Everyone has a song that reminds them of their childhood in some way. Usually these songs remind you of fun on the playground or your mother's Sunday housecleaning routine or maybe a first dance. Mine reminds me of the day my father literally ran away. I always knew my father was different from other dads in the neighborhood, his moods went to extremes with no middle ground, he went away on weekends without telling my mom, he worked long hours but instead of that extra cash buying our family new stuff like everyone else in the neighborhood, our stuff seemed to keep going missing. On my first day of second grade I learned why my dad was different when my mother and I came home to find my father and a friend robbing our house. I remember my mother telling him this madness needed to stop and that he needed to be a man, get himself together and choose his family or "that stuff." My father hesitated for just a moment, looked at both my mother and I with a pain in his eyes that I'll never forget, then he screamed "I love you both I swear" as him and his friend ran down the street with our stuff. I never saw my father again.
My mother was a shell of her former self for months. She continued to work and take care of me and my little sister, but the sounds of love and laughter that normally filled our home were replaced with the song "Thanks For My Child" by Cheryl "Pepsii" Riley on repeat and my mother's hysterical tears. The day the music finally stopped and my mother emerged from her dark place—all cried out—she sat me down and said "James, you're the man of the house now. You gotta be a big boy for mommy. It's me and you forever." Before I knew it I wasn't a normal 7-year-old anymore, I was her company and her help. As I entered high school and was able to work, my extra cash I thought I'd use to by nice clothes became the money I used to help by groceries, pay bills and make sure my little sister had a nice birthday or Christmas. And date? Please! I spent high school dating in secret because my mother would lock herself in the room for days if I "Left and chose another woman over her." No one was good enough and besides I didn't have time for girls because I had "responsibilities" to take care of at home.
When college came, my mother didn't speak to me the entire summer before I left. My choice to go to school out of state was seen as abandonment. "What am I going to do for a date to the church picnic?" "How am I supposed to manage bills and what if something breaks?" All questions my mother asked and used as reasons I should stay. She called daily and if I didn't answer, she left voicemails that sounded more like a jealous girlfriend than a concerned parent. My friends always joked that my mother was my "wifey" because of how much she hugged and kissed on me during visits and because of the tears she shed when our time was up. When I graduated and came back to town for work, she packed up and moved into the same building as me when I refused to move back home and told all her friends that we were the new Lucy and Ricky because instead of us having separate beds, we had separate homes.
Things really got bad when I met my fiancé. When I first brought Ashley home to meet everyone for Thanksgiving, everyone loved her—except my mother, who blurted out that it was her and I for life and that "no home-wrecking hussy" could separate us. Ashley has tried everything to get my mother to like her, but my mother insists on making me choose between the two of them and is constantly trying to convince me that Ashley is cheating or lying about something. She says a man always chooses his family and encourages me to be better than my father. The crazy thing is, by choosing Ashley, that's exactly what I'm trying to do. I want to make her my new family and take care of her and our future children the way my father never did for us. However, my mother's refusal to see me as her son and not her man is causing major friction between my fiancé and I and it's causing me to resent my mother. I love my mom and I would never leave her out in the world to struggle alone, but this unhealthy relationship has got to end. I want her to know that I will always be there for her as her son, but it's time for her to go out there and make someone else her man.
I just hope I can do that without breaking her heart all over again.
~ As told to Danielle Pointdujour