by Traci Mullins
Two o’clock in the morning was the worst time of Connie’s day—too many hours before any sensible person would start her morning but not enough hours to get a good night’s sleep. Yet how could any mother sleep like a baby when her only son was living on the streets? Connie couldn’t.
Mark was twenty-five, a man according to most, but he would always be her little boy. He’d been drinking since he was fifteen. She blamed herself. Maybe she shouldn’t have left his dad, paid closer attention to the kids he was hanging out with. She’d lost count of the number of times she’d grounded him, made excuses when he missed school, called his employer of the day when he was too “sick” to go to work, spent what little she had to bail him out of jail. There was no high school graduation, no steady job, not even a girlfriend who would put up with him for more than a few months. He wasn’t a mean drunk, but booze took him to places no one wanted to go.
Connie had spent years pleading, bribing, threatening, punishing, coddling. She’d gotten Mark into rehab—twice—but he was drunk within days. His dad was disgusted. “Kick him out!” Dave said. But even when he was still living in her basement at twenty-two, she didn’t have the heart. Surely there was something more she could do—should do—to help him.
“You have to get out of the way,” her Al-Anon friends told her. “Detach with love.” It sounded so heartless, but she had to admit that nothing she’d ever done had saved her son from himself.
So shortly after his twenty-third birthday, she told him he was on his own. She gave him $100 and changed the locks. Then she sobbed for two days.
The months since then had been filled with drunken phone calls, pleas for money, tears and fury. Connie rarely slept past two a.m. Was her boy cold? Hungry? Living under a bridge?
One night she gave up on sleep and paced into the kitchen. Glancing out the window toward the back yard, she was startled, then frightened, to see someone lying on the lawn swing. Should she call the police?
But then she recognized his yellow windbreaker, his huge white sneakers. Her heart flooded with relief. She longed to throw her arms around her son and lead him into the house. But in the same moment she felt a resolve that surprised her. Months of practicing letting go had become muscle memory. For his sake—for her sake—she knew she had to accept what she had never been able to change.
Connie went to Mark’s bedroom and gathered up his bedspread. Carrying it out into the starlit night, she covered her boy tenderly. “I know you’ll find your way,” she whispered.
And then she slept—like a baby.
* * * * *
"Muscle Memory" was previously published by Palm-Sized Press on 6/22/18.