The diner had emptied, customers moving on to the next thing to do. Paul and his mother remained, neither having anywhere else to be, wishing they did. Paul’s attention drifted toward the busboy clearing a nearby table. Aware that his mother was addressing him, he reluctantly shifted toward her, raising his eyes warily to let her know he was listening.
“You were a good son to your father”, she told him across the restaurant table, between bites of toast and eggs. A rare compliment, even if she did subtly exclude herself from his goodness. At least it wasn’t a criticism or complaint. Paul acknowledged the comment with a brief nod.
“It wasn’t easy”, he replied, “getting called at 3:00 AM to come pick him up at the police station, to bring clothes, to be the one to sign the papers to have him Baker Acted and committed for observation against his wishes. He was so angry at me, he threatened to have me killed,” he reminded her.
” I know,” she acknowledged. “You did everything you could to help him. Nobody could have done more”.
Paul and his mother sat silently, each caught up in their shared, long buried history. A timeless bond of pain and misery swirled gently around them as they remembered. “I consider myself a survivor”, she told him. “Living through those years with your dad, my cancer, my heart surgery, and I’m still here”.
“Yes you are”.
Absently toying with her napkin, she gazed out the window, refusing to meet Paul’s eyes. “Do you remember when he stalked Aunt Ruth? She was afraid to leave her apartment. And all the ladies avoided him, never sure which of his threats to believe. I had no choice”, she told him. “I had to leave him”.
“I know. He was out of control”.
“But,” she remembered, “You took care of him. You took him into your home and watched out for him. You took him to appointments, cleaned up after him”.
“Yes I did, but he hated me anyway. I saw it in his eyes every time he looked at me. I even bought a gun to protect myself. Was I being paranoid? I couldn’t tell. Did you know he wrote a book, in German? He didn’t even speak German. How did he write the book in German?”
They sat quietly, each deep inside their own thoughts. Paul reminded her, “He terrorized all of us. It felt like it would never end. But then he took things into his own hands and it was over. He was gone.”
“As hard as it was,” he continued,” We resumed our lives. You were able to live without fear, and I could sleep through the night, finally having energy for the workday ahead”.
“Yes,” she agreed. “It was a relief of sorts”.
Motioning to the waitress, Paul busied himself with a refilled cup of coffee while his mother turned her attention to the remains of toast on her plate. Unable to find the words to continue, they each drifted into a private reverie, overcome by memories of a time distant but ever present for both of them.
Despite my father’s death, Paul thought, we never truly had closure. Beneath the surface, our pain remains, the anger never leaves and closeness remains elusive. We are the remnants of a family, but we aren’t a family; we barely know each other. Now we are nearing the end. You will die before long and I will remain to scrape the scabs covering the hurts accumulated over a lifetime. There is little to do he thought, overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness and futility.
Seeking a way out of the pain for each of them, Paul offered, “Would you like me to provide money for you to go to Florida next winter? I know it is difficult being up here in the cold”.
Surprised, she faced him with tear brightened eyes. “I would like that very much. Thank you. You’ve been a good son to me all these years. I should have told you sooner”.