“So, would you like to put your mother’s name on the card?”
I stood there in the florist shop, completely stunned. I couldn’t speak for a moment. My mind was both a total blank and fast-forward video, my whole life racing before my eyes.
“Uh, no . . . no thank you,” I finally stammered.
“Well, they are beautiful roses,” the woman said. “I know she’ll appreciate such a thoughtful Mother’s Day gift. If you’ll just fill out this address form, we’ll deliver them today. It’s actually quite fortunate we still have roses available the day before the actual Sunday.”
“Uh . . . ah, I’ve . . . changed my mind,” I managed to stammer out. “If you don’t mind, I’ll wait for you to put them together and deliver them myself.”
The shop assistant’s face beamed with approval. “Oh, I’m sure she’ll love that even more. The flowers will be wonderful—but delivered straight from you. Oh, my. Your mother must really be special.”
“Yes . . . yes, very special,” I said.
But did that come out hollow? The saleslady didn’t seem to have noticed that I was sweating. But then how could she know that I suddenly couldn’t decide where the flowers were going? She’d never understand. I don’t know as I could understand. It didn’t even hit me until she had asked me whose name to put on the card.
I stood there, mute, like a dolt, while the flower lady opened the refrigeration case and took out a dozen long-stemmed red roses and then took them to the back of the shop to bundle up with greenery and wrap them in tissue paper for presentation. She was taking her time, though, talking to someone back there about the nice young man who was going to take roses to his mother. I didn’t want to hear her talking about me—and especially in such terms—so I started wandering about the display floor, examining all of the floral arrangements, but not seeing them.
I was going to get in my car and drive out to the exclusive Norfolk waterfront community I’d called home for nearly eighteen years and hand these flowers over to my mother, Gloria, and give her a peck on the cheek. Yes, I was. And if her husband, Norman, wasn’t there—and in all likelihood he’d be out golfing on a day like this—I would stay around and listen to her prattle and fend off as best I could her catty questions about my father and his “situation.” And because it was Mother’s Day I wouldn’t get irritated and make faces and, in the end, storm out of the house. Because it was Mother’s Day—and she was my mother.
Not that she’d been a mother to me in the five years she’d been married to Norman. I’d tried to tough it out when that had happened. I’d stayed in their house and endured their little battles the year of my senior year in high school and then I’d escaped as fast as I could. I’d gone off, gratefully, to William and Mary—as much grateful that the university was a two-hour drive from Norfolk and in a whole new world as I was to have been accepted there and been able to put the whole situation behind me.
In those days I had blamed both Mom and Dad. They had both abandoned me, I thought—hadn’t considered my needs a bit, or my sensitivities and how my friends would react to it all. It had all been dragged out in the papers. My father, a prominent, Newport News businessman, having all of that come out in the papers. And the hateful things my mother said—and let be printed in the newspapers. It destroyed his business and it destroyed his life—if only for a while. And Mom had taken him to the cleaners and kept the big house on the Norfolk waterfront and forced him into a trailer park with barely enough to sustain himself, even there.
And Mom’s acted out bitterness and hurt feelings and lashing out in public had left me the laughing stock of my high school.
She didn’t think about me then and she didn’t think about me when she married Norman within two weeks after the divorce went through.
Thank God she never carried through with the possibility of Norman adopting me. I was too close to coming of age anyway, but Norman had scotched that idea with a heavy fist. He’d said those ugly things about my dad and how lucky my mom was that he married her regardless and then he looked at me and said something about apples and trees and how this wasn’t an apple he wanted on his family tree. And Mom had stood there and let him say those things—not just about Dad but as innuendo about me as well.
Well, I had a news flash for good old Norman. I was, indeed, my father’s son and proud of it. And I was like him in that way too, and I didn’t care who knew it.
All of these thoughts were streaming through my mind as I was driving east on I-64 toward Norfolk. I had reached the turnoff to the Hampton Roads waterfront, and, without thinking about it, I took the off ramp and drove over next to the Waterside mall of shops and restaurants and parked in the lot there and just sat, looking at the masts of boats beyond the dock area.
I looked down at my hands, which were trembling, and then over at the passenger seat where the bouquet of roses rested.
