relationship ended any emotional attachment the day you left for your aunts. I had pushed so much of what we’d done to you out of my mind but I couldn’t do that after I saw you, a perfect but very much broken little boy that I had destroyed for my own benefit.”
“Why did you stay?”
“Josh loves his Dad and I wouldn’t risk him being put in the position you were in Steve. So we made peace, I play the doting wife he needs whilst staying in this loveless marriage. He takes ‘business trips’ with twenty year old waitresses he meets at the after business bars. Josh stays safe and happy, blissfully unaware of the world around him being a facade.”
Fucking hell, this has been going on for years? “You don’t need to stay anymore Denise, Josh doesn’t need you to do this.”
She smiles gently. “I know Steve, it’s just who I am now. It’s what I deserve, karma coming back to me. I begged him not to let you go to your aunts you know? Told him you just needed time but he wouldn’t listen. Every year I set you a place at Christmas Dinner, wrap you a present and put it under the tree, just in case. I hate myself more each and every year for what I did to you, you’ve lost so much. I poured everything I have into being the best mum I could to Josh, just trying to make up for it.”
A sniffle escapes her but I can see she’s trying to hold it in. “I drove Josh to your college when you graduated, he asked me to stay in the car but when he went in I stood quietly at the back and watched you. You were so happy, your handsome face smiling at my son and I knew then that you were ten times the man your father is. You did it Steve, all on your own you did it. I’m so sorry I’ve made Josh moving in with you difficult, I shouldn’t have. It’s hard to let him go... he’s all I have left.”
I’ve blamed her, made her out to be this monster that just crawled out from under my bed to ruin my life but really, she was just a girl. A teenager who found herself pregnant and made the best choice she could to give her son a life she could never give him otherwise.
That’s not a monster. That’s just a mum.
I step forward and I see her flinch, stepping back and keeping the distance. I rush at her before she has time to run and wrap my arms around her. She doesn’t know how to react, for a moment she just stands frozen until finally I feel her hand on my back as she let’s her head fall against my chest and the tears she was holding in with it.
“You need to leave him Denise. I lost my mum to a life of unhappiness, I don’t want to watch Josh see the same thing happen to his mum. We’ll help you, we’ll give you all the support you need. There’s a whole world out there away from him, you should go see it.”
Her sobs increase as she nods against my chest. Josh hears, stepping back into the room and engulfing us both in his arms upon seeing the situation.
We stay like that, me feeling the weight of hate I’ve been carrying towards her lift and finally leave me.
Josh pulls away and looks at me, concern on his face.
“Josh, you’re mum needs to talk to you about something...”