Until You Come To Me
I wanted him, and knew it long before he did, as much as a teenage girl can know anything. It is not as though I do not have choices. I realize this, even being so young. I am beautiful. I have pretty eyes, supple lips, a chest that swells in a way that is both innocent and perverse. I am an intelligent girl from a well-off family, but he is a little craggy, in that way that broken boys sometimes are, and that I want.
I ask him if he wants to kiss me, but he is nervous and I ask him if he is afraid that his mother might be watching from heaven, regretting the words as I speak them. This makes him brave and I quell the needles of doubt tickling my stomach, wishing only to feel his gentle hands.
Our lips meet, too wet and too childish to be real. I try to slide my tongue in with his, like I read in all of those love books at home. He does not pull me close or press us together as those fictitious, muscled men might have.
It is not supposed to be this way.
I have always wanted to choose my moment, to make it beautiful and perfect. After a year and a war, I give myself to him in an abandoned slaughterhouse in Idaho, packed with refugees stolen away from Japan like us. This place is more than I can bear, and I would rather feel something than nothing at all. Everyone has told me the first time hurts. I know it can feel good, I want it to feel good. The space between my legs aches for it, can sense the pleasure that is within my grasp. The wanting takes my discontent away for a few measly hours.
Years later, we marry to get passes out to the East Coast, and I have only tried to kill myself once.
Boston's winter is far too cold. But we keep one another warm in a cocoon of hot, sticky flesh. Falling in and out of a pill-induced high. A hail pelts the shelter that closes us from the world, makes us dark and blind. There is a desperation in his rhythmic heaving, a need in his searching, grasping hands. Time slips away from us, becoming another blur of towers and machines outside, and he takes me against the kitchen counter, bent over the table, or straddling him on the couch.
Thank god we cannot make a baby. I think as I grind myself raw, needing his warmth to fill me. A void in me calls out but can never be satisfied, nor mended. At the clinics and doctors, those mothers look down on me, like a stupid child who has yet to cement their reality, deluded with their false visions of a future.
Thank god we cannot make a baby.
I call his name, clutch his greasy hair, hoping with each skin-rippling vibration that we might become one. Days and weeks go by, the hail does not stop, and it is a storm of responsibilities shirked in favor of bliss. My husband's burning hands explore the rough flesh where once there was smooth, nascent skin, pure and pristine, before I was ruined. They make me feel ugly when he touches them, unsalvageable.
They say that I will never be able to make a baby.
So there are no rules to our sex. He releases inside of me and I wish I could always feel this whole and complete.
Thank god we cannot make a baby.
We have made a baby.
It swells my belly, turning me into a huge, walking balloon – full to bursting. My breasts are bloated and swollen and my organs are surely squished to pulp by now. Everything aches, like the morning after a bottle of gin. It is everything I have ever hated. Everything I never wanted.
My husband only thinks me more beautiful. I do not feel at all pretty or sexy, yet arousal strikes me while I lecture my students, makes me wet in the morning after the Little Monster has rejected another meal. That is what I call him, this little human who has so abruptly invaded my life. I have not seen one baby that is not a complete nightmare, their mouths an endless pit to produce the most blood-curdling, ear-splitting screams. It uses me for sustenance, inhabiting me entirely without consent and completely rent free. He is a very poor tenant, and I have often thought of revoking the lease.
This property was never meant to hold anything. This barren soil that was salted, but tilled, and somehow nourished by a determined seed. Lying in the squeaking bed of the prenatal care ward, I have stopped being quite so mortified with the procedures. They test my blood pressure and measure the baby's heart rate. I wait patiently, in the same hospital I was told pregnancy was not a future I should consider. I was broken. There would never be a child. I used to resent that, and now I think it might be nice to be empty again – to be half-used and damaged goods.
It is not the first time I have considered an abortion. But I am too far along. "We're in this together, now," I tell it, the Little Monster burgeoning inside of me.
When I return home – a squished, run down apartment on the wrong side of town – I do not want to talk to my husband, or to anyone. He starts going on about the baby's room, what to name him, even considers moving. I do not want any of this. It sweeps over me as a torrential rain that breaks into a flood. I smash something near his head, a cup I think. Wayward glass cuts deep into my foot and I curse, trying to fish it out with this fat, unwieldy body. I attempt to shove my husband away when he comes to help, but he is stronger than me. I do my best to hate him for a full minute. His fingers slide the shard free and bandage the wound.
I do not tell him goodnight.
I do not tell him that I love him.
