Sean texted her, then told Courtney, "I texted her."
"What did you say?"
"Are you coming tonight?"
"Why didn't you do it in the group chat?"
"There's more pressure in the group chat, right?"
"It's just a text message."
"I know, but she's weird like that."
"And she hasn't responded?"
Sean was talking about his mom, who lived alone. His mom who told people she didn't live alone because she had a cat. His mom, who he hadn't been around since father's day when he woke up and discovered that at some point while he and his family were sleeping, she'd let herself in and placed a cake on their kitchen counter. This was very strange, and he invited her back over that day to try to make sense of it, but she refused, citing "logistics" as the issue.
"Logistics" had become her go-to excuse. That's what car accidents do to old people; what all accidents do to old people; hell, it's what time does to old people; it makes them scared to go outside. They worry that the second they leave their home, they're at risk of losing it all.
Sean was there for his mom the best he could be back then, wasn't he? Sure, he had to shift some things around to make her a priority, but you can't fault him for that, he was in the thick of it; his seven-year marriage to Courtney, his kid's fifth birthday on the horizon, a corporate latter to climb, a mortgage to pay, etc. His mom always seemed upset with him, which was troublesome. Weren't all these competing priorities supposed to make a mother proud?
Sean was always worried about what his mom thought of him. She lived forty minutes away and, maybe, he could have driven to see her more; it's just, whenever she was around, he couldn't help feel like he was being judged. He read that in the United States, 27% of adults ages sixty and older live alone. Was this statistic supposed to make it easier for anybody?
His mom had gone through periods of her life when she felt like living alone wasn't going to be a problem. Seasons when she told her sons that living alone was what she wanted, but was it?
When do kids begin to feel like their parent's parents? Is it an age thing, or does it only happen when their mothers live alone?
Sean wondered what his mom did to fill the time, and he talked to Courtney about it. He'd ask her if it was terrible that he didn't invite her when they went to a local park or bookstore. Weeks went by without talking. It got to the point where his daughter recorded a video saying, "I miss you, Grandma and Lucy." But Sean couldn't send it because he was worried it would make his mom feel guilty of something, so he carried the burden of misconduct.
"What do you think she's doing?" Courtney asked.
"She's probably at home watching TV with Lucy."
"Should you go check on her?"
"Stop it. She'll text back."
"You haven't heard from her in a long time."
"Maybe she's busy."
"Doing something!" Sean shouted, "I don't know! Maybe she lost her phone, maybe the battery died, maybe she's just doesn't want to respond. I don't know what my mom's doing."
"I'm worried about her," Courtney said.
"I can see that."
What is it about old people that is so off-putting? Is it that they're stuck in their ways? Is it that they've passed down qualities to you that created the problems that you have? Is it that you always feel judged when you're around them like you're a little kid again? Is it their skin?
Everyone's parents are old people, and the thing that's worrisome about that is old people die. They die, as in death comes for them, sure, but, at some point before that, they also seem to die on the inside.
Post-college, Sean lived with his mom because he didn't have a plan. All he had was a job teaching ESL, improv classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and a dream to be an actor. But dreams don't seem real until you tell them to the people you care about, and the only person he had then was his mom. After dinner one night, when she was on the couch half-asleep in front of the TV, he told her that he knew what he wanted to do with his life; he told her his dream. She said to him that he needed a plan B.
If a mother doesn't support you in your dreams, does she really want you to be happy? If a mother doesn't support you in your dreams, can they say they believe in you? All of those things that parents say to their young children about being anything they want to be - it's all lies, right?
But Sean understood why she told him he needed a plan B. From her perspective, her son, a grown man, who didn't pay rent, had woken her up to say he believed that dreams come true. What was his mom supposed to do? Parents have to tell their kid(s) Santa's not real at some point.
"She never leaves the house anymore," Courtney said, "Do you think she'd move into an assisted living facility?"
"No. She's not going to move into a home until she has to. And even then, she'd probably rather just die."
"I'm worried about her. Maybe you should go over there."
