I was always awkward but had learned to adapt, and by the time I was graduating high school, I was in the top of my class.
“The future rests on our strong and capable shoulders. It will be our generation that will herald in the new age. It will be our generation that will face and resolve the problems of our time.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes.
My speech is so much better. I had written and submitted a speech for this year’s graduation but Mr. Duncan, the principal thought it was “not in keeping with tradition.” I clutched a folded-up copy of the speech and sat quietly.
The audience was made up of the graduating class; a hundred or so students all in maroon caps and gowns, and their friends and their family, of course. My mother is present. Finally, the speech drew to a close.
“Congratulations to you, the class of 2001! The future is what we make of it!”
All of my classmates jumped to their feet. I looked at the response of those around and slowly got to my feet, too.
They all scream, “Hooray!” I just didn’t feel it. Along with the rest of the class, I took off my cap and threw it in the air. It was a unfulfilling event for me, but everyone around me seemed truly excited and caught up in the moment. Proud mothers were dabbing away their tears of joy with white handkerchiefs, proud fathers heartily shaking the hands of their newly emancipated sons. I finally just quit trying to fake it, and as my classmates were doing high-fives, I stepped away from the crowd, wanting to distance myself from them.
It startled me a little when there was a touch on the shoulder. It was my mother.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said with a sweet and reassuring smile. “Your father would have been, too.”
I smiled back, still clutching my speech.
We walked arm in arm toward the car and my mother was beaming with pride. I wasn’t sure what I had done to elicit such a swelling sense of satisfaction in her. There was nothing unique about my academic accomplishments. I had simply shown up, listened, and on test day, I regurgitated what I had heard. Nonetheless, I was glad to see her so happy. As we walked past a trash can at the edge of the parking lot, I tossed my speech into it.
“I know you’re going out with your friends to celebrate, but drive me home first. You can take the car.”
She tossed me the keys. More and more, I noticed that my Mother didn’t want to drive. That’s fine and I didn’t mind, but it was clear she wasn’t comfortable behind the wheel anymore. It was a long drive, almost an hour, and I wasn’t talkative.
“Something the matter, Bobby?” She asked. It had been over ten minutes where neither of us had said anything.
“Just thinking about what’s next.”
“Don’t you worry about that.” My mother’s face still showed distinct pride. “I’ve spoken to Philip Crenshaw, Jonah’s father. He’s agreed to give you an internship in the research department at Trust Media Group. The pay is not much to start, but Trust Media Group is a very big place, with subsidiary companies in lots of other things besides magazines and television. It will get you started. It’s the kind of company you can stick with your entire life, retire from. And they’ve got good benefits.”
They used to call this a grind. Now, it’s obligation. Now, it’s opportunity. Now, it’s life.
“Really,” I said without enthusiasm.
Trust Media Group was a huge media conglomerate, but I knew that Phillip Crenshaw worked for one of its smaller divisions, The Trusted Authority, a weekly tabloid newspaper that is on every supermarket checkout stand. The cover story was often something to do with aliens, subterranean humanoids living in the sewers who snatch babies or maybe just a slice of life from Paris Hilton’s routine. You know, stuff that is hard to believe. It was journalism at its most yellow .
My mother continued, “You’re father had always wanted you to have a good job… a white-collar job. He wanted you to achieve more than he did.”
She wasn’t the sort to come out and say it, but I also knew that she was having a tough time making ends meet. My father’s lingering death and prolonged hospital treatment had left her with more bills than the small insurance policy could cover. If I was earning, I would be able to help her.
Still, I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of working for Jonah Crenshaw’s father or TMG. Besides that, I disliked the idea of being an office boy. But this job didn’t have to last forever, maybe just a year or so. That would be enough to help pay off the debts my mother had, but there were other ways to make a living.
“Sounds great. Not,” I said, eyes fixed straight ahead on the road.
In the driveway, I helped my mother from the car and walked her inside and followed her into the kitchen as she put a kettle on for some tea. I stood silently in the kitchen doorway watching her fill the kettle and then place it on the hot stove.
“Mom, I can’t do this, this new job.”
“Trust Media? Of course you can. They have a training program. Orientation, Mr. Crenshaw called it.”
“Not what I mean, Mom. I don’t know what I want to do yet, but this isn’t it. I’ll find something else to do. I would really like to write.”
“Well, you can still write. It’s good to have a hobby.”
I felt annoyed, angry and frustrated, all at once.
“I will not work at TMG!” Tears welled in my eyes.
“You’re a dreamer, just like your father. Look where that got him!” She was upset and her head shook when she spoke. She raised her hands up as if calling on help from above. “You can’t make a living from dreaming. You’ve got to get a real job. It’s time to stop being a child and start being an adult.”
“I’ll pay my way. I’ll find something to get me by, but I’ve got to have time to figure things out. I’m not going to work for TMG, and that’s final. Not you or anyone is going to make me work for TMG! You hear me? No one!”
I braced myself for the anticipated, harsh words I was certain would come but when my mother opened her mouth, nothing came out. She just stood there, statuesque and poised, and then she gasped.
It was a ragged drag on the air, and I noticed the look on her face, now. It wasn’t anger and resentment. It was fear. She stumbled back on the stove, and her outstretched hand clutched her chest.
I moved to catch her and she screamed, shrill and high pitched. Only it wasn’t a scream. It was only the sound of the kettle whistling.
My mother had a stroke. She’d been working too hard since my father died, doing various housecleaning jobs as she could get them. She was also getting older and couldn’t keep up the pace. She recovered, but not fully, and now needed full-time medical care. I went to work at TMG to support her. Years later, I am still at TMG and still supporting her.
I left the cemetery and drove back to the office. I had a full inbox but I didn’t get any work done. I had my performance forms to complete, calls to make, a meeting to go to. I did none of them.
Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet
©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender
Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd. www.rubiks.com
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.