I feel his hurt beside me in bed and cannot fall asleep. He does not understand, and I am more isolated than I have ever been. The next morning, he apologizes, holding me in the bathroom where I have fallen. I do not have the will to get up and, stroking my hair, he tells me he only wants to be a good father.
"You're not allowed to be scared," I say and when he asks why, I cannot reign in my reply. "Because I'm having this baby, not you."
We are not on speaking terms for a week. I do not know how to approach him after what I have said. I want to scream at him, shout and cry that I do not want this. That I do not want to be a mother. The evenings are long and thin, my bladder is weak, and I am exhausted at all hours of the day. A notion takes me, while I am not of right mind and harmonious chemical composition. I dial a number that I have tried very hard to forget. The ringer chimes once, a man I have not spoken to in seven years answers, and I hang up. Fears from a childhood ago grip me and I am too weak to face them. So I write a letter. It takes me six months and eighteen revisions to send.
My husband takes care of me, though I do not deserve it. We make amends one evening after he begins kissing my neck, and we do not even reach our bedroom as our bodies entwine, clinging and fervent like those lust-fueled nights in our frozen bungalow. Nestled together on the stained carpets, I play with the hair on the arms resting over my breasts. He asks me again what I would like to name the Little Monster. I have picked two and he nods, feeling my belly.
"They're both good names," he says, and another decision is brokered.
We find a home, far to the south on sun-streaked dunes frothing with the sea. An old house, worn and weathered wood that has endured years of torture from the fine sheen of grit carried by the winds. It sags at the seams, water from the rains turning the posts black and green, riddled with algae. A window is shattered on the second story, moth hole drapes fluttering in the evening breeze.
I used to dream of what our first real house might look like. It would have been an elegant, modern home – all sharp edges and smooth surfaces, big windows to let the light in from any angle. When you walked into the foyer there would be pictures of us, me and my husband on our tour of Egypt, perhaps one of us in front of the Library of Alexandria, or next to the Acropolis in Athens from our trip to Greece. Perhaps another with me sinking comfortably in the ring of a river tube, his feet kicking alongside mine as we drift with nothing but the mountains and the trees for company. Beyond that would be the living room and a wide kitchen with copper cooking ware hanging over the stove, right next to the wine glasses. The fire place would be across the way, where we would sit close in the winter, and fall asleep in each others arms. Upstairs, the master bedroom, adorned with warm oak floors and a canopied bed. The second story balcony that wraps around the house would be there, with a pair of wicker chairs, one of which I would lounge in and read by the sunset.
This place will never be that.
But it is ours and my husband makes it home for us. While he works, I waddle through the underbrush, ripping out weeds and cutting up my legs because of the silly dress I must wear since jeans no longer fit. Every so often I have to stand straight, the Little Monster is heavy. From beneath my wide-brimmed hat, I watch my husband tear the vines from the roof, waiting for him to notice my gaze and smile down at me.
The day finally arrives when amniotic fluid leaks down my legs, and the contractions start soon after. Clawed, squeezing hands push against my abdomen, my lower back caught in a death grip. By the time we reach the hospital, I have run out of profanities in the three languages I know. The epidural is blissful release, but I keep hold of my husband's hand, so tight I'm sure I've broken at least one finger. They tell me to push and I want to slap them because of course I'm going to push – I want this thing out. They say there are complications. I am losing too much blood, the baby is in a poor position. The doctor may have to make an incision.
No, please. Don't cut into me. Please don't split me open again – is what I want to say. But they do, because he is a stubborn monster and refuses to be yanked from comfort. I threaten to tear him out myself, or I scream something along the same lines in tearful fits. Or I do not say anything. I really cannot be sure. The doctor's crimson-slick hands reach into the vile, swirling tar pit that is my uterus and wrestles the beast from its lair, feet first.
I have a moment to hear him cry as darkness takes me.
When I wake, the sheets are fresh and cool. My husband is not in the room. A nurse assures me he just went to get some coffee. I barely hear her, glancing about and wondering where they have taken the baby.
"Would you like to see him?" she asks.
I nod, just so. She returns shortly, and he is so very tiny, swaddled up and fast asleep. I cannot wait those few seconds it takes for the woman to hand him off so I may hold him. His eyes open, slowly, and they are the most brilliant shade of amber brown, orange on the inside like a pair of small nebula. A yawn stretches his mouth and he nestles against my breast, as if he might be able to nurse, and in a moment it is too hard to breathe. I have waited nine long months to see him, and yet I feel as though I have known him much, much longer. He is not yet a boy or a monster or, really, anything at all.
