My Mother’s Punishment
Once when I was a kid, on the blacktops of Idlewild Elementary, I got into a fist fight which escalated, between the 5th and 6th graders, into an all out brawl. When I was in 9th grade, at St. Benedict, I was expelled for throwing a shoe at Sister Hegel. Note, however, the shoe was initially intended for Phillip King but perhaps God, it seems, desired otherwise. After this, though she wasn’t particularly fond of public schooling, my mother enrolled me into Central High School. But even here, as soon as I was comfortable, made a couple friends, and met a few girls, back to mischievous ways I went. On top of all this, until I arrived at Central, although my conduct was poor, my grades had been exceptional. As a matter of fact, while at St. Benedict, despite my often wild behavior, I had clinched the leading role in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest. Among other things during my tenure at the religious school, I would say this to be my most admired. And it broke my heart–even though it was all my fault–getting expelled before the play finally opened. But at Central things were much more different. During class change, for instance, because the hallways were so crowded, I’d walk sideways, maneuvering my body to avoid bumping into people, or even worst, stepping on shoes. But, at St. Benedict, since the number of students was much smaller, to skip class was impossible. Every teacher–or nun–knew, more or less, were each and every student was. Central, on the other hand, having been so congested, skipping class was a piece of cake and something which I mastered. So my failure to attend class, the neglect of my mother’s ardent will for me an education, and my newly acquired infatuation in girls eventually led to the disintegration of my GPA. And one Wednesday night, when report cards came home, with a look at my grades, my mother nearly fainted. Throwing the report card to the kitchen floor, as she stood at the oven violently stirring marinara sauce, she said: “I’m finally fed up! Obviously, you care nothing for yourself, but even more you care nothing for me. Since you’ve been in school, I’ve been constantly–constantly–going and leaving–going and leaving! You act like a fool in public school so I enroll you into private school–you act like a fool here, so I put you back in public. At first, it was only your conduct and your grades were okay. This, although I know is wrong to say, I can somewhat live with. But one thing I will not have is F’s and D’s passing the doorway into this house. I GIVE UP!”
At dinner that night my mother didn’t even look my way. She barely touched her food and afterwards, as she always tended to do whenever she was upset, stepped outside to the porch. When I was younger, during my elementary days, her stepping outside was my only chance at mercy. For once she stepped back in, the punishments always seemed lighter. Though this time, for whatever reasons, she came to my room standing at the door, as the dim hall light formed a shadow that stretched from the door to my bed, with on her face a strange smile. Now, it was rare for me to see, especially after I had angered her so, a smile from my mother. And when she finally spoke, I didn’t know what to expect. Yet, I must say, I was in for a rude awakening….
“All along, whenever you got into trouble I punished you.” she said “In elementary, if you got a pink slip, or a sad face, I spanked you, or put you in timeout. Even in middle school, if you had Saturday school, or was suspended or expelled, I grounded you and took all things you found valuable away. Yet, foolishly, I had been going about it all wrong. And sitting outside, on the porch thinking, I finally figured it out. I’ve been punishing you for all your wrong-doings when I am the one who should be punished. Maybe for spoiling you so–or maybe for any reason–but it’s all my fault that you are the way you are.”
Her words, at first, were perplexing to me and I didn’t understand how for my own actions she would punish herself. But, she explained:
“So until you finally get your act together, that is, better conduct, and only A’s and B’s, which I know you are capable of doing, I shall begin a fast.” Having been to a few Catholic schools and remembering the Nuns who fasted during Lent, I had fairly an idea of what she meant. And, to be honest, I didn’t at first take her seriously. My mother would always set forth goals and never fully accomplish them. She had once vowed to learn Spanish, ordered a bulk of expensive language learning software off the internet, and after about a week later, she gave up. She promised once to give up pork, and for a week or so, she was on a roll, only eating beef and chicken, then suddenly, she gave up. After my great Aunt passed away, she vowed to get back into church, but after a couple Sundays, she gave up. Naturally, granted my mothers history of giving up, I simply disregarded the ultimatum.
The next day at school I skipped fourth period to hang on first lunch. I hated second lunch, all of my friends were on first, along with all of the girls worth chasing. My friends and I would lean back on the walls in the main hallway, mocking the unpopular kids, and to the best of our ability, trying to appear cool. The next day–and the days that followed– it was the same routine. After about a week or two, avoiding my mother who I hadn’t really seen; since she had been on mandatory overtime at work, I started to wonder if she’d actually went through with it. When I arrived home, she wasn’t there so I assumed she was still at work until the phone rang. On the phone was my Uncle, who was at the hospital because at work my mother blacked out. He said that she hadn’t eaten anything for a little over a week and the doctor said she was refusing any treatment. My heart sunk, as if around it someone had tied an anchor, and immediately I begged him to come pick me up.
Arriving at the hospital, my Uncle who was just as worried as I, asked why my mother would do such a thing. I didn’t have the guts to tell the truth so I simply said that I didn’t know. As soon as I entered the room I noticed instantly that my mother, who was naturally a thickset woman, had lost a substantial amount of weight. Her eyes were bloodshot red, her usually black flowing hair was dry and gray, and when I grabbed her hand, she smiled. From my eyes, like a leaking faucet, tears dropped haphazardly and I couldn’t believe I had been responsible for this. “Mother!” I said, “What are you doing? You’ll die if you keep up this nonsense. And I love you so much, I don’t know what I would do, or where I would be without you. You, mother, are my heart. Please, I’ begging you” I said, “ stop this, and EAT SOMETHING!”
“Oh, honey,” she said. “I would much rather die, and join the good Lord, than to see my only son, throw his life away. Life, anyway, is nothing but a moment spent dying and it kills me either way to watch you, with all the potential in the world, acting like one of those thuggish niggers out there.” She then began to cough fiercely, with this, I closed my eyes, wishing this all to be a dream. But it wasn’t, and sitting before me was the love of my life, dying all because of me. What was more, because she was just as stubborn as me, I knew this time, unlike all the times before, she wasn‘t giving up. What had I done? My head was pounding as though it had underwent a massive bludgeoning. I stepped out to the information desk and asked to speak with the doctor. I asked if he knew how long a person, especially one about the age of my mother, could go without eating. “She’s a strong woman, son” he said. “But I’m afraid that if she continues this for another week, or maybe two, she won’t make it. Luckily, she was already a healthy woman, so she still has a chance–at the most about three weeks–but I’m not guaranteeing anything. If I were you, young man, I’d try my best to get her to eat something.” The doctor had given me a small taste of hope.
The next day at school, I pleaded with all of my teachers for extra credit. I explained to them my situation and they were glad to assist me. Even my friends, which all adored my mother, began to work hard at bringing up their own grades. By the time the second week ended, I had made up three exams, which I aced, an essay on the Reconstruction after the Civil War, and myriad homework assignments. My mother, however, wasn’t getting any better. Until one day, around the middle of the semester, when progress reports were distributed, my friends and I rushed to the hospital. Upon entering my mothers room, she had lost so much weight my friends didn’t recognize her, and a couple of them began to weep. She was barely awake, kissing her on the forehead, she gave a small smile. “Mother” I said. “Look what I have brought you!” Showing her my progress report, I had at the time, in all my classes, straight A’s. “And not only me mother, my friends as well.” I continued. All of my friends, holding up their reports, had at the time, in all of their classes as well, straight A’s. My mother, weak as ever, laying down, tears falling down the side of her face, slowly said, “I think…..I’ll have…..a pork chop!”