A Little Better

She sits alone, at the top of the stairway, waiting.  Every afternoon, waiting.  And praying.

Positioned to one side, just down from the top of the staircase, she cranes her neck to see, and yet tries not to be seen.  She cannot hear the bus as it stops along the main highway, but she knows it is coming soon, and she will not allow herself to miss it.

“Please, Jesus,” she prays aloud again, her hands folded.  She doesn’t dare bow her head or close her eyes, lest she miss him.  “Please let today have been a better day.”

Soon she sees him.  Her boy comes running, always running.  He comes into view as he charges down the road, running with his schoolbooks under his arm.  With too much to carry, one slips loose.  He grabs at it, but drops them all instead; books fall and papers scatter across the roadway and fill the air.

She can’t quite understand what’s said, but she can hear catcalls and laughter that follow.

Her boy stops, turns, and stoops to gather his things haphazardly.  He doesn’t look up.  He misses a paper that the breeze carries out of his reach, but he doesn’t bother to chase after it; that would be more for the kids to laugh at.  He quickly heads for home, for his mother, for peace, books and papers jutting out in all directions, as he tries to hold them against his body in a hurried walk towards safety.

Behind her boy and further up the road, several kids finally come into view, three boys and two girls, all of them older, maybe 13 or 14.  The boys are ahead of the girls, with one a few steps ahead of the others; it is he that was doing the chasing, but only enough to make her boy run and only long enough to look tough to the girls.

She is filled with anger and with questions.  What could make this kid so mean?  What is wrong with these kids that makes bullying her boy fun for them?  What’s funny about hurting someone else’s child?

As her son comes up the driveway, safe, she moves to the kitchen, thinking she is unseen.

“Mommmmm!” the boy calls as he enters.

She greets him with some cookies and a hug.  She knows what is coming, but she asks the daily question anyway: “How was your day?”

What follows is a 20-minute stream of consciousness about how school is terrible and the kids are mean to me and I don’t have any friends still and nobody will let me work on the bulletin board like they did at my old school and Blake is not nearly as good of an artist but nobody will give me a chance to show how good I am and at P.E. nobody will throw me the ball even though I played baseball for four years before we moved here and they don’t care and nobody will sit with me at lunch and I don’t even like the food in this cruddy cafeteria like I like the food at my old school and Sean pushed me out of the way at the sink in the bathroom and I wasn’t even doing anything to him and the other kids laughed when I got all wet and I still don’t like my teachers and the way they let people work together and nobody wants to work with me because they think I’m dumb and I hate this whole town and I hate everything and I want to go back home where it was better.

She listens to every word, never interrupting, letting him get it all out.

“I’m sorry buddy,” she says.  She hands him some milk.  “But was it at all better today than it was yesterday?”

“Not much.”

“I’m sorry.”  She pauses.  “But it was a little better?”

“A little.”

What he can’t share with her, what he couldn’t even articulate if he could understand it himself is the profound sense of shame that he feels at not being able to fit in, the shame that comes from running from a bully, the shame of not turning and fighting, the shame that his mother knows that he’s a coward.  All he knows is that the kids don’t like him and he doesn’t like himself much either.

He cries.  It only compounds his shame.

“Why can’t we just go back home?”

“We live here now,” she says.  “It will keep getting a little better, every day.”

It tears at her heart to know that her son, her only child, is so miserable.  She feels responsible for it and helpless to fix it.  She feels like crying with him, but she does not, cannot.  That will come tomorrow, after he leaves for school and she is alone.

“Please Jesus,” she pleads through her own tears.  “Please let today be better.”

——-

“How was your day today?”  She knows what’s coming, again.

“My boss is impossible to deal with.  I don’t even think he understands what he’s asking us to do, and there’s no way I’m going to get that promotion.  There is far too much to do and too little time to do it, and I think I should look for a new job somewhere else.”

“Is it getting any better at all?” she asks, through the phone.

“A little.  Not much.”

“Good!  I’ve been praying it would get better.”

——-

“How did it go today?” she asks.  She knows what to expect.

“I just don’t understand why she won’t talk to me,” he cries.  “I know divorce is hard on kids, but to have your own daughter refuse to talk to you, that’s tough.  She won’t even answer the phone when I call.”

“She will come around,” she encourages.  “It will get better.”

“I don’t know, Mom.  I can’t see how.”

“It will get better.  I’ve been praying for her.  And for you.”

——-

A mother loves her son.

In spite of seeing him at his worst, she continued to expect his best.  She believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself.  She encouraged him when he needed it, and understood like no one else could.  Because of that, he spent three days writing what you just read.