But he is mine.
My son is a troublesome baby. I wash him in the shower with me, where he splashes and shrieks with happiness. He touches the leathery flesh at my stomach, but not in a way that makes me nervous. He sees it as just another part of me, and treats it no different than my fingers or nose. For the first time I am not ashamed of them.
He grows and grows. In the evenings he is fussy and insists on tangling my hair while I dress him. In the night he cries, knowing I will soon be there to steal him off to my bed. I cannot deny him a moment away from me. He crawls, at times daring to walk, and when he falls and wails I imagine I must be a poor mother. Will I be able to do this? Doubts kick at me, iron-hoofed feet from a bucking horse, upset by the change in the air. Fate has been unkind to me and my husband, and I do not want him to live the way we did. I wish to give him the life I was never allowed. So I kiss him, his cheeks are so irresistibly kissable, and tell him that I love him. Just in case he has forgotten. He laughs, a sound that makes every color of the world sing.
More than a small part of me misses him whenever I am away, a yearning that starts as wasps in my stomach and rises to a burn in my heart. Each and every day I cannot wait to get home, to have my boy in my arms again. It is the way he looks at me I find so pleasing, in a way I never thought I would. What have you done to me, Little Monster? How have you toppled these Byzantine walls so easily?
Another part misses other things. My thighs squeeze together, mind off on flights of fancy when it should be thorough and calculating, wandering instead through candle-glow rooms that echo with sharp, heated breaths. It is easy to resent my baby for this and, while very valid reasoning, he has done nothing except be a baby. He has certainly drawn the shortest of straws, lumped with me as his mother.
The Little Monster does not seem opposed to this one bit.
On his off days, my husband plays with our son in the living room, helping him build with blocks of yellow and red. The designs are as elaborate as a two year old can make them, tumbling down between his feet when they cannot hold. His father does not mind, content to help him rebuild each time. "He is going to be a genius one day," my husband says, sending me a wink, "like his mother. I can tell." where before there were only stormy seas, his eyes glow, lighthouse beacons calling us to warmer ports.
We live by the beaches, a serene place many are reluctant to visit. The glittering sands are warm between my toes as we walk along the shores, crashing waves rushing to meet us and washing the jellyfish ashore. My son lags behind his father, stretching to follow in each of his footsteps.
In my dreams, I see my baby grow into a boy. I see him learning, happy and content, and always so endearingly frustrated with failures beyond his control. Because he is driven to succeed, to overcome, and I like to think he has gained this from me – the will to keep standing up after every tumble. Soon he will begin to attend school, where he will make many friends and will never be lonely. As a teenager he will be moody, and prone to bursts of wild emotion, but every so often will still hold hands with his mother on a trip to the grocery store. When he is sixteen, he will buy his first car, having learned to drive with his father the year before. He will use it to pick up his girlfriend, a humble girl who will, at the same time, remind me a bit of myself with her impulsive mannerisms. My husband and I will not hold him to curfew.
Our son will study hard and go on to college, following in his mother's legacy, and change the world where she could not. For six years he will be away, coming home to visit on holidays, working towards his masters degree and, inevitably, courting the girl he will marry. It will be a beautiful and proper wedding, and he will look so handsome then, standing at the altar with his bride, this little creature who became a lanky, but confident and smiling man. They will have children, when they are ready, when it is right, and I will spoil them – to no small amount of irritation from his wife.
My son will have a good life.
Our son is six and says he has seen a strange man in the house. At first I am puzzled, until he points to the stranger one night while he hunts the halls, feral and maddened. This man finds my husband at the most unusual hours, flitting between day and night on nonsensical, unpredictable whims. With him come secrets whispered in darkness and the bellies of long dead beasts. This man comes from far away and fights demons that do not exist, or forgets that he is no longer a soldier. The stranger tears at his mind, sinking his twisted nails so deep my husband no longer knows who he is, unable to escape the war we fought so long ago. Our bedroom becomes a shelter, a prison, and there is no science or reason at my disposal to make it stop.
My son asks me where his father has gone and I wonder how someone so small can make me feel so powerless.
White-winged beasts I thought buried rise again to haunt my sleep, and I wake as if boiling alive, skin oozing with all the heat of a star. My husband tries to comfort me, but I cannot stand to be touched, not with hands like theirs. My scars ache. I do not make it to the bathroom before bile spills free, all across our white carpet. It is not until I collapse on the living room couch that a sob finally breaks free.
