by Melissa Grannon
(Lancaster, Ohio USA)
Chad awakened in the early morning sunlight streaming in through his window. He was 12 years old and had lived with his Grandparents for the last 10 years. Really, he knew no other life than with them.
Chad loved his Pap-Paw Joe and Mam-maw Ruth. He had lived with them all this time because his mother was forever in some kind or bind or trouble. She had been a drug addict, prostitute, thief you name it. She had been arrested many times but some how always got out of trouble. He learned years later it was because of his grandparents. They had bought her way out of a lot of her scrapes and talked many a judge into a much reduced sentence. His mother was pretty and had a way of charming everyone. She could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo his Grandma often said.
Chad didn’t see much of his mother until lately. She had been through some sort of rehab and counseling and now she was back in his life. It wasn’t that he didn’t love her he just didn’t know her. She was the beautiful mysterious stranger in his life. He looked forward to her visits but always looked back for reassurance from his grandparents when he left with her for their short visits. His grandparents would give a knowing wink or nod and it gave him some sort of relief or permission that it would be okay.
Today Chad’s mother was coming to take him to her new house. This was a big step for her. In all her adult life she had never had a place that was just hers. She was always staying with someone or homeless. She was excited and so was Chad. He was happy his mother was doing well. She was working an honest job and wasn’t doing drugs or committing any crimes. His grandparents were very pleased. They seemed very happy that finally their daughter Shelly was amounting to something and trying to be a mother.
Chad didn’t have much of a life his first two years of life for the first 6 months of his life he was labeled a “Crack Baby” and left in a hospital. Then eventually he was turned over to Child Services. At about a year old his grandparents found out about his existence. They fought very hard to get custody of him. He came to live with them three days short of his second birthday.
After a few minutes of lying in bed thinking of his upcoming day he heard his Grandma yelling up the steps to get up it was time for breakfast. One rule at his grandparents house was you must be fully dressed and clean at the breakfast table. No messy hair, no PJ’s your teeth must be brushed and your bed must be made. Chad scurried around and made his bed he grabbed a set of clean clothes and quickly showered and brushed his teeth and cleaned the tub out before arriving downstairs for breakfast.
Grandma asked him if everything was straight upstairs. He told yes the bathroom was clean and his dirty clothes were in the hamper and yes his bed was made. She smiled and told him to sit down. She and his grandpa were smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. It was a different time and place and this was perfectly acceptable. His grandma was a very vain woman. Even though she was at least 50 years old she didn’t look a day over 30. Her skin was smooth and wrinkle free. She kept her hair long and flowing and her makeup was impeccable. His Grandpa was very proud of her. He called her his “Trophy Wife”. Chad guessed this is where his mother got her good looks and vanity.
Chad’s grandmother motion to him to get his plate and start eating. She fixed an enormous breakfast on the weekend although she rarely ate it herself. There were pancakes, waffles, sausage, bacon, gravy, biscuits, toast, fruit juice and coffee and iced tea. Chad didn’t drink milk as he was allergic to it. He found out years later that it was not an allergy but lactose intolerant.
Grandpa Joe said finally breaking the silence “Chad, your mother is coming to get you in awhile and I want your to behave yourself”. “Do you understand boy?” he said gruffly. “Yes Pap-Paw I know,” Chad said. Chad knew what his grandpa really meant. He meant if his mother was up to something Chad knew was wrong he was to call them immediately. Grandpa gave him four quarters to hide in his shoe under the insole in case he ever had to call them and a twenty dollar bill to hide in the other in case of an emergency. Every so often he would ask Chad if he still had the coins and the money. Chad always did he mostly forgot about them until grandpa reminded him. He didn’t think much of it other than his grandparents worried a lot. But in lapses of momentary weakness he would hear his grandfather lament that if he had not let Shelly “run wild” as a kid she would have turned out better.
Chad seen pictures of his mother when she was younger she looked happy and very pretty. There was one picture that always struck him, his mother was probably 16-17 years old dressed in a bikini sitting on a blanket at beach holding a coke bottle with a big smile. It was such a good picture it looked like a professional photo. His grandma kept it displayed on her piano. Shelly was happy and it was before the trouble really started. Chad stared at her stark white teeth and dark eyes her beautiful hair and her brown tanned skin. She looked like a model. His grandmother said she was very popular and well liked. There were other pictures as well, she was the Home Coming Queen, Prom Queen, Head Cheerleader, Valedictorian, Class President. Seems his mother had it all. Her mother said she was always busy with studying, sports and didn’t have much time to relax with her friends. The beach photo was a rare opportunity for her it was taken on an independence day at a beach near their home. It was one a just a few candid shots where you could really catch his mothers spirit.
He noticed now his mother seemed to be playing a part. She was ashamed of her past and tried to pretend that everything was alright and that it never happened. But he could see the cracks in her façade even at twelve years old. But this was mostly in sincere moments with her parents or when they were alone. She was a myriad of different people he seen her sunny, happy, cheesy side come out when she was in public. She always wanted to be the center of attention. No one in town except his grandparents and Chad knew of her checkered past. His grandma would say the only thing that girl did right was she got in all her trouble up north and nobody knows about it down here. Everybody in town bought the story that she had been in college for years and basically her only mistake was having a child out of wedlock. They didn’t know about the addiction or the prostitution, the stealing all the bad stuff she had done. Chad certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone.