SOMETING MAMA CAN'T FIX
BY GWENDOLYN JOYCE MINTZ
Virgil calls early morning. Says my boy Sonny's on his suicide kick again.
"We're heading to Sweetwater in the afternoon," my brother tells me. "Can't stay and babysit and he's too messed up . . . won't come along. I'm not fighting with him. Thought you should know."
I thank Virgil. Ask about his own kids and then thank him again. My goodbye is quick cause I don't want to hear the stories about what Sonny's done this time. What Sonny's been drinking. What's Sonny's been putting up his nose.
I don't want to sit in the silence of my brother's unspoken accusations. I'm not the one who offered Sonny a bottle. I've never offered my son a line. Still, Virgil thinks it's somebody's fault and that that somebody is me.
I learned he felt that way when Carroll O'Connor died. I was visiting and we were eating dinner in his kitchen, the black'n white TV on the counter behind us droning on, pretending to be the reason we weren't talking.
We turned to the screen, listened to the story about the man's career and all that drug mess with his son.
"I wonder if he ever found his peace," I said, though not necessarily to anyone. "All that time he spent going after that drug dealer who sold his son that stuff."
Virgil grunted. "Maybe he should've looked in the mirror."
"The boy was adopted; so evidently that man did something for that boy that his own parents hadn't. He chose him and he raised him."
My brother grunted again. "Well, give him that. Too bad that ain't the case for everyone."
I stared at Virgil. "That drug business -- it couldn't have been his son's fault? -- I mean he was a grown man."
Virgil shrugged. "Train a boy up, all I got to say."
I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I was fixing to ask Virgil how long it would be before his grand ideas had some effect on his nephew but I just stared at my plate and pushed the black-eyed peas around.
Virgil had taken Sonny in after he got caught stealing from his job. Still a kid, Sonny had some options. Sending him out-of-town, putting him to work on my brother's farm seemed like a good idea. Virgil was sure that Sonny just needed something to do -- working sunup, sundown -- needed a man in his life to show him how to be one.
But it's been almost a year now and Sonny's in a deeper mess. And he's started to talk about killing himself. Mostly when he's drunk or high. It's good that he's talking about it 'cause I heard that it means he's really asking for help.
But I'm not sure what I can do. Not sure what anyone can do now.
* * * *
Mid-morning, Virgil calls again. Sonny's passed out. "I left him a note to call you," my brother says. "Hope he does."
He will call, I think, stepping out into the yard. He has before. Twice now. And both times, I've been able to talk him out of it.
First time, I hated myself for whatever it was that had done this to my boy. I apologized, cried, pleaded and my son did the same.
He'd promised he'd quit the drinking, the drugs, the trouble. He didn't.
And every time, I heard about it from Virgil. Heard in every beer, every toke, every misdeed what kind of mother I'd been.
The second time Sonny called to say goodbye, I asked him what he wanted me to do -- how could Mama fix this? -- but he couldn't give me an answer.
* * * *
I work in the garden all afternoon, back door open. With trembling hands, I weed and dig and plant. My mind keeps searching for what it is I can give my son to still the madness in his heart.
* * * *
I go in and I'm in the bathroom, washing up, when the phone rings. My first thought is to run down the hall and grab it, but I stand at the sink, rubbing my hands together till I've got a thick lather going. I hold my hands under the water and watch as the dirt and bubbles make their way down the drain.
The phone stops ringing.
I grab a towel and dry my arms, elbow down and then my hands. I glance at my nails and wonder where my emery board is.
I find my way to the living room and check the caller ID. I sit down.
I wonder if Mr. O'Connor's son made promises he couldn't keep to anyone, including himself.
The phone starts to ring again. I check the phone number.
Maybe Mr. O'Connor never found his peace, but I wonder if he ever considered that maybe his son had.
I take a breath, close my eyes and lean against the couch.
The phone rings and I let it.