The message is disturbing, I admit. The one person on this earth I trust more than I do myself is apparently the one I shouldn’t—so sayeth the Crayola washable marker on my forearm.
I don’t recall ever having the need to scrub something off my skin quite as ferociously as in these moments before my mother enters the house. The suds and water splash about the sink as though a dog has decided to spin dry in the basin.
The alarm system for the house pings as my mother approaches the door by the garage. I hear the fluid metallic clunking of the deadbolts unlocking as she nears, a task made quicker by the house fob she carries. Modern conveniences that take the physical action of unlocking a door don’t help me buy any necessary time.
A quick pat dry and I’m good, minus the red friction mark on my arm. Anything is better than the monumental icebreaker my mom could have seen scribbled on my arm.
Oh, great. “Hey, Mom!” She loves it when I yell things down at her from upstairs.
“Get down here and say hello like a human, please!” Case in point.
And there is the cue to be civil and social. As I make my way down the steps, I can’t help but glance at the portraits hanging along the wall. Most are of my mom and me, a few from family holidays, and lastly, the only remaining photo of my mom, my dad and myself. She still hasn’t taken it down. It’s been four years, Mom. I’m pretty certain he’s not coming back.
As I reach the bottom step, my mind swirls. What to do with my newfound information—or rather, warning? The closer I get to my mother in the kitchen, the harder it is to stir my options, as if they were melting marshmallows beginning to cool.
“Carter, my dear.”
I can’t tell if that’s feigned sarcasm or not. “Mom, how was your trip?”
“It was full of tickles and joy, m’boy.” Classic line my mom always uses to describe anything of little merit. “Now, you mentioned a curio cabinet on the phone.”
Oh, crap sandwiches! I did say that. I would say that. And right before finding out something monumental I need to keep to myself. I’m not sure if I fully believe the scribble from my arm, but in the split-second decision I have, a part of me pauses at telling the truth.
“Yeah, the note.” In my years of encountering my mother during these forks in the road between my conscious mind and my gut, I have learned that the more time I invest in deciding, the guiltier my response appears to be. So I immediately follow with the hands-down best excuse of young adult life.
“I may have stretched the truth there.” Wait for it…
“Stretched?” I can sense her blood pressure from here.
“I like to think of it as a peripheral of the truth.” The upward inflection to my voice doesn’t sound convincing, more like I’m asking her if what I said was right or not.
“Peripheral?” One-word clarifications. Nice tactic, Mother. Touché.
“Might be more of a satellite?”
“Carter?” Yup, here it comes, pay attention.
“I may have mistakenly used the curio cabinet.” Flinch and brace for impact.
“Carter James Gabel!” And we have collision. It’s the triple combo of any proper mother ready to deploy punishment of epic proportions.
“No! You don’t do that, Carter. That word is a safe word, a drop everything and trust word. A never, ever to be used for any reason other than for what it’s intended word.”
I’m not certain, but I may have overstepped the success I think my strategy has brought. Mainly, the scornful, elevated tones are there, but her movements are dangerously calm. Mom uses her arms to talk just as much as her mouth.
“Mom, I’m sorry. It just snowballed from the leap to the briefing to bed to school. I never had much time to process what the best steps were in those moments.” That is mostly true.
“Carter, the reason we have that word is not just to rush past uncomfortable moments. It’s a pact between the two of us. A promise we trust in whatever the case may be if that word is spoken. Now, you’ve turned a flawless system into a corrupted one.”
“I didn’t mean to.” This is the recoil of my strategy. I knew it would be difficult, but she’s lathering the guilt icing on this punishment cake pretty thick.
“Well, Carter, there are accidents, and then there is just lazy stupidity. And you are not stupid, but this was a monumental mistake. I mean, any time you use the word from this point forward I will pause and wonder if I should believe you.”
Ouch. Yeah, this tactic, although a proven winner, is rough to stomach. This isn’t just angering her; it touches on a basic level of trust she has in me. Granted, from her perspective, this is low on the scale of trust issues. For me, I am still wondering just how far to take the words of Lord Ray.
“I promise I will not use it again carelessly. I am really sorry; I wasn’t thinking.”
Her lack of response tells me she is pondering the pros and cons of some form of punishment. You see, my tactic is almost foolproof. I have two options before me: admittance and coercion. I could admit to the note and the run-in and everything, but the “what if” portion makes me commit to another direction. So, with coercion, I admit to some kind of wrongdoing, but it’s one that I choose. I go into this scenario fully aware that my punishment is inevitable, but I set the context. This has worked for me in the past on numerous occasions.
There was the time I played inside the house with my pellet gun. I thought I had dispensed all the BBs from the tube. Turns out one little sucker remained and, when I squeezed the trigger, went right into the kitchen window. Now, getting pinned with discharging my gun in the house (a capital offense at a young age) was one route. Instead, quick thinking on my part took me straight outside and into the garage. One well-placed baseball shattered any evidence of the tiny hole. Faced with a scolding or a grounding, I chose the lesser of the two punishable offenses—an act I think I’m recreating here.