Small feet make their way down the hall, my son finding me in a sleepy stupor. He is a sweet boy. I snare him up in my arms and fold around him as if to take him into me again. He buries his face in the nape of my neck and I sing him a song from my childhood until he falls asleep.
As of late he has been disappearing for long hours after school, managing to arrive home in time for dinner, warily setting the table for fear of shattering a plate and bringing back the stranger wearing his father's skin.
I worry, as only a mother can.
When his bus drops him off, I follow at a distance, feeling more akin to some sick voyeur as opposed to a concerned mother. My son is a mischievous boy. I do not like secrets. He runs, four miles down the road, to the old Evangelist church I have visited once and never returned to. At one point it was a motel, the barren street sign and boarded up doors the only lasting indication. It is far more run down than I remember, and the congregation has already left when my boy arrives. I have lost sight of him by the time I walk up the small set of steps leading to a pair of water-logged doors with faded red paint that peels like sun burnt skin.
It is warm to the touch, and does not creak as I push it open. Peeking inside, I know, with some small amount of guilt, that I am intruding on something private.
"May I help you?"
The priest's body belies a youthful awkwardness, exuding the subdued aura of someone who has never known the sweat and heat of another. It is not the same man who used to run this hovel of worship, though I have met him before. A name escapes me.
"My son is in there," I say, taking a step back.
"Ah, I see." His eyes are soft and they settle on the cracked door. "He comes nearly everyday, after everyone has already gone."
I have never taken him to church. I do not keep crosses in our home or speak anything at all of God. Not like my home in Bernau, where every problem was to be solved with praying. At eight years old my grandmother gifted me the rosary that never left her fingers, black rose shaped beads woven with silver chain, the figure of Christ on the cross worn away to its copper core. I left it behind in the fatherland. I did not need it anymore.
"What does he pray for?" I ask.
"Only God knows," the priest answers and, with a sidelong look, has a smile that is both kind and knows too much. "Though, if I had to guess, I would think he prays for his father."
I watch my boy kneel at the altar, hands clasped and head bowed in silent prayer, knowing that one day he will be disappointed, as I have been.
"That is a good thing to pray for," I say, leaving my son to his small comforts, and trying not to consider the notion I have misstepped somewhere.
For my husband, the lapses in memory grow longer and the bouts of rage fiercer. He loses his job, and then another. And another. I stop teaching and move on to lectures. I publish wordy, long-winded books to supplement income. Our savings accumulate interest.
My husband and I, in one of his quieter moments by the kitchen table while our son is at school, decide it is time to leave. Pale figures have been lingering on the horizon and sitting at the edges of the road, following us with reverent gazes. They chant as we pass, leaving their signs of worship and baskets of fruit on our doorstep as homage.
I sit in the living room, letting myself soak in the intricate, dark woven patterns of the hamadan rugs and the detailed glass molds of the light fixtures. Our son, when he arrives home, is distraught and demands that we stay in Panama.
"I don't take orders from children," I say, and I draw myself up, a viper ready to strike. If people were snakes, then surely I would be a python.
"I'm not a child," he says, trying to hold himself as he imagines an adult would, "and you're my mom, so you have to listen to me."
At this, I cannot hold back a sneer. "You are not my son. My son is not such a selfish brat."
It is a cut meant for an older heart with tougher skin, for a mind that might realize the futility of its argument and see reason. My son's face crumbles, and he chokes on a sob, before I realize what I have done. I reach for him, that I might take back what I have said, but he withdraws from me and weeps, because today the laws of his bright world have changed. Today he has learned his mother could decide on a whim that she did not have a son. His father sweeps in, offering the boy warmth and quieting words. Something is lost between us, and I know I will never find it again.
Out by the road, I suck in black, sac staining toxins. They flood my system and melt my anxiety, washing my storming panic away to a negligible drizzle, pattering droplets trying to work their way into stone. Each bit of poison yellows my teeth just a little more, unfurling around those once pearly whites. I have smoked six cigarettes before I consider going inside, though I thought of doing the same thing three buds ago, despite how calm and even the world feels.
A little hand touches mine, fingers folding together and mending the split in my arm that was healed long ago, but raw and open only hours before. I feel it stitch back together when he asks why I smoke, and I smile at a joke that he will never hear.