"Fuck, babe, you're just stressing me out."
But it wasn’t Courtney. It was life that was stressing him out; it was thinking that he should be doing more for his mom; thinking that he was a bad son despite the other aspects of his life going well. But there wasn’t a fix; it's not like if he saw her, things would be better. Whenever he saw her, he felt worse.
When Courtney's parents came over, they always told her, "You have such a beautiful family. You have such a beautiful home. We're so proud of you." When his mom came over, she complained about the traffic and how she needed to get home to feed Lucy. She told him that he should be wearing better clothes and asked him questions about his future he didn't have answers to.
Sean texted his brother, Patrick, to see if he'd heard from their mom. Patrick said that he'd talked to her yesterday.
Sean told Courtney, "Patrick said he talked to her yesterday."
"So she's ignoring you?"
"Yea. Or, something's wrong."
"You should drive over there."
"If I drive over there and everything's fine, she's going to think I'm crazy. It's an invasion of privacy."
"Maybe she'll think that you care."
"No," Sean said, "She'll definitely think I'm crazy. She wouldn't like it."
Property in the Bay Area is so expensive. When Courtney and Sean were looking to buy a house, they asked his mom if she'd want to go in on buying a home with an in-law unit so they could get a much nicer place, and she would always be near family. She thought it over for twenty-four hours and then told them she wasn't interested. When she saw the home they ended up purchasing, she said she didn't like the backsplash, and it was too close to the freeway.
"She texted," Sean said, scanning the new message on his phone from his mom.
"What did she say?"
"I don't know what this is."
"The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were god."
"What?" Courtney asks, "What does that even mean?"
"I have no idea."
"You should Google it."
"The internet has all the answers."
Sean rolled his eyes but copied the text into Google and searched, "It's from a Sylvia Plath poem."
"She was a poet, I guess."
"Since when does your mom read poetry?"
"What do I even say to that? Grasses unload their grief? What the fuck, mom."
"You should call her."
With tears in her eyes, his mom once told Sean that aging was strange because, "On the inside, I feel like I'm forty, but when I look in the mirror, I see someone who's dying."
"I don't want to call her," Sean said, "I don't know what I'd say."
"Something's going on with her. Has she ever sent you poetry before?"
"Babe, poetry's, like, depressing. You need to call her."
"I'm just going to text her."
"What are you going to say?"
"Is that a yes?"
Courtney repeated, "Is that a yes?"
"Yea, that's what I'll say. Like, does that mean yes?"
He sent the message to his mom and waited.
His daughter came down the stairs with five Barbie's stuffed into her pink and blue Barbie Dream Plane.
"Daddy, can you play with me?"
He didn't want to play and was irritated by the question.
"Daddy's busy right now," He said.
"Aw," his daughter whined, "No one ever wants to play with me."
Courtney came to the rescue, "I'll play with you, sweetie."
"I want Daddy to play."
Sean looked at his phone, but there was no new message.
"I'm waiting for Grandma to tell us if she's coming over tonight," He said.
"Where is Grandma?"
"She's at her house."
"Aw." His daughter said, and then Courtney held her hand, and they walked upstairs.
One day, his daughter will ask where Grandma is, and Sean will have to say she's dead. One day, Sean will be old like his mom, and his daughter will be the age he was just then. When that time comes, will his daughter have time for him or tell him she's busy?
He had the urge to send another text to his mom saying that he really hoped she would come over and that his daughter really wanted to see her, but it felt desperate, so he didn't.
Then his phone lit up, and he saw his mom had texted back.
"I can't tonight because of logistics."
Sean yelled up to Courtney, "She said she's not coming."
She shouted back, "Really?"
"Yea." He said, setting his phone on the counter.
His daughter yelled down, “Aw.”
He thought about what his mom might be doing. He tried to picture what her life was like all alone in that house with her wrinkly skin, her cat, and all of her memories.
He picked up the phone and called her. He was going to tell her how he felt and how much he wanted to see her.
But she didn't pick up.