Her son had been born with special needs. His development, both mentally and physically, were stunted. She’d been in a car accident when he was in the womb. It caused complications, like how he’d always be small. Like how he’d never develop mentally or emotionally beyond a juvenile. Like how he’d never be able to walk, let alone live, on his own.
It didn’t seem like a long time ago, but it was. It had to be since he’d just graduated from high school. He had just graduated with the special needs class. Of course, nobody let on there was any difference.
At the banquet, which his mother could barely afford, she sat at the table next to crippled boy’s father and his family. She and his father were married once but had divorced long ago.
For the sake of the event, they pretended to get along. For the sake of their crippled son, they pretended not to dislike each other. For the sake of her parents and her boyfriend, they pretended to get along. Likewise, the crippled boy’s father pretended for the sake of his crippled son and his own parents and his new family – complete with new wife and new kids – he pretended to get along with the mother of his crippled son.
She looked around for her boyfriend. He wasn’t much of one for being around people. It was a big cause of the problems between them. Problems they were going to ignore for a while, for the sake of the party and everybody having a good time. She wished he was there because he seemed, at least, better for her than the rest them.
But he wasn’t there so she decided to sit there at her table and pretend her ex, sitting at the table right beside hers, hadn’t been manipulating the courts for years to get his child support reduced. She decided to pretend the money he kept didn’t allow that new wife of his to stay home and home school while she had to scape nickels and dimes together to buy their crippled son the new shoes he was wearing for graduation.
She sat at the table with a can of Coke and a paper plate with fried chicken and potato salad, pretending the crippled boy’s father didn’t lie to him about the money he makes and what kind of an athlete he’d been in high school. She sat there pretending he wasn’t a hypocrite as the secondary preacher at his church, preaching generosity but practicing very little, even to his own crippled son.
She looked around for her boyfriend, but he was still gone. Probably outside smoking, away from everyone else. He was a real loner. A real misanthrope, in many ways. But, so far, he’d been loyal to her and her crippled son, so she tried to forget about the other stuff. She tried not to think if maybe he was a mistake. She’d made plenty of mistakes before with plenty of other men. So there was reason enough to believe, in her moments of brutal honesty, that this might not be different.
From the other table, she heard a cackle. It was the crippled boy’s grandmother. The grandmother from his father’s side. She tried pretending she didn’t hate her former mother-in-law like she knew her former mother-in-law hated her. She tried pretending, for the sake of the party, that time had smoothed things over. That time had made them different people. More empathetic people.
She looked across her table at her own mother, savoring a Sprite and the fried chicken. She tried pretending, for the sake of the party, that the hundred dollars she gave for the rental of the hall, the DJ and the food and drinks was all she could give. She tried pretending, for the sake of the party, but knowing it was a lie. She tried pretending all the reasons she gave for balking at chances to help with setting up the party for the crippled grandson she claimed to adore were true.
She looked over at her stepfather. He smiled and told her it was a nice party. For a moment, she forgot about all those years as a little girl when he took most of his frustrations for marrying her mother out on her.
Her own father wasn’t there. He was absent just like he’d been mostly absent for her. With a new wife, he’d mostly scrubbed himself of the memory of his first wife and only daughter. His current wife was his way of pretending he never was what he once was. With this new wife, he was upper-middle class. He was a college man. He was country club. He was no longer the dirty, dope smoking hippie that fucked whatever as a matter of protest against his parents’ stale values. He was now a professional. He was now responsible and respected. He had a wife that wore Nike robin egg blue with subtle grace. He had a wife that understood camouflage, the flag and Harley Davidson weren’t worn well by any woman.
In a way, she was glad her father wasn’t there. It would have only added to the awkwardness of pretending for the sake of the celebration. So she didn’t miss her father missing his crippled grandson’s graduation party. Though, she had to admit, a few bucks thrown at the expenses might have been nice.
She got up. It was getting time. She saw her half-brother sitting across the room at a table all alone. The half-brother she never really knew. The half-brother perhaps wiser and more disciplined than her. The cerebral half-brother, hardened against emotion. The half-bother substituting intellect for emotion. The emotion that, without, he would never love. The half-brother she imagined looked down on her for all her wrong decisions about men and money. But he’d donated generously to the party, so she tried to forgive.
Then it was time. The music stopped. The crowd went silent. She went to the stage. Her son was already up there in his wheelchair. She went onto the stage to stand behind him.
One of his teachers took the microphone. She proclaimed what a delight it had been to know and love the crippled boy for the past four years. She said it was an honor to be a part of his life. She said it was an honor to be invited to the celebration of his graduation. She said he was a remarkable young man. She said he should be proud of his achievement.
The crowd stood and applauded the crippled boy.
He flailed his twisted, crippled arms. The excitement and the palsy stiffened him. If he wasn’t strapped in, his excitement would have ejected him out of the chair. His heavy wheelchair rocked as he jumped but stayed held in by the straps. He screamed and squealed with delight. It was heartwarming for everyone in the hall to see such an innocent and uninhibited expression of joy.
His mother looked around the room for her boyfriend. He was still gone. But her son was there, right before her – in rapture. So, for a moment, everything was alright. In spite of it all, she decided it was still a wonderous celebration.