This category was judged by Abigayle Claire.
Enjoy, and keep up the good writing, Annie!
|Cover by Jansina|
A few tears slipped down my cheeks, and I blinked twice, trying to stop crying before the salt water smeared my makeup. He turned and waved at me, his smile wide. He was so excited to go to the library all by himself for the first time in his ten years of life, and I was scared stiff of letting him go.
Once he was out of sight, I ran inside and curled up on his bed, hugging his stuffed wolf. Wishing he had taken it with him, I cried into the worn, patchy black fur.
My son was seven months after I left my boyfriend from college. I hadn't intended to leave him, but when my dad called me back home because my mom had broken her hip and knee and they needed me to help out. I left in the middle of the night without telling him why I left, and when he didn't contact me, after several months, I decided not to reach out either.
As a single parent, I struggled to make ends meet, working days at a grocery store and nights at a restaurant. For the first two years, we lived at my parents house, and my mom took care of him. She was never very nice to me, blaming me for the fact I was a single mom, but she adored her grand-baby. I got home at eleven at night, enough time to kiss his forehead and crawl into my own bed, where I could snatch a few hours of sleep before heading out to work again at seven in the morning.
Every Saturday, I took him to the library and we spent all day there, cuddled on the beanbags in the children's section. He took his first steps there, to move from my lap to the toy box, in search of a black stuffed wolf with huge eyes. I thought it was ugly, but he loved it. He thought it was the best thing ever, and when they got new toys, the children's librarian gave it to him. The next week, we moved from my parents house to an apartment. I was so glad to have something for him that was the same.
That stuffed wolf went with him to visits to the doctor; to the library with me; to Christmas dinners with all my relations; to the first day of school. As he got older, it stayed behind on his bookshelf more and more. I wished he would take it with him, but he didn't. Sometimes he forgot, remembered halfway through whatever the visit was, and needed to snuggle with it when we got back. But to my dismay, more and more often he just forgot and didn't remember again.
He'd begged and begged to be allowed to go to the library by himself. Our newest apartment was only a block away, so, on his tenth birthday I let him go. I could feel my heart crying for him to come back, before he had even put on his purple and black sneakers, tying his left one first and then his right. His jacket was next, then he put on his baseball cap - he'd bought it after his grandparents had taken him to see a game. Just him. I wasn't invited.
I tried not to feel snubbed, not to feel jealous of my sweet boy who everyone loved, but it was so hard sometimes. It wasn't his fault that everyone loved him. It wasn't his fault he was different and it certainly wasn't his fault that I was so stressed and tired and depressed.
After a while I got up and went to the bathroom to wash my face. I stared at myself in the mirror, the words he had told me a few days before, echoing in my mind.
"You should hug yourself more, Mom."
I'd asked him what made him say something like that and he said because he wasn't going to be there all the time to hug me, and he'd had to worry about me less if he knew I hugged myself.
I ran cold water over a cloth and washed my face, then reluctantly hugged myself and rocked on my heels. It was silly, hugging myself. I was going to be fine, I didn't need him to worry about me, and I didn't need some kind of child like solution to what wasn't even a real problem.
But as I stood there and hugged myself, I began to feel happier. Calmer. As if maybe I didn't have to carry the whole weight of the world on my shoulders and maybe it was okay to just let go of some things, to let go of the guilt I carried that my little boy didn't know his father, let go of the tension and anxiety over my job and my parents, let go of the worries and thoughts that hounded me.
I didn't hear him come in but suddenly there he was, hugging me, pressing the wolf against my back.
"I love you, Mom. You love you, too." He blew a kiss and then hurried away again, clutching that ugly stuffed wolf in his hand as he headed for the front door. "I'll be home later," was his cheerful call as he disappeared outside.
I found a smile on my face as I moved to the kitchen and began making supper.