I shouldn’t be the one parenting the parent.
Five years later…
I walk into my house, angry and ready to confront my mother for leaving Ethan at school for two extra hours. She’s supposed to pick him up when I have football practice. That’s her one job—the one thing I let her do, but she even fails at that. When I showed up, the principal gave me a look of pity and my little brother gave me a hug. Ethan was scared. He’d been crying and I could only imagine how many scenarios ran through his little head—none of them close to the reality I walk in to.
Just as I suspected, and the reason I told Ethan to wait for me in his room, my mother is sitting at the kitchen table with white powder spread out on the surface in front of her.
“What are you doing?” I ask in disgust. I’ve caught her doing this enough times to know exactly what it is, but I ask anyway, hoping the answer will be different this time.
“What are you doing here? I thought you had practice?” she asks, changing the subject. I drop my gym bag onto the floor. The disappointment I feel should be obvious to her, but I think she’s oblivious—or perhaps used to it—by now.
I watch her try to put the rest of the white powder—the evidence of her wrongdoing— back into the bag. “I did have practice.”
“So why aren’t you there now?” Her tone is accusatory. Only my mother would dare question my actions when hers are less than legal. She puts the small bag inside her jeans pocket.
“The school called,” I say, counting the seconds until she realizes what she did this time.
Ten whole seconds.
“Shit, Ethan!” she says, finally remembering.
Anger is coursing through my blood. “You were supposed to pick him up two hours ago.”
She looks over my shoulder. “Where is he now?”
“Upstairs doing homework, not that you actually care.”
“I do care!” she snarls in reply.
I look at her intently. “Really? You care? Since when?” I spit out. I shouldn’t be the one parenting the parent. This wasn’t supposed to be my job.
“I’m your mother,” she argues weakly.
I scoff. She hasn’t been a mother to us in years. I had to raise myself—and Ethan too. “Is that what you want to call yourself now? Because you seem to be forgetting what your role is.”
Suddenly contrite, she approaches me, framing my face with her palms. “I forgot, okay?” she says softly. I place my hands on top of hers, prying them from my face. I won’t give her the absolution she seeks.
“Yes, you did.” You forgot you’re a parent, that you have children, that you shouldn’t be doing drugs. You can’t forget your kid at school for two hours because you’re too busy getting high.
These are all the things I want to tell her, but I don’t.
Because I’ve said it all before to no avail.
I guess she also forgot how to listen.
* * *
“Dude, you can’t quit!” George says as I pack my things from the men’s locker room.
I sigh. Mom has forgotten to pick Ethan up not once—but every day this week. I can’t keep leaving practice early to go and get him. “I have no choice.”
I know Coach understands, since he’s the only one who has even a vague idea of what my home life is like, but I can’t keep doing this to the team. A quarterback is one of the really important pieces on the board—a piece that needs to remain constant.
“You’re the quarterback,” Tyler says. He doesn’t understand my situation—probably because I haven’t said anything. To anyone. I’m too ashamed.
I shake my head. “Not anymore.”
“What about the college scholarship?” George asks.
“I’ll have to aim for a merit one instead,” I reason. The truth is, a college scholarship won’t matter because there’s no way I’ll be allowed to bring Ethan to the dorms with me. And I can’t afford to live off campus with him while going to school.
The best I can do is graduate high school and get a job so I can get a small place for us.
Maybe when Ethan finishes high school and goes to college, I can think about college for myself.
“Really? A merit scholarship?” Tyler says, laughing.
I punch him in the shoulder. “I have straight As!”
“Dude, watch the arm. You may be done with football, but I can’t get injured if we’re going to try and not get killed this season because of the second-string quarterback you’re leaving us with.”
“He’s not so bad,” I tell them.
Tyler and George open their lockers in unison, staring at me in disbelief.
“Not that bad?” George says. “The guy can’t complete a pass!”
“The dude freaks out when he sees players running his way,” Tyler adds.
“No quarterback wants to get sacked,” I say. It’s true. Not everyone can take a hit either.
I look at my uniform, my number and name on the back. I’m going to miss doing this. Playing football was my shelter from the chaos that is my life, but it’s time to grow up. I’ve got someone else I have to protect. Although I love football, I love my brother a lot more.
“I’m just saying, we’re about to hit a dry spell,” George says and we all laugh. It’s not like we’ve been winning every game; we’re a worthy opponent, but far from having a perfect season.
“Let’s just hope it’s a short one,” Tyler says, picking up his bag from the bench and tossing it in his locker.
“So, no practice for you today?” George asks.
I shut my locker. “Dude, I’m not playing football anymore. Why would I go to practice?” I look down at my watch—I’ve got to be at Ethan’s school in a few minutes for pick up.
Tyler shoves George and gives him an are you serious? look.
“I gotta go,” I tell them.
“We’ll miss playing with you,” Tyler says, never afraid to voice his thoughts.
“We’re still friends,” I assure them.
“Since we are friends, I’m throwing a party next weekend. My parents will be away. We can celebrate, or commiserate over, your departure from the team. You better be there!” George says.
“I’ll try and show for a couple of hours,” I tell him, knowing it won’t happen. There’s no way I’m going to leave Ethan alone with Mom so I can go off and party.