The apartment was ok, it resembled a large studio apartment space and I couldn’t decide if I was kept or confined. I left boxes stacked in the corner, and eyed them from my perch on the  coffee table. I’m not sure why I didn’t sit on the couch……  probably because my coffee would spill if I set it down.   But   cross legged and coffee saturated, there I sat. It was November, Hunter was set to come stay with me, I was nervous.

What if he hated it?

I found myself rocking back and forth, staring at huge canvas   that adorned my barren walls. I had brought her with me, she  kept me safe. My eyes blurred with tears, spurred from nerves  that  racked  my brain……..

Hunter’s new home. I thought out loud……. Our new home.

I looked at the boxes. Even my unpacking skills didn’t offer any evidence  to  my statements.

Home.

I have no concept of home. No concept of what that is, or what I want it to be. But by God, here I am….creating it.

I blinked hard, and pulled my knees into my chest, full on “Girl Interrupted” style. My coffee steamed, and so did I. He’d be here any minute. Horrified of my own son’s opinion. Children have an innate ability to see through the bull shit of adults. They sense stress, and will call you out on fallacy.  They have no interest in  tact or political games. They are interested in reality, black and white. Unfortunately, the cold truth was, this was a downgrade   for Hunter. It was a collection of things he didn’t care about, or desire to learn. They weren’t new, or shiny. They didn’t fit in the giant house he was currently in. I couldn’t  compete,  at  this  point. I knew that. I was asking him to come to  this  foreign  place, and be comfortable. I was asking him to accept it for what  it was, and love it with me. Or try to love  it.

Someday we’ll love it.

My bear peered down at me. I was drawn into her, the same way  I was when I found her on the mantle of  home that was having an  estate sale.

“How much?” I asked the lady in the kitchen.

“Not for sale” she clipped as she turned around to put a 25 cent sticker on a candle stick.

“Excuse  me  ma’am………” I growled.

She lowered her hands, but didn’t raise her hands. She let out a large sigh and glared at me.

“It’s not for sale.”

“Listen,” I barked. I was  surprised by my audacity.  “Everyone   has a price, and I want that painting, I need  her.”

“You’re welcome to go.”

“Ma’am do you own the painting.”

“No, it’s the estate owner’s painting and it’s not for sale.” “May I speak with him.”

“He’s far too busy”

“I doubt it,” I snarled…..”given the fact he’s selling all his shit,    he probably has  time.”

The shock on her face was priceless. I was out of line, and  I  knew it. But the painting was mine, I knew it the second I saw   her. Raw canvas, a bear in water, sincerity ripped through the paint. She was the protector, and from her place on the wall offered strength, and love. She was mine. I wasn’t  leaving  without her.

The woman  left her post, and wandered to  a back bedroom. I  was plotting my thievery. I was serious  about  taking  this  painting. A Christmas blanket adorned the banister I clung to. If I pulled it down low enough, I’d be incognito. “Christmas thief” I thought to myself.  Ho Ho Ho Bitches. I giggled to myself.  This  was where my bull headed ridiculousness was going to surface     in a manner that required no dignity, or grace.

She shortly returned with a large man dressed in nice attire, but festooned with stress and failure. He was selling his life, and watching it walk out the door with stickers that read 25 cents.

“Can I help you?” He peered at me from broken eyes.

“Sir, my name is Carrie Mae, and I HAVE to have your bear painting. I think it’s been mine since the moment it was painted.    I know that sounds crazy, and I understand that you don’t want   to sell it. But sir, of everything that goes out that door, I  guarantee you, nothing will be more loved or appreciated. I will keep it for the rest of my  life.”

“Hundred bucks?” he eased, beaten and overpowered. “Done.”

The woman gasped.

“Adam.” She punched the name out of her lips with enough force to make me brace.

“I don’t want to fight, take her money.” And he vanished into the back room.

It didn’t feel like a victory, it was just the way it was meant to  go. I hadn’t felt any desperation in the fight. I didn’t feel  an  ounce of concern. She was  mine.

I shoved her in the trunk of my car, and drove home with the mantra I wouldn’t allow out of my home ever again.  My  connection to that painting is hard to explain. It’s not that she’s beautiful, although she is. She is art, and she makes me feel something. Always has. I had hung her on the wall in both the Neola home, and the house in Roosevelt. Zachary wasn’t overly impressed, but he relented, knowing I would  trounce  any  adverse reaction he even considered murmuring in my direction. This was a hard line for me.

