This month’s short story is a true story. Names have been changed.
Grant wasn’t exactly a friend from church and I was told that he and his mom attended somewhat sporadically. I knew him more by reputation than by sight, though we were approximately the same age.
Linda, his mom was in the process of getting a divorce. I think I saw Grant’s dad once ever, and there was also an older brother who wasn’t living at home, which meant that functionally, Grant was an only child.
Divorce was rather rare in that church at that time. I don’t know if Linda was the only one, but she was the only one I remember. Looking back, I’d like to hope that some people in the church reached out to her, but this was a long time ago and those divorced were treated like lepers.
We reached out to her. Once, anyway. The family situation necessitated going to a downtown lawyer’s office to sign some papers. Lawyers didn’t make house calls back then. They still don’t. It was summertime. No school. So my mother suggested to Linda that she drop Grant off at our house and “the boys could play together.”
I have no idea what that meant. I have a rather vague memory of getting some fresh air in the backyard, and I’m sure that television watching was part of the afternoon.
There were no cell phones back then. It seems strange typing that, but it’s an essential part of the dynamic of the story that it’s easy to overlook today. Linda was overdue to return and suppertime was fast approaching. Linda’s lawyer may have run late. Perhaps traffic was bad. It’s possible she went somewhere after signing the papers to have a good cry. Or even a stiff drink.
Either way, Grant started to get concerned. That quickly changed to worry. Worry led to a full out panic attack. Shortness of breath. Tears.
It wasn’t that Grant was worried, the way you worry about someone who is only a fifteen minute drive away and is now an hour late. It was a different thing, the concern they say that dogs get when you leave them at home: A belief that the person is never coming back.
Grant was freaking out. My mom — and I think my Dad who was home from work by this point — were trying to protect me from viewing the full impact of Grant’s freak-out. I never once had to deal with that, but for the one time I returned to an empty house and my imagination took over with a mix of car accident and rapture scenarios.
When his mom finally did show up, Grant was a mess.
Linda thanked my mom for letting him stay there, and my mom assured him that the afternoon had not at all been what she witnessed upon her return.
I had little contact with Grant after that, and really have no idea where their story took them. I think Linda distanced herself from the church beyond that point; it just wasn’t a good environment for a lone divorced person; especially with all those sit-com-ready perfect families with 2.4 kids following a faith with sacred texts that say things like, “God hates divorce.”
…So why does this story come back to me all these years later? I think that for kids in splintered or fractured families, the fear of abandonment is very real. They want to believe that everything will always be as everything has always been, and yet there is this underlying, nagging suggestion that perhaps someone isn’t coming back.
And if they’re not coming back at Christmas, or after Christmas, that just makes it all so much worse. There is a great vulnerability there that kids in intact families can’t imagine.