"Oh, mein kleines untier," I sigh, taking him up in my arms. He plays with my hair, just as he did as a troublesome baby, smiling and pointing to the clouds to posit what shapes they have mimicked this evening. His forgiveness is sweeter than any apple tart or cherry, more soothing than warm liquor or cigarettes, and I make a silent promise that I will never hurt him again.
My son wonders about the marks on my wrists. Shame and fear wrestle for dominance within me, but my smile is enough to convince him that nothing is wrong. He must be allowed to believe that. I assure him that he will understand someday, when he is older, and I know that this is a lie.
After three letters and eight years, I receive a call from my father. We converse in a curt manner and arrange to meet in several weeks time. The winds outside our home in northern Arizona whisper, taking me to a world far away in the untended gardens of my younger years. My husband senses the change about me, stares awake when I will not share in the heat of our bed, though does not try to pry when I will not make small talk. He has learned when to stay away.
I have, again, practiced what to say, rehearsed in the mirror what kind of face I will wear when he arrives. His hair has receded, a few liver spots marking his cheeks and he is clad in his military uniform, even though he was discharged some years ago. I am thankful then that I have decided to wear something so formal as my business attire, and I pretend that I am not a little girl and that I do not so wholly fear and hate this man. When we hug, there is a stage beneath our feet, tape put down to mark steps in the performance, and we are just as rigid when we part.
Reluctantly, he shakes my husband's hand, the clenching of his jaw and the dismissal in his eyes bleeding disapproval. Already I am sick of this whole affair and think of demanding he get back in his rental car and board a plane back to Germany. It has never been good enough, everything I have done. But like a prim and proper daughter, I invite him inside our home, praying I am able to keep breakfast down.
My son enters by the sliding glass door, smudged with dirt and it takes a tsunami of force to keep from grabbing him by the arm and scolding him. Yet all my boy sees is his grandfather, marveling at the badges and medals on his chest. A genuine smile touches my father's face and he kneels, while we fade into the back drop. He asks his grandson if he will be joining the Army when he grows up and I answer for him, though my words go unheard.
He has never asked me this question. Not when I was chosen to protect the world, nor when I would prance around the house wearing his blue cap, once enamored by his uniform and the wood stock rifle he kept polished and cleaned on the mantle piece.
I order my son upstairs, imparting another wound between us by a tone I did not mean to be so cold. There is a sneer and judgment as my father stands tall. By grace and intellect, and certainly not an irrational, genetically locked disposition to be kind to this man and wish for his acceptance, I lead him to the kitchen and offer him a drink. I have bought a bottle of brandy to open for him, the rest of which I will dump into the sink once this visit is concluded. In actuality, I will drink every last drop and fall asleep in a pool of my own drool on the kitchen table later tonight.
As we talk, of neighbors and old friends, family that have passed away or not come back in the first place, my father taps his coat nervously. From his jacket pocket he pulls free a small chain, a gift he has picked out special for me. I do not hesitate when he stands, nor do I smile as I turn and hold up my hair. He hooks the golden cross around my neck, a noose that he so gently fastens to my throat, to hang me with decades of guilt and unspoken feelings. As much as I desire to, I do not have the heart to rip it off and tell him I never want to see him again.
We decide to take a picture together before he departs and I refrain from recoiling or squirming when his hand touches my back, plastering something happy on my face. When he leaves, we do not speak again. I pretend to be busy when he calls, and make excuses about emails and letters. Then, on September fifth when I finally answer, it is my step-mother, who informs me where they are going to bury him and the church where the service will be held.
During the service, extended family begrudgingly allow me to help carry his coffin. They offer to let me share a few words for his wake, but there is nothing I have – or want – to say. The priest spends nearly an hour beautifying his life, while I resist the urge to call out every lie and every falsehood. Who is the man you are talking about? That was not my father.
I do not say these things and clutch the golden cross hanging over my breast, willing myself to tear it free and toss it in the ground with him. In the end, he is buried and I have indented the object into my palm, my last connection to a man who was father. A man I did not know. I have a moment to think that I have missed something, now taken irretrievably beyond my grasp.
When we arrive back home, my son is pensive and fingers the buttons of his suit, making me think of a tiny professor or some other stuffy academic. I ask him what he thought of the funeral.
"I hope he went to Heaven," he says and I cannot help but feel slighted. We do not speak of it anymore and I assure myself that, in time, he will not remember his grandfather for that brief moment they met. I am not certain whether or not this pleases me.
It is not long before another funeral is held, impromptu and much less formal. I have been watching from the window when my husband comes back inside, dusting off his hands, marked with new blisters. He smells of rust – a heavy, wet scent from the dry soil. Our son sits by the freshly filled grave, a shovel leaning as a crooked marker.
