Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Mother's Like

One of my son’s best friends lived next door to my parents. He had an Irish mother and a Mexican father. His name was Matthew. He was built like his mother, but he looked like his father. He was short and stocky with dark skin, big dark eyes, and beautiful black hair. I thought he was one of the sweetest of the many boys that my son filled our home with. He was also the one that tore at my heart the most.

My son and his friends were surfers. Matthew, no matter how hard he tried, could not muster the subtleties of standing on a board that was being tossed about by the waves. He did his surfing on a body board.

My son was a trendsetter. He had a wide foot. His favorite shoe was Vans tennis shoes. I used to order several pairs at a time, all in different colors. The morning he left for school with a different colored shoe on each foot all I could do was shake my head. It took about two weeks, but eventually every boy that entered my house had shoes of many colors on their feet. Matthew didn’t look cool in different colored shoes. He stuck to shoes of the same color and stuck out like a sore thumb.

My parents had a pool. My mother taught all of my son’s neighborhood friends how to swim. All the boys were like seals in the water. Matthew was like a rock. He just naturally wanted to sink to the bottom.

All of the boys played in Little League. Most of them were good players. My son excelled on the field. Matthew’s father had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers Triple A Team. Matthew was not a particularly capable player. He generally got to play because his father was a volunteer coach.

Matthew was a good kid and a great friend. He was just a little off center.

Most of the boys that hung around my house had two parents that loved them. Matthew had a mother that didn’t like him. He had a father that loved and protected him. He had a grandmother and two aunts that lived in the same neighborhood. He would spend time with them when his father wasn’t home. Sometimes there’s no reasoning behind a parent’s dislike of a child. It just is. Matthew understood that. He worked around it.

Matthew’s father was much older then his mother. It was an odd match. His father was warm, loving, outgoing, and willing to share his leisure time teaching the boys about baseball. His mother was distant, out spoken, and prone to histrionic outbursts.

I didn't have any personal problems with Matthew's mother, we were friendly, but I did have a hard time understanding her. I loved Matthew.

One evening when I was visiting with my parents my son ran in the house and yelled for me to hurry outside. Paramedics were at Matthew house. His father had complained that he didn't feel well, grabbed his chest, and fallen on the floor. He was dead before the emergency personnel arrived. The house was buzzing with people. Outside, sitting on the brick wall, was Matthew. He was alone. He looked like someone had punched him in the stomach and he couldn't breath. His world had just exploded. My son and I took him home with us.

After the funeral, at the graveside, Matthew stepped out of the crowd of mourners and held up his arm to silence the priest. He went over to the casket and extended the hand that had his father's ring on one of the fingers. The grief etched furrows on his young face. He reached down and gently pulled one of the roses from the bouquet that was resting there. His mother stepped out of the crowd and went to him with her hand open and ready to accept the offering. He turned away from her, walked over to me and took my hand. He laid the rose in my palm.

I left the graveside feeling that Matthew had slammed shut the door of communication between his mother and me. Surely, she would resent what he had done. But her plans for Matthew went beyond resentment.

A few weeks later she had the police pick Matthew up on a complaint of attempted murder. She claimed that he threatened to kill her with a knife. There wasn't much validity to the complaint and it was soon dropped. It was decided though that he was an angry young man and he was remanded to a Mental Health Facility.

I carried a very heavy heart for a long. Then I got a telephone call from Matthew's resident Psychologist. He asked if I would be interested in coming to the hospital for some of Matthew's sessions. Matthew and his mother had decided that my home was the place where Matthew should live when he was released.

What appears to be a sad story has a very happy ending. Matthew says that his stay at the Facility was the best thing that ever happened to him. He finished school, gained self-confidence, had help dealing with the loss of his father, learned to channel his anger, and most importantly he learned to live in the same world as his mother and have peace in his heart. They didn't develop what we call love, but they did develop understanding and acceptance.

Matthew lived with us until he felt able to try independent living. He has made life nice for himself. He talks to his mother every so often and makes certain that she is safe and comfortable, but his primary focus is his children. He adores them and makes certain that they know that.

His father would be very proud of him.

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