She looked on me now. And I looked back. I didn’t feel anything positive now, I hadn’t felt anything positive in a long time. But I was driven to keep  her, always.

My life in the apartment had required specific detail to financial obligations and how to make my life float without a company behind  me. I was  ….although  very cliché……an island.

The night I exposed Zachary for the desperate little boy he was,    I made lasting friendships with the company men I worked with. Both of them determined that night they would be help in any  way develop the life plans I was looking towards. Gently they helped guide me through the door I needed to get my foot into, and on the sixth day of December, I became the safety rep for a small roustabout company. General oilfield duty, and some semi trucks hauling anything from water to oil based mud. The scope   of my work was broad, and whether I be shoveling crude on location, or driving from office to office smearing on the charm, I was an active participant in the oil field life, and found myself doing well. The owner became my best friend….quickly. Rumors flew of a torrid love affair, and it was all Zachary could do to contain himself when the subject came up. It was  very  well known that he didn’t approve, and I was “subjecting his son to    an alcoholic piece of  shit.”

At the end of the day, he is an alcoholic. He is also one of the  most generous, kind, intelligent and  compassionate  human  beings I had ever met. He didn’t ask questions or push for information out of morbid curiosity.  He was either a. perplexed.   Or b. didn’t care. I choose to believe he didn’t know how to approach my situation, so we left it unsaid. The two men I met that night were new. They didn’t know the me who existed prior….they only knew what was in front of them.

Just ……Carrie Mae….undefined.

It was my favorite thing about them, their lack of understanding.   I found that people who didn’t know my son, didn’t share my   hurt. Although my heart aches for the void in their life, I know  they can’t miss what was never there. The light that  shone from my son is brilliant enough to leave an everlasting impression,  those never touched, will never understand. But for my existence….it made it easier. I didn’t feel the need to help their hearts, and find the right words. All of their interactions with me, were based on me, and me alone. Selfish, but true. It  was a  world I could reinvent myself, and wasn’t expected to act  a certain way. No one knew. They didn’t have to know. They would know, only if I told them……or someone felt it necessary.

I didn’t tell anyone. And when I was forced into a corner, and the connections were made. I was very vague. It is my story to tell. Mine and mine alone. Those I cast my pearls before, were far  from  swine……….

There was a knock at the door, and my mind shot back to the task at hand.

Hunter was home.

Mascara smeared on my cheeks, and a lack of sleep didn’t make for the best presentation.  My poor baby was used to this scene   by now. I opened the door and Zachary held a tiny package of heaven, curled into his neck, crying. My  heart  sank.

“Hi baby” I cooed at him.

He glanced up, whaled louder, and buried his face into Zach’s coat.

I looked at Zach, searching his face for an explanation.

“He doesn’t want to stay.” He said to  me,  matter  of  factly.  I hated his tone. I hated his face.

“Why?” I eased, trying to control my rage. “Not his house.” He  crushed.

I reached for my son, and Zach turned to the side, pulling him   out of my reach, my arms still extended.

“Buddy, Daddy loves you, you HAVE to stay here with your mom, I’m just around the corner son, I’m just right there.”

Disdain painted my face. I wanted to rip his arms off of his body and hit him with them. Never once did he change a shitty diaper. Never once did he take the kids grocery shopping, or buy them clothes. Never once did he participate in all of the things that separate a parent from an uncle, or a friend of  the family.  He   was a play mate, and now he was positioning himself  in  my  child’s life to be his….what……protector……From what………from  his Mom?

I  stepped forward and wrapped my arms around him, turning   him and pulling him into my chest. He reached for his dad. My defenses were at an all time high.  What was happening? Never,  in his life, had he preferred anyone to me. Ever.

Guilt. I must have deserved this. “Happy?”  He snarled.

I slammed the door in his face, hoping it had hit him when I did  it. Hunter whimpered and I felt my knees get week.

“ssssshhhhhh” I calmed, my voice breaking as I began to shake……”baby, don’t cry.” But I wasn’t convincing, I was crying too.

“What’s the matter.”

He said nothing. Just cried into me, but he was limp and not holding me back.

He said nothing. He just cried.