"She was only a hardship for him," I say, and my husband's soul shrivels just a little more under my careless tending, more worn than usual after putting the family dog to rest.
"How can you say that?"
I cannot face him when he asks, terrified he might see my guilt and that I will lose the high ground. "You never should have bought her. He should not have to lose those things yet."
His voice turns grave, admonishing even. "He will have to, sooner or later."
"Then let it be later," I say, abandoning the dispute before my husband can make more a fool of himself, or me. He has never been one to predict storms until they break.
Terrors sweep anew through our home, waking age old memories to be real and fresh, cracking with storms of fire and window-shattering screams. My husband thrashes in bed, fighting battles that are not real, and there is little I can do to subdue him. He throws me into the wall when I try, my head cracking plaster. As the world spins, he comes back to himself, the gravity of what he has done settling over every muscle. It is not his fault – he is a good man. He is not like his father. That shadow born from old horrors, things best left forgotten, took him. The world used him and broke him, as they did me. Except what they have done to him has taken something vital.
He sobs. "I'm sorry, Asuka... god, I'm so sorry."
It is not his fault and I wish so much that he could understand this, that he could realize I do not blame him. Not for this. Despite all we have done to hurt each other, I have never been able to truly hate him.
I undress and wrap my arms around his neck, pulling him back into bed with me. So that he might remember he is still a man and that he is still mine.
I do not take off my father's cross.
Our son is thirteen, already so tall, like his father, and prideful, like his mother. I wonder, watching him explore a garden that is not unlike mine as a girl, when it was that he had grown so much. Where did this quiet, angry boy take my sweet child? When I ask him with playful prodding, to bring his moody heart to light, there is nothing to see but resentment. At first, I refuse to feel a sting that is not real.
Where has our time gone?
When did he grow up? Have I missed it?
The lab in Mesa has consumed me, taken me into its bright, unadorned walls. Those slabs of hard, cool concrete are unsettling and familiar all at once. My coworkers give me a wide berth, while others try to pass off glares as furtive glances, muttering spiteful words under their breath they think I am too far to hear. Some invite me to gatherings. Drinking at Tom&Jerry's down the street after our shifts, bowling on Tuesday nights, lunch at Gator's some Saturday afternoon. Recently, they have stopped asking, knowing what my answer will be.
I fall ever further into my work.
It is not often that I am home anymore, though it is so dark when I am there, no matter how many windows I open to let the light in. I have made a very nice cage for myself, where I may look to the blue sky outside and picture free flight. These scabbed, rusty hills are not an easy thing to get used to. Neither is it an easy thing to forget the place of one's childhood, no matter how unpleasant the company. The coyotes howl as the sun starts to creep beneath the world, drawn low by the encroaching winter nights. The chill upon the panes reminds me of those rolling rock hills in the Rhineland. Of festivals tucked away in the humid summer vineyards and forests, where I would fish in the river off the border of Luxembourg and trade jibes with bull-headed Belgian boys.
Our villa here in Tucson flows with the long dried up river run offs of the mountains, where green rarely spreads its soft touch. It is a scorched and bitter land, but it is ours, even when it goes against everything we have ever known. As much as I long for it, I will never return to those places so far in the east, as I cannot remember anywhere that has truly been home to me.
To my son, I imagine I have at least been able to give him this much. Despite his dark room and the doors that separate the man and budding teen in these walls, despite our bickering, I have given him that much. Please, let him have at least that much.
For his birthday, I give him a watch set in silver and inlaid with gold and fine cogs that click in seamless synchronicity. It feels a failed gesture when he takes it and leaves me at the dining table without a word, plugging in those ear buds from the music player I hate. The one I have held no small amount of animosity towards my husband for giving him.
From the hallway, I peak into his room, holding myself under the glow of electric light that gives no warmth. It casts my shadow into an already dark space, the weak aura of a lamp doing little to sway the black curtain. The watch sits snugly around his wrist, his fingers tuning it and cleaning the linings, in a way that is unsettlingly reminiscent of my father.
He slams the door shut when he notices me, because I have again intruded on some self-imposed exile. Day by day he grows more somber, more out of my reach, and the ache in his eyes is something I have seen so many times in my mirror as a child.
