Nicole Brogdon | 2 Stories

Twentysomethings Are Ghosting

“To hell with you,” they say, blocking us with the iPhones we bought them. Their girlfriends, boyfriends, partners’ mothers, online therapists, all tell them, “You don’t need toxic parents.” As if we are killer wasps. Or nuclear sludge. Our adult children, with shiny orthodontured teeth, they’ve used us up, employing the lessons we paid for—cutting us off, driving their cars around us like we’re traffic cones. Heads high and aloof, they gallop past on ponies, as they did in horseback lessons. They pole vault, karate chop, parse designer vegetables—forgetting, we already taught them how to cook, in a skillet. They hurdle the issues like Olympians, sideswiping, never explaining, never apologizing. Nor sprinkling us with gratitude. They affix stickers— Narcissist, Toxic, Asshole—to our doors. (When did we first hear the word ‘narcissist’?).

Some of us beg, messaging, “Please talk to me. What did I do wrong?” The tenderest parents, we hold our hearts like pet-shop rodents in our hands—a gesture we didn’t learn from our own parents—pleading, “Here. Take my money my heart my goodwill my house. Take it all.” We shut up about their tattoos. We walk around their glass pipes, their dirty laundry we’d gladly wash and fold, saying, “I was just seeking my own emotionally corrective experience around family, I did the best I could, my egg was not fully ready for that sperm, for God’s sake forgive me.” In the middle of the drought, we geyser love into the air, we spill affection onto cracked dirt, chanting, “Love, unconditional love.”

But they have secret watering holes, these kids. They live in neighborhoods where obligation has no currency. Cancerous tumors plump and rise like wet fruits in our old bodies—uninteresting, to adult children. We deal with our own lumps. What have we done? But push these beings out of our bodies, never out of our hearts. They treat us like phantoms.

Yes, that one night, I couldn’t convince my toddler, “Sit still!” Finally I held her down hard while she wailed and thrashed, I gripped her head in my lap—like a moving cantaloupe for chopping. I shoved the antibiotic dropper into her blood-red ears. In my mind, she’d go deaf, dumb, resentful, if I didn’t force her. I yelled, I squeezed, I’m sorry for that.

Holding firm, my heart beating in my ears, I noticed her ears, those artful rounded folds. Two exquisite sandless shells protruding symmetrically from her body. Had any human being ever grown such lovely ears before? I loved her too much to know the answer.

Old Mother Shocks

Old Mother has been trying to kill someone for years. Bill knows. Six months since his last visit, he sits in her kitchen. Standing, chain smoking, she shows him the Dog Shocker. “It’s got three settings — beep, vibrate, shock. I go straight to shock.”

The hairless mutt Socks sits staring at the Shocker remote in Old Mother’s hand.

“Watch.” Zap. Socks whelps, hops. Fried hair smell.

“Mother! That dog’s done nothing wrong.”

Old Mother chuckles. “She needs to know I’m alpha!” She ashes her Pall Mall on her plate, lifts her muumuu up to sit at the table, exposing her bare bottom, her crotch, those withered grey apple slices. Bill grimaces. She slathers butter on toast. “So Sally left you. Did she take that glass table I like?”

Bill sighs. “She’s entitled. To half.”

“Your father had sense enough to die. Rather than leave me.”

Socks whines.

“No!” Old Mother picks up the remote.

“Her dish is empty, Mom. I’ll feed her.”

“Step back from her bowl,” Old Mother says. “She hoards food. Like you!” She laughs over her greasy eggs.

Bill ignores her, pouring dog kibble. “Here, girl!”

Socks growls, low and long. Bill steps backward. The dog snarls, lunging at Bill’s arm. Old Mother slurps her coffee, watching, without touching the remote. Old mother stubs out her cigarette. The dog bites, then falls away.

“Damnit!” Bill brings the punctured hand to his mouth. “Bitch! Mom, control that dog!”

She stares levelly at her son. “You’ve always been sensitive.”

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