I made it to my bedroom, but only by a few feet. My legs gave   up as it took all of my energy to hold up my heavy heart.

“Oh  baby…….” I whimpered in remorse. “I’m  so sorry baby.”

He curled into himself, the same way I had done a thousand   times  in  the  last  year.   I  watched  him  fold  up,  just   like  his mamma. Look like his daddy, act like his mom. On my knees, I  held him close, curled up like  an infant, and rocked  him that  night. He just kept crying. He wouldn’t tell me why. He just cried. After what seemed like an eternity, I lifted our heavy hearts, and weakened bodies onto the bed. It was late, and he was tired. I figured we would start new, in our new place. I figured the next morning would dawn a new opportunity to  redo  this moment  that was supposed to be a win. I laid him in my bed, and climbed in next to him. He sat up and looked at me. Tears in his eyes.

“Baby, lay down.”

“I don’t want to sweep wif you.” He said, with such assurance   and conviction that I could feel the razor blade dig in.

“Hunter, why son?”

“I don’t want to sweep wif you mamma.” “Son, lay down.” I pleaded.

He was climbing off my bed, sliding his tiny body onto the floor. He grabbed a pillow and laid it on the floor.

“Son, no. Get up here.”

He laid the pillow down, and put his head on it. All of my hope in life was dashed in that moment. My son didn’t want me now. My son didn’t want me.

“Hunter.”

He rolled away from me, running his fingers across the bottom hem of the red curtain. I had never seen him like this. He wasn’t even the same  person.

“Son…..”

No response.

I pulled the pillows off of my bed, and grabbed the heavy comforter. I laid it over him, and lay down beside him. I wrapped my arms around his body, and pulled him into me. He squirmed away. I choked on  my wounded heart that had battled  its way  into my throat. He lay under my red  curtains, facing the wall,  away from me.

I stared blankly into the darkness, waiting for him to fall asleep. Once his dark, lost eyes flickered shut, I lifted him onto the bed; refusing to allow my child to sleep on the floor, for any reason. I had never felt so small. I had never felt so inadequate as a  human. Futile.  Useless. Sleep didn’t come, the nightmares did.   For both of us. Alternating and causing chaos and havoc. Every time he awoke, he would climb away from me, and lay under the curtains. I’d lay beside him, and lift him back into my bed when   he would fall asleep.

After a month, of the same scenario, I was exhausted, and lost. I was beside myself, and he still wouldn’t talk. Zachary was breathing down my neck, insisting that my inconsistency was causing his mayhem. Finally, I fell apart to  my  child.  On  my knees throwing the same tantrum he had thrown for months.

“Hunter, no floor tonight. Get up here.” No response.

“HUNTER.”

Nothing.

“God damnit……” I hit my knees in front of him, eye to eye, on his level. “Tell me why.”

“PLEASE, TELL ME, PLEASE TELL ME SON PLEASE IM BEGGING YOU WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO SLEEP ON MY BED, WHY WONT YOU LET ME HOLD YOU, BABY TELL MOMMY WHY PLEASE……”

gasping for air, wailing into him, holding his hands, and keeping him in front of me.

He stared at me, and make a shift to say something. “Mamma……” he started. “You don’t want me mom.” The bottom fell out of rock bottom.

“What?”  I  gasped. “Son……”

“My dad said you don’t want to live with us mom, he said you didn’t want our family.”

I have never been more hurt.

“Oh my God Son……” words escaped me. “Baby, I love you more than anything, of course I want you. Of course I want  you.”

He started crying, different tears than I had ever seen. Giant alligator tears that streaked his cheeks, and broke on my knees, pressed firmly in front of him.

“Baby I want you. Baby, I want you. I want you. I want you.”

He leapt forward into my arms, wrapping his arms around my neck for the first time in two months.

Our relationship was broken, to say the least. It was tainted by the opinions of people who chose to carry on conversations in front of him that did a lifetime worth of damage to an innocent heart. My son questioned everything. And in the face of the disaster that had unfolded outside of his control, he was forced to adapt, and make it ok in his mind.

Children are black and white, right and wrong. They  are  see things as they are, or as they are told they are. I moved out. I  left. He was told I didn’t want him. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.

I will spend the rest of my life, assuring the question is NEVER raised in his mind again. Mending that hurt will consume  my  every thought, forever, nothing is more important.