She hands Charlie one of the cups. “Americano,” she says, and she hands it to him.
He takes it and smiles at her. “Thanks, Mom.”
Mom then holds out a cup for Rachel, and Rachel walks up to her. “Skim latte,” my mom says.
With two more cups in the tray, my mom takes hers out and rests it on the table by the door and then takes the last one and gestures toward me.
“Double espresso,” she says. “I figured you’d need to wake up.”
I gently take it from her hands. “Thanks, Mom.”
She shuts the door behind her, and the chill in the air ceases a bit. I know that by this afternoon, it will be sweltering and hot, but the September mornings tend to be overcast and a bit chilly. My hands are cold, and the hot cup feels great in my palms.
“No coffee for Thumper, huh?” I say, making a joke, and my mother, what a mother, puts her hand into her purse and pulls out a sandwich bag with bacon in it.
“I had some extra bacon from breakfast,” she says. Thumper comes running toward her. My mom crouches down and feeds it to him, rubbing his head and letting him lick her face.
I am overwhelmed with love for my mom right now. She always knows just what to do. When do you learn that in life? When do you learn what to do?
My mom stands back up and looks at Rachel and Charlie. “Why don’t you guys go for a walk?” she says.
Charlie starts to decline, but Rachel intercedes. “Yeah,” she says. “We’ll take Thumper.” By the time Rachel grabs the leash, Thumper is so excited that to deny him would be cruel.
Charlie rolls his eyes and then resigns himself to it. “Yeah, all right.”
Within moments, they are out the door, the opening and closing of which send a chill back into the house. My mom looks at me the way you’d look at a dying bunny. “I think we need to talk,” she says.
“Yeah, OK,” I say, and I walk back to my bedroom and get into bed. It’s warm there, underneath the blankets. I can see my mother looking at my place and noticing all the things that are gone. She doesn’t mention it.
“So,” she says, sitting down next to me, pulling the tab of her coffee lid back, and blowing on the steam as it rises. “Tell me what happened.”
At first, I try to tell her the facts. When he left. Where everything went. I tell her about the fight at Dodger Stadium. I tell her about not feeling like I love him anymore. I tell her about the conversation about what to do. I tell her as much as I remember, as much as I can bear to think about.
But she wants more. She wants to know not just the when and the where but the how and the why. I spend so much time not thinking about these things that it’s hard to start thinking about them again.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I say, directing my gaze to my bedside lamp.
“Yeah, you do,” she says. “You know why.”
“Why?” I say. She sounds as if she knows the answer.
“No, I don’t know,” she says. “But I know you know.”
“It just didn’t come up naturally, I guess,” I say.
“That would never come up naturally. Were you waiting for me to ask you if you and Ryan were still together? And then you could say, ‘Actually, Mom . . .’?”
“I didn’t want to disappoint you. I didn’t want you to think that I . . . screwed it up, you know? I can fix this. I can fix it. It’s not broken. I can still do this.”
“Be married. I can still do it.”
“Who says you aren’t doing it?”
“Well, I’m not currently doing it. But I can do it.”
“I know you can do it, sweetheart,” she says. “You, of anyone I know, can do anything you set your mind to.”
“No, but, like, I don’t want you to think I failed. Yet.”
“If your marriage does not work out—” she says, and she stops me from interrupting before I even decide to. “Which it will, I know it will. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean you failed.”
“Mom,” I say, my voice starting to crack. “That is exactly what it means.”
“There is no failing or winning or losing,” she says. “This is life, Lauren. This is love and marriage. If you stay married for a number of years and you have a happy time together and then you decide you don’t want to be married anymore and you choose to go be happy with someone else or doing something else, that’s not a failure. That’s just life. That’s just how love is. How is that a failure?”
“Because marriage is about a commitment to something else. It’s a commitment to stay together. If you can’t stay together, you fail at it.”
“Good Lord, you sound like Grandma.”
“Well, isn’t that the truth of it, though?”
“I don’t know,” my mom says. “I don’t know anything about marriage, obviously. I was only married for a few years, and where is he now?”
Where is my father now? Honestly, that’s a question I rarely think about. He could have a family in North Dakota, or maybe he’s living on a beach in Central America. Or he could be in the phone book. I have no idea. I’ve never checked. I haven’t ever searched for him, because I’ve never felt as if anything was missing. You only seek answers when you have questions. My family has always felt complete. My mother has been all I’ve needed. I forget that sometimes. I take for granted her ability to guide me, to guide our family, as its one true leader.
“But the way I see it,” she continues, “your love life should bring you love. If it doesn’t, no matter how hard you try, if you are honest and fair and good, and you decide it’s over and you need to go find love somewhere else, then . . . what more can the world ask of you?”
I think about what she’s said. I don’t really know what I think, I guess. “I just don’t want you to dislike Ryan,” I say.
“Honey, I love that boy as if he was my own child. I’m serious about that. I love him. I believe in him. I want him to be happy, just as much as I want you to be happy. And I could never fault anyone for doing anything in the name of their own truth.” Sometimes my mom speaks as if she’s a guest on Oprah. I think it’s because she spent twenty years watching guests on Oprah. “When you first started dating Ryan, I liked him because I could tell he was a good person. I learned to love him because he always put you first, and he treated you well, and I trusted him to do right by you. I still believe he does what he believes is the right thing for both of you. That doesn’t change because you two say you’re not in love anymore. That’s always been who he is.”
“So this isn’t the sort of thing where when we get back together, you won’t like Ryan anymore?”
My mom laughs and sighs at the same time. “No,” she says. “This isn’t one of those things. All I care about is that the two of you are happy. If only one of you can be happy, I have to go with blood on this one and choose you. But I want you both to be happy. And I believe you’re doing what it takes to be happy. Whether I understand it or would do the same thing in your shoes, or any of that, that doesn’t matter. I believe in the two of you.”
It’s weird how words from the right mouth at the right time can bolster you up and make you strong. They can change your mind. They can cheer you up. I’m glad Charlie spiked the punch. I’m glad I told my mom.
I can hear Charlie and Rachel come back in through the front door, and I assume that means that this conversation is over, but my mom calls out, “Give us another minute, OK?”
I hear Rachel call out, “Yup,” from the living room and then start talking to Charlie. Charlie’s voice carries louder than any of ours. Our voices might bounce off the walls, but his penetrates through them. I can hear his muffled laughing as I listen to the rest of what my mother has to say.
“Now, the one thing I am going to tell you, Lauren, is that you cannot hide this, OK? You need to be strong and be you and stop caring what people think and tell the goddamn truth. Be confident and proud of what you and Ryan are trying to do.”