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Sea of Unknowns

My son and I have a conversation when he’s about to start high school, “You don’t do drugs, do you Zachary?”

“No Mom, I’m not stupid.”

“But really, Zach, so many kids do these days. You can tell me anything, you know?”

“Mom, I’ve already told you, I’m not stupid. I saw what happened to Dad.”

“Right.” his father lost everything, including us, to his cocaine addiction.

And so I trust my son while he stumbles through high school. His grades aren’t so good, he goes out a lot, and his friends are fast and wrong and smell like weed. But I believe him. He doesn’t use drugs.

He’s different.

Then one day, years later, he calls my name with an uncommon urgency, “Mom! Mom!”

His eyes are huge, he’s pale and fraught. “What’s wrong?” I ask, as he crumples into my arms. He’s wearing his insides on his outside – college bravado nowhere to be found, now he’s just Zachary, hurting and scared.

He says, “I love you Mom” and cries tears on my shoulder.

“It’s all ok. It’s gonna be ok,” I say although I don’t yet know what happened. I hold him and rock him like before, when he was my little boy. His rigid body slackens and he sobs in ways no 20 year old should. And the walls of years between us crumble.

But then he removes my arms from around him and steps back and faces me with narrowed red eyes and a scowl.

“What is it? What’s going on?”

“Mom. STOP. You DON’T understand. You CAN’T understand. Quinn is dead. Heroin.”

I try to pull him in again, try to wrap him in my love, try to protect him from all that. But he jerks back and walks away as if it’s all my fault, yelling, “You never liked him!”

The bad dark things are close. Too close.

Might, he be like them?

I decide to sharpen my attention like a pencil. I look in his backpacks, in his car, under his bed, in his decades-old red toy chest -- and find – weed, prescription bottles for amphetamines, pawn shop receipts, cigarettes, alcohol.

What boy is that? What life is this?

My hands start shaking and I line up all the stuff. Every single thing he was too smart to have – is lined up in front of me, right on my desk, and my hands shake more, like little earthquakes.

It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok. Keep it together. Keep it together. Keep it together. Take photos. Put them back where you found them. You need to make a plan.

He comes through the front door.

“Hi Garr, how was your day?” I call from upstairs.

“Your acting is worthy of an academy award,” my Mother will later say.

In a day or two, when the earthquakes have moved up my arms into my teeth, I say to him, “I need to talk to you.” I remind him of the house rules. My house rules. No smoking, no drinking, no doing drugs.

“Mom I’m in college now, those rules aren’t realistic.”

“Explain these things,” I show him some prescription bottles and a small glass pipe.

He hurls sharp words back at me, “How dare you look through my things.”


“You’re pathetic.”


“You’re invading my privacy.”

“You have no privacy. This is MY house.”

“What’s wrong with you, Mom! You’re insane.”

“Don’t you dare turn this around, Zachary.”

And he keeps firing, words morphing into missiles, all hitting their target, “get out of my room!” he screams for the first time in his life. I have to lean on the bookcase, lest I collapse.

“I manage a reply, growling up from somewhere still breathing. “You can’t live here anymore. You can’t speak to me like that. You need to go.”

And so he goes.

I don’t know what he’s doing, where he’s staying, what he’s thinking, what he’s taking, if he’s hungry, if he’s thirsty, if he’s cold or hot or happy or sad. I don’t even know if he’s scared.

Sometimes, when I think about him, I feel a tug inside myself, like a waterlogged towel full of tears. The heavy wet thing pulls me down to my knees. And keeps me there.

Maybe, one day, I will float in this sea of unknowns.

Or maybe, one day, I will drown.

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