Cheryl Jarvis | Longreads | June 2020 | 15 minutes (3,812 words)
I’ve reread the letter so many times that coffee rings smudge the words. I’ve won a teaching position at the University of Southern California that will pay my way through graduate school. The year is 2004, and a longtime dream is finally a reality. The aftershocks of my shattered, decades-long marriage — the sleepless nights, the lost months — begin to recede as I fantasize about the life that awaits. Like millions of women before me I’ll go west, to exotic, sun-drenched California, to reinvent myself, start anew.
The ring of the phone jangles my daydreaming.
My younger son, Brian, is calling from his home in Los Angeles. His deep voice oozes charm.
“How’s my Sweetie?” he asks.
When he wants something, he calls me “Sweetie.” In his youth he exploited his blue eyes and beguiling smile to get his way. At 26, with 1800 miles between us, he has to rely on more sophisticated techniques. My antennae heighten. He’s “psyched,” he says, that I’m coming to L.A., and he’s been thinking, what about living together?
No. No. God, no.
Images flash of size 13 sneakers sprawled across the floor, smelly workout clothes hanging in the bathroom and flung over chairs, grimy dishes congesting the sink, junk food crowding the pantry, the house teeming with testosterone, his friends invading with bulging duffel bags and monstrous appetites. I think of the grocery bills that I’ll end up paying, food devoured before I have a chance to shelve it. More memories of his high school days surface: the urgent calls from school to bring money/ homework/ permission slips, the last-minute requests for help with papers and projects, the late-night calls from the police for assorted misdemeanors. His college years — three schools and a marijuana arrest — ratcheted the strain. Finally, in the five years since he graduated, via long-distance mothering, we’ve evolved to a peaceful co-existence that I’ve not only grown accustomed to but have come to love. But living together?