HE LOSES HIS MOTHER at eight.
Not because he loses her to a disease, or because she is on the wrong side of the road at the wrong time. He loses her because she loses him first. He loses her because she packed her bags that rainy night, and left. Left for the man who was waiting outside the car for her, a too-bright yellow umbrella opened to shield her from the storm. He loses his mother, loses himself because she leaves him to the custody of his father; never telling him that while he clung onto her leg, tugging on her anklet crying, a divorce was being finalized.
And then, he loses her because she loses herself to cancer.
Sometimes, he wonders. Wonders if his dad hadn’t always been so absent, with work, as he used to say, if she would still be around. Would she have? Would he have ever not taken her for granted? People say that nobody ever misses what’s around, but these days, he gets a feeling that maybe he had already been missing her while she was alive.
When he was eight, he found motherly love embarrassing. The small notes that she left him in the paper bag lunches, or how she would always shout at him to apply sunscreen at the door, as he put on his cleats in preparation for a soccer game. How she would always be ready with a first aid kit in her hand because she would know he was a reckless kid. He was all-limbs and pigtail-pulling and not-crying, too ready to grow up.
Did he ever even tell her that he loved her? Did he?
He can’t seem to remember.
He thinks about all of this, as he sees the blue and red lights flashing erratically outside, much like the increased pace of his heart. He tries to stay calm, but he cannot for the life of him, remember the last time his father was sober. He cannot remember the last time his mother was alive.
He holds a towel one of the paramedics handed to him to his head, applying pressure to the gash on his forehead. Superficial injuries, one of the people in orange tells him. Your cuts are superficial; they’ll heal as fast as you got them.
He can’t seem to agree that they are as superficial as they seem, as he watches his dad get pushed into a car with handcuffs around his wrists. A part of him is relieved — a sadistic part of him. After all, what good did that bastard ever do to him? To Mila?
But another part feels empty. Empty because he was so young when his mother left him that all he was holding onto was his dad. Because in some twisted way, his dad was the only person he felt like was carrying a part of his mother.
He was never a great father. But after his mother died, he never recovered.
“Hey,” a woman says, walking towards him. “Hey, are you alright?”
As soon as she puts a hand on his shoulder, a sharp pain rings through his body, and he flinches away. The stinging on his forehead seems like nothing compared to the monstrous mountain of nerves that are singing from his shoulder to his fingertips. He looks away from the sad doe eyes that does nothing to chill the cold in his chest.
“Hey, hey,” she repeats in a soothing voice, like he’s eight again. She puts a calming hand atop his. “Hey, I’m not going to hurt you. Your dad is going to be locked up behind bars now, okay?” He realizes that she is acting the way she would treat any small kid whose dad got arrested for beating him up. She’s from Social Services or Child Protective Services or whatever would take him away from his older sister —
He feels like he’s eight again, writhing away from his mom as she tries to feed him vegetables for lunch, as he says, “Where’s my sister? Where’s Mila?”
He no longer feels sixteen, as the woman sits down next to him, and puts a soothing hand on his arm. He feels a fit of frightened sobs rising up his throat, but he pushes them down. He feels so small and so vulnerable, and he realizes, I am still eight years old. He is still that eight year old that watched his mother get in that car and he is still that poor eight year old kid who was did-you-know-his-mom-died?.
“Sweetie, I’m going to have to ask you to tell me your name — ”
“You can’t take me away. My sister… my sister’s twenty three. She’s a law student. She knows what to do.” He feels hysterical as his vision goes from blue to red to blue to red to blue to red —
“We have to take you to the hospital for you to get stitched up first.”
And when she removes her hand from his, he finds himself clutching onto it, trying to suppress the shudder that wracks through him because it’s too soon; too familiar. She gives his hand a reassuring squeeze: she’s done this for hundreds of terrified kids stumbling away from ground zero.
And for the first time, he lets himself feel like he’s eight again.
In a hushed whisper, he breathes out, “I’m scared.”
WHEN HE REACHES THE hospital, he’s sat down on a bed in the emergency room. Doctors hustle by, some fretting over him. He hears words like sutures and hematoma and dislocated shoulder. It’s raining outside. And it’s not the calm, drizzle kind of rain. It’s the kind of rain that would hurt if it were to be bombarded on someone’s skin. He doesn’t remember it raining when he was being rushed onto a stretcher. But maybe it was, because his hair is wet and so is his shirt.
He hears someone say we’re going to pop your shoulder back into place.
His cut no longer hurts, and he likes to think that it’s because he’s gotten somewhat used to pain. Something he’s gotten somewhat immune to. The way he sees it: pain is a form of constant in life. And something would always hurt within — it’s a mere matter of whether one can acknowledge it or not.
He had come to terms with pain earlier than he can remember.
Because he coats it with denial. He doesn’t let him feel the pain. Until they start cracking, and he can hear the words over, and over again, Mom’s dead, Sebastian, Mom’s gone, Sebastian, Mom was not okay for a while; had not been, Sebastian, Mom’s dead, Sebastian, Sebastian, Sebastian —
He squeezes his eyes shut as his shoulder feels like it has ignited into live flames. Like everything is shattering in slow motion, in slow motion, slow, slow; time stops. It stops, and he stops. Breathing stops. The whole world stops and everything stops and it’s all horrible and it’s like a hundred foot concrete wall just crashing down on him after pushing against him for sixteen years and just make it stop please make it stop —
As much as he hate himself for thinking of this, he wonders if this is how his mother’s life fell to pieces. A boy that she was so terribly in love with, so horrifyingly much that she gave her all to him, and he turned her to stone under his Medusa gaze. Crushed her to dust particles. Not even stardust. Not even back to what she was made from. To ugly fragments, of fragments, of rubble. Monsters hide the biting snakes under their scalp, he realizes. They attack you when you’re the least suspicious and most susceptive and then after, they put the snakes back under along with the taste of your blood.
He doesn’t know why he is not falling to pieces, because he’s fucking shattering inside.