“It’s your brother’s birthday party this weekend. I wish you were coming. We all miss you.” I sent this Facebook message onto the cybersphere with little hope of a response. It’s been a few months since we’ve heard from Marcus, our “prodigal son.” I went off of the assumption that he had just ghosted out again. He does this often. Eventually I figured he’d contact us if he needed something.
Imagine my surprise when the phone chirped back with, “I wud love to go.”
Just like that, our oldest was back in our orbit. He told me he had “big news.” Marcus insisted he could only tell me in person. My stomach dropped as I immediately tried not to think of the possibility that he was having a baby. I’m pretty sure that I kept my fingers crossed the entire way to pick him up for the weekend.
Pulling up to a tiny, dingy, brick duplex, I spotted him hoisting an oversized zebra-print duffel bag onto his shoulder. It had pink writing on the pockets, and there was a pouch for a bottle on the side. Gulp. Marcus hopped into the car, stating the bag was his girlfriends. He is now living with this latest girlfriend-and-her-mother. Another girlfriend, another mother, another home, rinse, repeat. This is Marcus’ cycle. There are many people residing in the tiny apartment, including the younger brother (paternal) to Mary and Carl (Marcus has a different father.) Imagine trying to explain that our oldest son is living with his siblings’ younger sibling. Oh and he is also dating that sibling’s oldest sister. Sure….
Anyway, the visit went the same as usual. Marcus wanted to drive everywhere. He wanted to take out the trash, run the errands, help out around the house. We played Bananagrams (his favorite) and card games into the night. He gave Carl a ninja turtle Lego set and a red fidget spinner. He got me iced coffee from the local Dunkin’ Donuts. In other words, classic Marcus, or at least classic when he’s in his good place.
When he finally shared his big news, I could have cried with relief and happiness. Marcus signed up for the Job Corps’ electrician program. He’d have a guaranteed place to stay. He’d would have food, supervision, and training. Did this mean he would be OK? Maybe I could stop wondering “what-if” with Marcus. Maybe he was doing alright despite never having been adopted.
Driving home he recounted his weekend highlights. He loved visiting the farm where he had riding lessons when he lived with us. He loved Carl’s birthday party. His absolute favorite thing was going to the batting cage with Luke. It was one of those classic father-son moments where Luke taught him how to swing and how to watch for the ball. The difference being that most kids do this with their dad at a young age, not at age 19.
And then he played me Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s song “Trap House.”
“I used to have a trap house,” he commented nonchalantly. I could see him glance over at me to gauge my reaction. I froze in place, staring straight ahead at the road. A drug house. He used to sell drugs.
“After we knew you?” I asked quietly in a tightly-controlled voice.
“After I left.”
“After you left which time??” I ground out each word with effort. It was when he was 18 and living with yet-another-girlfriend-and-her-mother. Rinse, repeat. I catch my breathe and sit in silence until I am sure I will not scream. Why did he choose this life over our family? Why?
It hurt to get the words out. “Do you know that I’ve never wanted anything from you except for you to be happy? I’ve only wanted for you to have a good life. I can’t make your decisions for you. No matter how you feel about me, I will always consider you to be my oldest. I will always care about you. I will never stop worrying. I will never stop asking myself why you couldn’t let us take care of you. ”
Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks. When he got out of the car he caught me up in an enormous hug. Words of apology for his past choices washed over me. Reassurances that he was “staying away from that stuff” filtered through my ears like so much white noise. How many times over the years have we repeated this same conversation?
Driving away, I could see him standing in the road, adjusting his zebra-striped duffel bag higher up on his shoulder. He looked so small. A part of me wonders if I’ll spend the rest of my days looking into the rearview mirror at Marcus.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.