Mother’s Day. It was Mother’s Day tomorrow. And I had a conflicted view of motherhood like none other.
Ray. I hadn’t thought of Ray as a mother. But suddenly now, that’s an image that came to my mind. The woman in the flower shop asking me the name of my mother. Ray had been the first name that came to my mind. Not Gloria, but Ray.
During those years at William and Mary, still coming home nearly every weekend and for holidays and the summer. Four years at William and Mary, and increasingly it wasn’t the big house on the Norfolk waterfront, to the bitter Gloria and the pontificating, judgmental Norman, that I went home. Increasingly it was to the cramped two-bedroom trailer in the Newport News trailer park—to my dad. And to Ray. To Ray, who my Dad loved and would not give up, willing to acknowledge and stick with Ray despite all of the sacrifice—losing his business and his home and his wife—and, initially, me.
I had been so nasty to him initially. Railing at him about all of the embarrassment he had caused and the collapse of my whole world. Not realizing that I was on the cusp of finding a whole new world myself. And not only a new world, but also the same sort of world that my father had chosen.
My father hadn’t done everything right, to be sure. He hadn’t handled either the situation or me well at all. He didn’t understand; he thought only of himself—of his own needs and desires and pleasures, just as my mother thought only of her hurt.
In fact, it was Ray who had understood and who had held it all together and who had not given up on me—or on me and Dad. Ray, the black construction worker. No education, a nobody in my family’s world. The only thing Ray had going for him was that my dad loved him—loved him so deeply that he was willing to sacrifice his whole world—and me as well—to be with Ray.
It was Ray, though, who had seen the problems with that and who did everything in his power to keep me in my dad’s world until I could understand. And increasingly during my college years, it was Ray who I came home to, not my mother or her new husband or even my father. It was Ray who saw my hurt and soothed it and helped me recover and gave me sage advice as I maneuvered through my new world. Ray who supported me in my decision on the career track I wanted to take and who believed in me and cheered me on and who was there, face beaming, the day I graduated. And Ray who showed up with the bottle of champagne on my first day on my new job.
I started the car and drove back to the 64 interchange, and almost without knowing that I had made my decision, took the ramp west on 64—back to Newport News.
When I entered the trailer and was about to shout out my presence, I heard the moaning. I quietly walked down the narrow, short corridor to the larger of the two bedrooms that took up the whole width of the trailer at the rear and that barely accommodated the queen-sized bed.
They were both naked, my father on his belly on the bed, and moaning deeply as his black construction worker lover, fifteen years my father’s junior, barely five years older than I was, crouched astride my father’s pelvis, moving slowly back and forth like a cowboy slowly cantering his horse across the plains, riding my father’s buttocks with his deep moving, rolling cock.
As I watched, Ray lowered his chest on my father’s back and stretched his legs along my dad’s legs, holding him close. Ray was kissing my father in the hollow of his neck, and they were closely embracing, only their undulating hips showing that they were making deep-plowing love.
There was a time when I would start screaming and cursing when I walked in on Dad and Ray making love like this. But I had grown up. And I had grown up because of Ray and how he had held me into Dad’s world and been there for me when both my mother and my father where so taken up with hating and punishing each other that they could not see what it was doing to me.
I stood and watched for a few minutes, envying them their pleasure and their ability to meld and move as one.
Then I sighed and went to the small kitchen area in the combined kitchen, living room, and dining area of the trailer. Luckily, I knew where everything was. Part of Ray’s mothering was not coddling me. I held my own in chores and life in the trailer when I was here. I knew where the large mason jars were. One of these would have to do. We were not in a cut-glass vase world here. That was Gloria and Norman’s world—one they’d made no effort to make me comfortable in.
I quietly ran water in the vase, put the roses in it, being careful to cut open the packet of rose food and mixing it in the lukewarm water in the vase, and cutting an inch off the stems of the roses before I put them in the water—all things that Ray, the rough black construction worker, had taught me. I took out my pen and just before propping the card up against the vase, I penned in the name “Ray” under the “Happy Mother’s Day” greeting.
And then I quietly left the trailer and got into my car—and drove home to my Dennis.