I could have been better than this. How many mothers have stood here and succeeded where I can only fail? He masks his pain and cruelty, but it is palpable. At school, he bullies the bigger kids. So they bruise him and bloody him, and I entertain elaborate fantasies of ripping them apart. I think of confronting him and asking him why he wants to hurt so much.
I know he has no instinct for malice. That was something I gave him, and while my husband sleeps I cannot hold in my tears, because I am the very woman I swore to never be.
I despise these schools I lecture at. These private institutions and rich universities riddled with arrogant brats who live off their parent's money, and could not give a damn about Metaphysics or how lucky they are to afford such an education. I teach it and cannot afford as much for my son. I work so much and can give him so little. Even when he seems happy, even when I think his life might not be so bad, I know it is not enough. I know his false smiles from his real ones – and it has been too long since I have seen one that is true.
I have been doing this all wrong, I am sure. I contemplate this as I arrive home late and find that my son has not yet made it home. Each day he stays out later and later, while I fret and stew in an anger that builds from my stomach.
It vanishes the moment he shambles through that front door, exhausted, but intact. I hold myself back, pretending that I do not so desperately crave his voice and his smile. When he walks by the kitchen and to the stairs, I am allotted little more than a tired glance. So I say his name and he stops, with tense shoulders and a sigh.
"I haven't seen you all day and all night. Can I please just talk to you?" I have never asked anyone for anything, not without motive. I have always taken what I wanted if guile could not give it to me first.
"I'm tired and I just want to go to sleep," he snaps and, much quieter, "just leave me alone."
But as the days drag by, I cannot leave well enough alone. Asuka Langley Soryu is not known for sitting idly by. I press him to pick up his grades in school, harass him to pick up the pieces of his life, even though it feels like I am the one who's slipping. He challenges me, slinging every kind word and gesture back in my face. He has been hurt so much, but I have only ever wanted what is best for him.
Has he forgotten all of that? Does he hate me despite all I have done for him? Even as that betrayal sits in my lungs and captures my breath, I know it is a comforting lie. It is easier to blame him, to hold him responsible to hide my failings as a mother, which he points out with an all too sharp tongue when we argue.
My husband's condition does not get better, and we are turned away by nearly every doctor.
My son and I come to a stockade.
I have spent days planning my angle of attack, but it has been wasted time, as I have never been much of a strategist and have always come direct to the point. He has gone to his room and I do not knock as I enter, greeted with the withering contempt that hits me with the force of a siege cannon every time.
I know, then and there, that this will be an ugly battle. More nasty and bloody than any brawl with the Mass Productions. I am ready. For this, I must have an iron heart.
I am too brave and all too much a coward.
The future scares him – and it scares me. I want him to succeed, I want so much for him to see how intelligent and driven he is. I have tried for so long to make him see that I have been brought to this, that it is my very last resort. He throws that buried pain at me and I pretend that each word does not shatter me, that I am justified. We scream at one another, until I make him see – until I tell him just how empty and wasted his life will be if he stays on this path. Because no one else will. Because I have to take care of my son. Even if it means watching him sit on his bed and cry, defeated. It takes more power than I could ever muster in an Evangelion to hold myself back, to keep from rushing to his side and taking him in my arms. Every need in me shouts against it, tries so hard to fight.
But I have to be strong, for his sake.
He must learn to stand on his own.
That is when his father enters, slides past me and sits next to his boy, an arm around him as he whispers soothing words. While I can only watch him break.
I am too brave and all too much a coward.
On his nineteenth birthday, my son prepares to leave for college.
He tells me that he hates me.
The house is so silent without our son.
It echoes the way a frozen tundra might, vast and empty for miles and miles. I stare out of the kitchen windows in the morning, my thoughts drifting. Or I try to read one of my old books, unable to move past a single sentence.
There are no letters, no emails, no phone calls.
I take one of my husband's unused journals, sketching late into the starlight while sitting in bed. I have not drawn since I was eleven and am not much of an artist. The led scrapes and curves, I erase, redraw, push those harsh lines a thousand times. Still the images are incomplete, but it is the eyes that I want to fill. They are a bit deep set, but just as brilliant as the first day I saw them, even with the shadow creeping from their edges. I fill the book with these amateurish drawings, one after the other. Some are of fantastical things, of a horned beast and a warrior woman. A princess seeing her knight off to battle. Or a queen searching the palace gardens for her fledgling prince.
I am lonely.
My husband assures me he will come back.
"One day," he says. "Soon. He'll come back one day."
