Every once in a while, I get the urge to look at a scene from another character’s point of view. Yesterday as a I was driving home, Dani Archer, Matt’s mom, was quite insistent that we hear her side of the story. The scene I kept seeing…well, it’s a powerful one, at least to me. A mother’s love is an awesome thing when you think about it…
Heartbreak and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Mamie and I waited outside the terminal, waiting for Matt to get home. I’d never get used to this. Never. He was only fifteen years old, and out with the Army, hunting things Stephen King couldn’t even dream up. Every time he left, my heart cracked just a little more…not that I’d ever tell him. He had to see me strong, otherwise I was afraid he’d worry about us too much and forget to worry about himself.
Cold air blew inside from the automatic doors leading to the arrival level and I shivered. It probably wasn’t just from a chill, though. I was on edge, worried what I’d see when my son arrived. Mike had told us what happened in Afghanistan, probably to spare Matt from reliving it. If my brother was worried, it was bad. I knew about the broken arm…and the dead soldier. God, Matt was too young to deal with this, and it made me angry. But there were some things you couldn’t protect your children from, despite the very best intentions. Sometimes, their hearts had to be broken so they’d be stronger and wiser in the end.
I wasn’t sure this was one of those times.
Mamie touched my arm, her eyes round and worried, nodding at the terminal door. There, in a crowd of business travelers, vacationers and grandparents coming to visit grandchildren, was Matt. He walked out carrying nothing but a backpack and a duffel bag, shoulders straight and chin high. To any stranger, he probably looked like a tough kid returning from a disastrous ski run, what with the cast and the bruises. But I saw through it. I could see what no one else could. He was almost broken, in ways I thought might never mend.
“Oh, honey,” I breathed. My little boy, the baby of my family, wasn’t a kid anymore. This trip had changed him irrevocably. And all I could do was watch.
I took a step forward and opened my arms, hoping he’d accept the invitation. Hoping he hadn’t become so numb or hardened that his mom wasn’t enough. He paused for a heartbeat, then another and another. It was like he’d been frozen in place.
Wondering if I’d be rejected, I went to him and wrapped him up in a hug. Matt stood stiff in my embrace for a moment, before lowering his face to my shoulder. “Get me out of here.”
He sounded stretched to the end of his endurance. I waved at Mamie. “Go for the car. Hurry.”
I hustled Matt out of the terminal before he broke in front of everyone and kept an arm around his waist while we waited for the van. We didn’t wait long; poor Mamie screeched up to the curb like car-jackers were after her. I’d never seen her drive so recklessly, but I wasn’t angry. She understood as well I did what we were trying to do.
I flung the sliding door open and pushed Matt through, making sure to take his bags so he could climb in without bumping his broken arm. He slid across the seat, breathing hard. His hands were fists, pressed tight against his legs, as if this was the only thing keeping him together. I climbed in and slammed the door shut. Before even buckling up, I told Mamie, “Go.”
She took off, speeding through the airport, while I turned to Matt. “You’re home now. You’re home now.”
He seemed to melt right before my eyes, and he dropped his head in my lap, grabbing fistfuls of my shirt hem. Then he cried. This child hadn’t cried since he was eight years old; at least, not in front of me. Yet, here he was, very nearly a man, sobbing like his soul depended on it. I caught Mamie’s eye in the review mirror. Tears were running down her face, too. I managed a sad smile; this child cried at puppy food commercials. Her heartbreak was genuine, though. Mine was, too. But being a mother meant I couldn’t give in to the pain–and the fury–I felt over Matt’s hurt. Because I was furious. I hated the knife, I hated the Army, I hated monsters and I hated fate. The mother-dragon in me woke, burning with the need to flame everything that made my happy-go-lucky son feel so much, drowning in sorrow over the death of a friend.
Somehow, I held it together long enough to make it home and help Matt upstairs. He’d stopped crying by then, and that was almost worse, because he looked so hollow…cored out. Not sure what else to do, I ordered him to go to bed, then hurried downstairs to cook. Making comfort food for my always-hungry, always-growing teens was the way I showed love. Nothing said, “I care,” like a gooey grilled cheese sandwich when you were a bottomless pit of a fifteen-year-old boy.
While I put together my ingredients for tomato soup, Mamie glided into the room, silent as a ghost. “Will he be okay?”
Her voice was so small, without its usual commanding confidence. I gripped the edge of the counter. I’d go hide in the bathroom soon, let it all out, but it looked like I had to hold up just a little longer. “He will, but be prepared. There’s going to be a new normal around here. He’s seen too much to be his old self and we need to adapt to the new Matt as fast as we can, for his sake.”
“I know, and I’ll adapt.” She touched my arm. “Why don’t you let me make the soup. I’ll call you when it’s ready.”
Leave it to my empathetic Mamie to know what I was hiding just under the surface. I kissed her cheek before retreating to my room. “Thank you.”
How did my kids grow up to be so exceptional? I was lucky, that had to be the reason.
When the tears finally fell, the sorrow was mixed with pride.
**Photo by Sheri Richards**