“Mom!? Mom I’m home!” called Clayton Williamson, coming in through the front door. As usual, there was no answer from his mother, no dinner cooking on the stove, no nothing. Clayton shrugged his shoulders as he sighed, turning to close the front door as he kicked off his shoes. His book bag was laden with all the books he needed for homework, and he deposited the heavy load in the corner of the kitchen. Clayton was hungry after a long day at school, and a full afternoon of academic clubs, so he started rummaging around in the cupboards for some bread or peanut butter or whatever else he could find.
“Clayton?” He turned around to see that his mom, Katherine, had come into the room. She was wearing a light pink bathrobe and was rubbing her eyes; apparently, she had just been woken up from a nap.
“Oh hi mom,” say Clayton, continuing to rummage around in the cupboards. “God, I’m starving!”
“There’s some macaroni boxes somewhere in there, I think,” said Katherine, yawning and rubbing her eyes. “I was going to cook something tonight, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it.”
“Whatever mom, don’t worry about it,” said Clayton indifferently, shrugging his shoulders. He was used to his mom not being very active around the house. She seemed to carry an invisible, heavy load with her wherever she went. Clayton found the bread and peanut butter, and immediately set to making himself several sandwiches.
Katherine stood watching him silently. She had every reason to be proud of Clayton, really, she did. He had grown into an athletic, 6-foot-tall, attractive 17-year-old young man who did moderately well at school and was well-liked among his peers. She didn’t have the same problems with Clayton that other mothers were having to deal with; unlike so many other teens his age, Clayton had never really gotten into drugs, had never really had any relationship drama, and had never gotten into trouble with the law in any way. He had never even gotten a speeding ticket before! As she watched her son making himself sandwiches, Katherine felt a twinge of pride that was nonetheless mixed with sadness…and resentment.
The truth was, Katherine could never fully embrace Clayton the way she knew that she should. He just looked far too much like his father, Jonathan. Throughout the past 12 years, ever since Clayton was 5, Jonathan had completely disappeared from their lives. Katherine knew exactly why he had, but she never talked about it with anyone, not even Clayton. For his part, when Clayton was around 12, and had grown old enough to understand these things, he had angrily concluded that his father had abandoned them all…had abandoned the family.
“No he hasn’t, Clayton,” his mother had said back then. “He didn’t abandon us…he just…he just had to go away for awhile, is all.”
“Well, when’s he coming back?” Clayton had demanded, his face red with anger and hurt.
“I…I don’t…I don’t know,” Katherine had said helplessly. “But he didn’t abandon us, Clayton. Just understand that.”
“I don’t understand!” Clayton had shouted. “And I don’t want him to come back, anyway! I hate him!”
Katherine had felt the tears gather in her eyes when she heard these words, but she knew that the tears weren’t really for Clayton. Instead, they were for herself…because she, too, hated Jonathan Williamson. She hated him for one single burning reason: that he was having sex with another woman. That he had left her for something…more. Something different. Something crazy that she didn’t want anything to do with. Katherine knew that it wasn’t even as simple as her husband leaving her for another woman. Oh no…it was much, much more complicated than that. And much more sinister.
But Katherine never talked about it, and consequently, Clayton knew nothing about it. He had grown up simply assuming that his father had been a deadbeat or a womanizer who had no interest in participating in their family. And now, at 17 years old, Clayton had long since made peace with the fact that, for all intents and purposes, he had no father.
Back in the present, Katherine watched her son eating. The older Clayton got, the more he looked like Jonathan…and the more it hurt her to watch him. His hands looked like Jonathan’s…his athletic body was shaped the same as Jonathan’s…his jawline was almost exactly like Jonathan’s…hell, Clayton even chewed his food like Jonathan used to! It was all too much for Katherine, who had never really gotten over Jonathan leaving. But even through her misery and her deep-seated hatred of what her husband had done to her, Katherine knew that she had to at least try to keep up the pretense of being a good mother.
“Uh…did you…have a nice day at school?” she asked mechanically, as Clayton ate.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, it was fine. Got a B on my Geography test.”
“That’s good,” murmured Katherine. “B’s are above average, I guess.”
Clayton nodded wordlessly, eating his sandwiches. Sometimes he wished his mom wouldn’t even try to strike up conversations with him. He knew her heart wasn’t in it. Sometimes he resented her for being so distant with him, but as the years had gone by, he had just gotten used to it. Besides, he knew that she was carrying around a lot of pain. It was etched into her face, into her entire persona. And so Clayton had searched for and found attention in other areas. He had a number of good friends, and he often stayed over with their families, who all treated him with the love, warmth, and intimacy that he wanted.
Clayton finished up eating, went back over to get his book bag, and without another word, went up the stairs to his bedroom to get started on his homework. Katherine had started making herself some tea. Years ago, around about this time, in the early evening, Katherine would have started drinking until she passed out. For several years after Jonathan left, Katherine looked for solace in booze, oftentimes ignoring Clayton. He had simply been left to fend for himself. Fortunately, nothing particularly egregious had ever happened — instead, Clayton had learned to look out for himself. However, that didn’t mean that, as a younger boy, he hadn’t craved for his mother’s attention. Even to this day, there was a substantial, internal, and hidden part of the 17-year-old’s psyche that desperately craved motherly affection. Clayton would of course have vehemently denied this, and insisted that he had everything he needed and could take care of himself. However, the truth was that the years of emotional distance from his mother caused him to crave affection from other sources more, and not less.
After a few years of hard boozing, Katherine had gotten her drinking under control, and eventually kicked the whole habit altogether. Nowadays, she still occasionally wished that she could have a drink, but she didn’t dare go back to it…she knew that if she did, her depression would probably balloon to such an extent that she very well might drink herself into an early grave. Part of Katherine didn’t mind this idea, but the other part, the stronger part, really did want to go on and keep living, even though life could feel like a living hell sometimes. She contented herself these days with parking herself in front of the TV and watching her favorite sitcoms. Even though they lived under the same roof, her life and Clayton’s were rarely intertwined. They lived apart from each other, each operating in their own worlds.
A couple hours later, Katherine was watching her shows, and Clayton had just finished his homework. Normally, Clayton would play some video games online with his friends in his room, but tonight, he was feeling unusually tired. He brushed his teeth, washed his face, and then cracked open his bedroom door.
“Mom!” he called down the stairs. “I’m gonna go to bed early tonight ok?”
“Ok honey, goodnight!” called Katherine halfheartedly back up the stairs.
“Goodnight!” called Clayton back down. He closed his bedroom door, stripped down to his underwear, turned off the lights, and got into bed. Within a few minutes, he was completely asleep, snoozing soundly.
He had no idea that the previous day would be the last “normal” day of his life.