“You’re not my real mother!” he shouted as she took the device out of his hand. “I hate you.”
She took it to the master bedroom and placed it in a drawer remembering a time when those words were like fingers on the video game controller, pushing her buttons and controlling her as if she were one of the characters on the screen.
Mondays were like this, she had learned. After spending a weekend with his birth mom it took him a day to get back into the routine of family life. On weekends there were no rules. No bedtimes. No restrictions. No homework. No chores. But there was also no basketball hoop. No friends. Nobody to play with. Nobody tucking him in at night. Nobody to say prayers with him. From Saturday morning until Sunday night he lived in a different world. His mom was there but she worked at nights and got home very late. She slept during the days.
His favorite food was pizza. Good thing. Every Saturday evening his mom ordered pizza for him. Pepperoni—his favorite. He ate about half of it and put the rest in the fridge for lunch on Sunday. Breakfast was just as good. His mom always bought a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts on her way home from work in the early morning. He got to choose whichever he wanted. Sometimes he ate half a glazed donut and a couple of bites of a chocolate frosted one. If he wanted, he could take a bite out of every one and he still wouldn’t get in trouble.
While his mother slept he watched movie videos. Some of them were R rated. He would not be allowed to watch them at home and he had sworn to his mom that he would keep it a secret. He didn’t like keeping secrets.
One Sunday night he came home and announced that he had earned some money at his mom’s. She let him do some work sweeping floors and helping to clean at her business which she told everyone was a travel agency. He had difficulty repeating the lie and just said, “I earned it cleaning at my mom’s work.”
He didn’t realize that there were no secrets at home. His dad and step-mom never questioned him because they had taught him not to lie. They knew that his mom told him not to tell so they just let him be. As long as he was not there when the business opened they kept their mouths shut. The dancers didn’t arrive until well after he had eaten his pizza back at the apartment and was already watching videos or playing video games. He knew but he didn’t understand. If there was nothing to be ashamed of, why was he sworn to secrecy?
As he got older he realized that he was living in two different worlds. That’s when it began. The confusion. The guilt about lying. The anxiety. But she was his mom. His real mom. The one who had shown him the scar on her belly where the doctors had cut her open so that he could be born. “And don’t you forget that,” she told him. “She didn’t have to be cut open to have you. Remember that. She’s not your real mom. I am.”
Tuesday everything was back to normal. He woke up to the sound of the alarm clock, got dressed for school and poured milk over his cereal while this other woman made his lunch and helped to made sure his backpack was ready. She had helped him with his homework the night before, after she took away the video game controller. His dad got home in time for dinner and they always ate together—the three of them. Dad left early for work, before he got up, but he was always home for dinner. He helped with history and science homework. His step-mom helped with English and math.
He played basketball after school with a friend who lived down the street. They were on a team together but he missed a lot of games that were played on Saturday afternoons. He liked it better when they were morning games and he could play before his mom picked him up.
Wednesday was early day at school. His classes ended an hour early so the teachers could have their staff meeting. He usually went bowling with some kids on a league. That way he would get home about the same time as his step-mom did. He didn’t like being alone in the house even if he was in his room drawing or watching TV. When his dad got home they had some time to throw the baseball before dinner. They were all baseball fans but on weekends there was nobody to watch the games with at his mom’s.
On Thursday he had his favorite class, art. He sketched very well and the teacher praised him. She told him he was talented and should pursue his interest in art. She was his favorite teacher. And Thursday was the best night for TV shows. He, his dad and step-mom all liked to watch Survivor and guess who would be voted off. He secretly giggled when they showed the women in their bikinis. He was at that age.
Friday was a good day. The end of the school week. An evening of relaxation. But by bedtime his mood was already changing. His dad had hugged him and said goodnight but there was sadness in his eyes when his step-mom sat on his bed and said prayers with him.
“What’s the matter, honey? You look so sad,” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said.
“C’mon, you can’t fool me. What are you thinking about?”
“Jody, do I have to go to my mom’s tomorrow? Can’t I stay home just one weekend?”