David and his bearded friend Todd hover over the computer on the dining room table. My David, with his copper hair, is never taken for mine, but he became my son the day after he was born, when his first mother put him in my arms. I’ve always told him my heart looks like his heart, it’s an inside job. He’s back into size XXXL sports pants despite losing enough weight in wilderness therapy to fit into size medium skinny jeans. I wish he would stop believing potato chips are vegetables.
The technician at the shop said David’s computer would never work again, but the cover is off, and Todd, who has a degree in computer repair but no job, pulls out a metal piece, replaces it, and plugs in the power cable. They whoop with joy when the screen flickers and the expensive gaming system is reborn. I smile. I don’t tell them I wish it wasn’t working again because now David will spend even more time on the couch, staring at the screen. I wish David would get a job and go out of the house even some of the time. It’s taken me more than twenty years to understand that his brain isn’t wired to set a goal and follow through, but I’m slow.
I love David and I kind of hate him because he is a grown man who will never be typical. I imagine a version of David with short-term memory that works, as though a technician could flip open the back of his head and insert an upgrade memory function chip, just like Todd opened the computer, and David would have instant human add-on memory. Then David would be able to go to college or hold a job that pays more than minimum wage.
Because David can’t remember anything except how to use a computer, I put away the milk he left out overnight, the frozen chicken fingers gone soft on the counter, the dirty dishes on the couch, and I don’t want to do this because I’ve done it already. I want a bikini body, if that’s even possible in my sixties, and I want to have sensual sex in a room next to a field of lavender flowers and not worry that David is lost walking home from the neighborhood community center.
I’m thinking of ways to move him out so someone else can supervise him and do his laundry. I don’t have the heart to do what other parents have done, to stop giving him his meds so the bipolar and epilepsy flare, and he needs to be hospitalized. I could tell the social workers that caring for him is too much for me, he’s too out of control, and he can’t come home again so they have no choice but to put him in a group home. I am afraid to send him down a dark hole where he never can be found. I’m scared to fail at taking care of him, which has become my life’s work. I think I will be looking after David until the day I die, even though my husband promises me this isn’t so. I am glad David cannot hear my thoughts.
Later, David sits alone on the couch, computer on his lap, and he calls to me in the kitchen. “Remember Leticia, from high school? She is going to Anime Con tomorrow in the city, and she wants to meet up with friends. Can I go?” he asks.
“Yes, go,” I say. As I set the table, I think, Oh, no! because his outing will require my full day. While he is old enough to travel alone to the city, he does not know how. But he needs to see friends and learn to travel, so like it or not, I will take him.
Tomorrow was supposed to be my day to write, alone. It’s how I keep my sanity. What if I hand him money for the train and a ticket to the convention, and tell him, go have a nice day? He won’t admit he doesn’t know how to get there, and maybe he won’t come home. I could leave the couch on the street for the pickers who show up before dawn. I could turn the den into my personal study. I hate myself for my thoughts. I will do what he needs, although the effort is killing me.
I show David the train schedule and ask him to plan our trip. We argue over what train to take until I ask: earlier train or later train? He chooses the earlier train. He has his wallet; his cell phone is charging. Leticia messages that she will get back to him about where to meet, even though he hasn’t seen her in years.
The next morning, I park at the station and ask, “David, do you have your cell phone?”
“I left it at home,” he says.
Oh God. I want to yell at him, but I am committed to a Zen-like acceptance. What is, is. If I yell at him for forgetting, his memory will not improve, and he will hate himself a little more and hate me a lot more. We drive ten minutes home for the phone, and we are on the platform in time for the later train. I hand him two twenty-dollar bills to buy tickets from the machine. He asks me which screen options he needs to press, and our tickets appear behind a plastic flap. On the train, I tell him to show the conductor our tickets and to ask if we need to transfer trains at Jamaica. I say, “You let me know what we need to do next.” I am calm, and I am dying because I am not patient, and he is twenty-three, and I loathe this travel lesson. I learned to take this train trip when I was thirteen, the year I first traveled solo to Manhattan. I can barely breathe.
When the train pulls into Jamaica, David is wearing sound-blocking headphones and stares at his cell phone. Passengers are exiting to catch the connecting train to Penn Station. Instead of nudging David, I do nothing. If we stay in this car, we will go to Brooklyn instead of Manhattan, no tragedy. David looks up as the last rider heads out the door toward the train across the platform.
“Mom, is this Jamaica?” he asks, panicked. I nod, and he says, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you are in charge,” I say.
He bolts onto the platform, and for a few moments, I do not exist for him. I catch up as the doors to the second train open. We sit together into Manhattan and take a taxi to the convention center. Although I won’t go into the show, I walk the ticket line with David. In front of us stands a boy with a blue wig, not far from a pair of Asian girls with long blonde hair and silver wings.
David gets his ticket and chatters happily, even though Leticia never replied to him. He is sure he will find her inside. We agree to meet in three hours near the convention center entrance. I am certain he can find our meeting point because he walked this building end to end when he got lost during two earlier shows.
I hail a cab and hurtle across town for a last-minute lunch with my cousin Dorothy, a welcome relief from mothering. An hour later we are eating salad and gossiping, and I finally begin to relax. Then the phone rings. “Mom, she never came. I’ve seen everything I want to see. Can you take me home?” David says. I wish he was fifteen so I wouldn’t feel this resentful. I remind myself that when he was in a life skills program in Idaho, he learned to fly home alone, changing planes mid-trip because there were no direct flights. I know he can learn to navigate Manhattan. He’s just not there yet. But I still have to eat lunch double speed, and my cozy little visit is cut too short.
He is at our meeting point, but he cannot find his way ten blocks to Penn Station, so we walk. We pass a man seated on a blanket, holding a cardboard sign saying, “Homeless, Hungry, Please Help.” I drop coins into his can, unable to meet his eyes. If I don’t do the right things now, my David could become this man.
We arrive home and I put chicken and vegetables in the oven. David watches, although he hasn’t offered to set the table or help cook. I am crabby and tired and wish he would make himself useful. Before I say anything regrettable, he gently scoops our calico cat off a chair and into his arms and says, “Look at Peanut. Isn’t she the prettiest? Just look at the cat.”
He wants me to stop making dinner and pet her while he pets her, a routine he does every day, interrupting me as I work. He says she is the best cat in the world, which we agree on, so I pet the cat with him, and we smile affectionately at each other.
I wish I could be a good witch and transform David into a large, companionable Maine Coon. The David cat would have glowing copper eyes, a long ginger coat, a darker golden ruff, and a tail as wide as a feather duster, and he would be so much less complicated to keep. He could stay at home for the rest of his life, sit on the couch all day, staring at birds out the window. He could curl up at my feet on the down quilt on cold winter nights, and I wouldn’t want him to be anything other than the pet I adore. I wish it were that simple to cherish my complicated David. I think I will spend the rest of my life trying to love him in just the right way. I’m always learning. It’s an inside job.
Sheira Finch writes short fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. She has worked as a reporter and corporate publicist. She lives with her husband in the New York suburbs.