Home > Surrender Your Sons

Surrender Your Sons
Author: Adam Sass

 

      CHAPTER ONE

   MOM’S ULTIMATUM

   This war has gone on long enough, but not for my mother. Even though she’s been in an upbeat mood since she arrived home from work, I know better than to drop my guard. It’s a trap somehow. Her cheeriness lingers over our home-cooked meal like the Saharan sun—omnipresent and pitiless. She thinks I don’t have the guts to ask the question that will blow apart our fragile cease-fire—the question that has dogged me for over a week—but I very much do have the guts:

   “Hey, so…when do I get my phone back?”

   I ask calmly, without demands or tantrums. Nevertheless, the question ignites a fire in my mother’s eyes that has been kindling underneath our brutally pleasant dinner. Mom shoves away her plate of half-eaten chicken and asks, “Your phone?” My question is the scandal of the century, apparently. “Are you serious?”

   I’m dead serious, but I shrug: it’s crucial that I project an aura of casual indifference, even though my heart sinks with each day I’m cut off from Ario and my friends. Mom would keep my phone forever if she could. Last Thanksgiving, my uncle scolded me, “You treat that thing like it’s your second dick!” He’s not wrong, but I’ve been phone-less for almost two weeks and this battle for my sanity has reached D-Day levels of slaughter.

   “It’s just that…” I begin cautiously, remounting my defense,

“…could I get a time frame of when I’ll get it back?”

   “Are you kidding me?” Mom’s conviction grows as every muscle tightens in my neck. “You are being punished, Connor—”

   “I didn’t do anything wrong!” A reckless energy seizes me as I leap from my chair in a foolish attempt to intimidate her with my height (as of my seventeenth birthday, I’ve accepted the reality that I’m tapped out at five and a half feet).

   “Don’t come at me with your trash attitude! And you’re not excused.” Mom grasps the silver cross hanging outside of her nursing scrub top and kisses it—no, mashes it to her lips; her typical plea to Christ to help her out of another fine mess her heathen son has dragged her into. She fans her hands downward for me to sit, and—with an extra loud huff—I oblige. Mom and I take turns sneering at each other, a performance battle to prove which of us is the more aggrieved party. She blows tense air through “O”-circled lips, and I pissily toss a sweat-dampened curl from my eyes.

   Our clanking swamp cooler of an air conditioner doesn’t provide any relief from the latest heat wave tearing through Ambrose; however, the stench of hot July chicken shit from the farm next door manages to travel on the breeze just fine. I ladle peppermint ice cream into my mouth at a mindless speed until a glob of pink goo drips onto my shorts next to a hot sauce stain…which is from yesterday. It’s the same Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week-worthy outfit I’ve donned all summer: gym shorts and a baggy hoodie with the sleeves chopped off.

   What do I care how I look? Because of Mom, I might never see my boyfriend again.

   When I was closeted, all my boyfriend, Ario, squawked about was how important it was to come out: it would save my life; food would taste better; fresh lavender would fill the air. Well, I did that—I’ve been out for months, but I’m starting to think he was only repeating shit he heard from YouTubers who were either lying or lucky.

   If this is what being out is like, he can keep it.

   When I first came out to my mom, I didn’t mention having a boyfriend. I enjoyed a frigid—but unpunished—summer of Mom dealing with my queerness as nothing more than some unpleasant hypothetical. But then she found out there was an actual boy involved, with lips and stubble and dirty, filthy, no good intentions. That’s when she confiscated my phone. The rest came rapid-fire: laptop—gone, Wi-Fi—cut off. My friends have been banned from coming over—all except for Vicky, my best friend (and ex-girlfriend), aka my mother’s last hope for a straight son. Not that that matters. Vicky stopped having time to hang out as soon as her son was born—I don’t know how she’s going to handle our senior year while taking care of a newborn. The baby isn’t mine, but try telling that to my suddenly desperate-for-a-grandchild mother.

   Gay? Jesus wouldn’t like that.

   Knock up your girlfriend? Well, babies are a blessing, and at least you’re not gay.

   Scowling, I lick the drying peppermint off my fingers, where remnants of electric purple nail polish still hide under my cuticles. Mom stripped off my color when she took my phone—it was a merciless raid. She was weirdly violent about it too. Plunged my hands into a dish of alcohol and voilà: no more purple fingers. Just manly, pale white sausages, as the Lord intended.

   If Ario were here, he’d repaint them. Ario makes everything okay again.

   “I forgot to tell you earlier…” Mom says, commanding her voice to soften. “It turns out I was right—your dad’s birthday present for you did get turned around in the mail.”

   I roll my eyes and scrape the last dregs of ice cream from my bowl. My birthday was Memorial Day, and we’re currently well past the Fourth of July. “Turned around in the mail.” Clearly, the man forgot. I’ve made peace with Dad missing, ignoring, and forgetting every single thing about my life, but, like…don’t try to trick me into thinking he gives a shit.

   A puffy, yellow envelope with my name scrawled across the face lies propped against a candle in the center of the table. Whatever Dad left for me in that envelope, it’ll be something half-assed. I’m ignoring it.

   “You know what probably happened, it’s that international shipping. You can’t count on it,” Mom continues, eager to sell me on this lie—whether it’s her own feeble creation or something Dad made her swallow.

   “Sure, yeah, international shipping,” I say. “Everything takes two months because it’s the 1900s. They still send mail across on the Titanic—”

   “Connor—”

   “You’ll believe anything, won’t you?”

   Mom’s smile freezes and then dies. Victory. An evil warmth fills my lungs as I savor finally landing a hit. Unfortunately, as usual, guilt follows. Dad put Mom through the wringer for years—lying, raging, drinking, disappearing—and I just squeezed lemon juice into her most painful wound. I don’t relax my scowl, though. If she stays vulnerable, there’s a decent chance she’ll give up and return my phone.

   “This is too much fighting,” Mom says, swallowing another bite off her trembling fork. “I’m trying to be civil with your dad. Can’t you just…be my buddy on this?”

   A fire grows in my belly. More guilt. She does this: she makes herself pathetic, and I end up feeling like a bastard for asking for any kind of decency or dignity. In the end, the guilt is too overpowering and I’m forced to nod. “I’m your buddy, Mom.” She laces her fingers under her chin and, on the crest of an enormous sigh, weeps into her meal. Guilt consumes my entire being like an inferno. “Come on, don’t cry…”

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