“Carter.” Here’s the windup. “I’m disappointed.” Fastball on the outside, strike one.
“When you were born, I was the happiest woman on earth.” Pitch number two starting. “Then right after I saw your face, I leapt. It was the dead of winter, and I wound up in a snow bank for six minutes before coming back. From that moment on, I knew I had to do all I could to protect you.”
Curve ball, strike two. Well-placed pitch, Mom. The old delivery story applies to any semi-serious situation. It’s there to remind me of her love and of my need to be allegiant to her because of the struggles she has faced.
“Trust helps me protect you, Carter. If I don’t have yours or you don’t have mine, where are we?”
The count is 0 – 2. This one looks hittable. “Mom, I trust you. It was just a one-time thing. I’m not sure what you want me to say.”
“You trust me? Well, then let me trust in you. You tell me what your punishment should be.”
Swung and missed. That pitch went high and inside with no chance of going anywhere. Batter is out. Damn, she played that well. I hate this scenario of deciding my own punishment—too strict, and it looks like I’m playing the martyr or being sarcastic. Too easy, and it shows my lack of caring for what I did.
“Jeez, mom. I don’t know. Two weeks, no TV?” It seems like a nice starting point for negotiations.
She stands against the refrigerator, arms crossed, not looking like I’m giving enough. Perhaps I should sweeten the deal with volunteering for household chores beyond my wheelhouse, including laundry and bathroom scrubbing.
“Carter, punishment is basically an unknown variable that’s always constant in your life. Leaping at your age can put you in dangerous situations at any point. Taking certain things away that relieve stress doesn’t help. Your life is precious to me.”
Oh, this is already not steering anywhere near a happy place.
“Taking things away from you is not real penance. Not with this. I think the best thing for you is to get signed up for training.”
And kill me.
“I will be your instructor,” she says.
Did I mention immediately? “Mom…”
“I’ve already prepared you physically with self-defense and other training. The rest is being able to control your leaping, and I can help with that, too, but not here.”
My mom works as a leap counselor. She helps kids with my condition mentally and emotionally, and also provides training sessions for them and their parents. It’s an attempt to control their leaps. Her organization is funded in part by the DCD, as long as she registers her clients with them and shares their progress.
Training sessions are mainly meditation and yoga type of nonsense. One of my fellow comrades from school said he went through it at age twelve, and it was the lamest experience in his existence. That taints the waters for me.
“Mom, please. I don’t need a bunch of hand-holding breathing techniques to help focus my chi or whatever.”
“Is that so?” That’s a challenge question and an obvious trap waiting to be stepped in. I will not be falling for it this time, Mother. Instead, I will just put my head down and power through.
“How many sessions do I have to go to?” I ask contemptuously.
In the distance, I hear the house phone chirping. Timing is everything. My mom looks toward the living room as if her vision can peer through walls and takes a few steps in that direction. In her retreat, she states, “As many sessions as it takes to make me feel comfortable with you again.”
Ugh. Not a win by any means, but not a set amount of training, either. She leaves the safety of the invisible punishment circle as she motions with one finger for me to stay, like I’m a golden retriever.
As soon as she is out of sight, I start making my way back toward the stairwell on the other side of the kitchen leading upstairs. The precautionary warning I throw out before she reaches the phone is, “I’m going to finish up my homework, quick.”
A diversionary tactic plus a plausible excuse near the tail end of sentencing—I couldn’t ask for a smoother transition. I hear her greeting the person on the phone, and I know I’m in the clear. I hope I can pay it forward to that caller someday.
“Not so fast,” my mom states from the base of the stairs.
“Wh— I thought we were pretty much done.” There is an alarm going off in my head right now. How did my mom answer the phone and make it all the way back through the kitchen to the stairs in front of me without me noticing?
“Your friend, Ray, called, and he would like to remind you of your study plans at the coffee shop tomorrow at three o’clock.”
Never mind that pay-it-forward comment. Ray is obviously an asshole and off my Christmas card list this year.
“Mom.” I turn around to head toward the fridge. “Sorry I didn’t ask before setting it up, but it was kind of last minute.” My mind was struggling to conjure so many tales. I’ll have to write all these down and practice later so I can remember them all.
As I near the fridge, continuing to speak over my shoulder at my mom, I notice a small ripple in the air, like the ones seen on a long stretch of hot, summer road. Shortly after, I reach my hand out to grab the fridge handle to peruse some snack options. My mother appears before me and stops my hand with hers.
If my butthole didn’t pucker in fright, I might have pooped my pants right then.
“Holy shit!” I think curse words were pretty acceptable given the circumstance. “Did you just…?”
“Teleport? Yes. Well, in a way. You and I, we need to further our conversation, it appears.”
“You can teleport?” I’m dumbfounded.
“Let’s start with how well you know Raymond Lord and work our way back to that.”
And this begins the worst week of my life.