That day never arrives. At least, it never will. That is what I tell myself. It is easier than embracing the hope that he might come walking through that front door again, back from exploring the world like when he was young. Or that I might return one night to see him waiting there for me at the dinner table.
"Welcome home, mom."
I put our photo albums away. The camera, with which I used to capture so many moments of us together, is tucked into an old shoe box and hidden away in the upper shelf of our closet. It is too hard to look at them now. Too much to see how happy he used to be, before I imparted all of my scars to him and stole the innocence from our bond.
All I have ever done is hurt him.
My husband spies me standing in front of the kitchen sink, soapy water slowly draining from the basin. I can catch a haze of my reflection in it, indistinguishable and fading. Sitting over it is a picture I had blown up and framed, of a little monster helping his mama water daddy's flowers.
"Why don't you talk to him?" my husband asks, placing a hand on my back. I shrug it away, wishing I could take it back. I am not the one at fault, am I? Surely I cannot be the only one responsible for driving him away? That would be far too painful to realize.
My husband looks lost and confused, like our son the night I broke him.
"I love you," he says, making my throat ache.
"I love you, too," I say, and imagine that it is real.
Our garden is beautiful this time of year. The sunlight dances on every leaf, sparkling amid the sunflowers and dandelions and rose lilies. For once the heat is not obtrusive, but calming in its embrace, and only once have I ever felt this safe and at peace. I am wearing a familiar, faded yellow sundress, not touched since I was pregnant. It is out here that my husband finds me and, with my silent permission, sits at my side. Leaning my head on his shoulder, nuzzling my nose into the smell of that wood and spice cologne that soaks his shirt, I watch the birds flit about and sing their summer songs.
A cloud rolls in front of the sun and I wonder when the next panic attack will come. When the shadow of war will take my husband away for another day, another week, and leave me in the stillness of our home, or the sterility of my lab.
He asks me what is wrong, his hand coming up to the back of my neck as I look up at him. His fingers glide up into my hair and I want that feeling to last forever. I push him onto his back in the field of rose lilies and straddle him, hiking up my dress and shivering with pleasure as his hands slide up my naked thighs.
There, hidden away among the sun flowers, we make love, like we did when we were desperate and swimming in numbness for that long year in Boston. When we are spent, exhausted with the urgency of one another's touch, we lie together as the sky changes color. That twilight hour that dyes the whole world golden shades of yellow. My hand traces idle patterns along his chest, following every dip and curve of muscle. Something is bothering him, but I am patient and wait for the worry to come free on its own.
My husband laments that he is not a good man, nor a good father. He has tried to be. "That is more important than the rest," I say, leaning over him, my hair swaying against his cheek, and I know that I have chosen right.
We are not very good at this, he and I.
I have not been a good mother, and my son has not had a happy life. But we have tried, haven't we? Through the poorer years spent in a glorified shack, the dinners when cheap takeout was all we could afford, or the birthdays when presents for him were a forlorn dream. The years spent with these remnants of the Eva that will not let my husband go. The parts of ourselves we could not keep from hurting him. We have tried to give him a home.
Perhaps, once, that was all our mothers and fathers ever tried to do.
The summer is gone and my husband's roses are dying.
They have put me in the hospital, trying to pinpoint the cause of stress that seized the fragile workings of my heart. Staying awake amid the burbling conversation in the halls beyond and the gentle, calloused touch of my husband's hands has become a burden. As I drift off, the idea of not waking is familiar and not entirely unwelcome. I always thought that right before a person dies, their life is supposed to flash before their eyes and that, like them, I would see beautiful things. My whole story does not flash by, I am not even sure that I am dying. It has felt like it for a long time now. What I do see whenever I close my eyes, is my little monster, smiling up at me with one of those emerald Floridian lizards in his hands. I know now, how such a little thing can make him so very happy.
It would be nice to see him again.
"He came, Asuka... he's here."
I open my eyes, reluctantly coming back to the world. He is there, an angel come to take me away. He is so grown and beautiful, and I have to remember to breathe, like when I held him in my arms for the first time. He is just a bit craggy now, like his father, in that way that broken boys sometimes are – and that I love.
I say his name, such a simple sound that carries so much meaning. An entire world of thought and emotion in one little word. One that I picked – that I made. I see it all pass through his eyes. Hope, longing, resentment, guilt – fear.
My son leaves. The light of the sun begins to bleed away, and I am more alone than I have ever been.
But I will wait. Through the snows of winter that cover the valley outside, until they melt and give way to the spring and our warm summer. I will wait.
Until he comes back to me.
I will always wait.