Her heart sank, as she looked through the glass walls of the chapel. People were in there, talking with the chaplain, she could hear their voices, muffled. She watched the two little girls, so forlorn, their hair not well-brushed, their clothes looking wrinkled. She could feel familiar tears prick, and she reached in her sweater for her rosary, the well-loved smooth rosewood beads, and the ivory crucifix, from her grandmother. Her lips moved as she prayed what she had been praying for her son, now for these little ones,
God our Father, your Son accepted our sufferings to teach us the virtue of patience in human illness. Hear the prayers I offer for the one who is sick in that family. I ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Though it was not a prayer of the rosary, still she fingered the comforting beads. She so wanted to kneel in that room, it felt right to kneel in a sanctuary, though there was no cross, no altar, no holy water. But still, she knew, it was a holy place, and there on the back of the pew before a small plaque reminded her, “whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” 1 John 3:20 (NRSV). God does know, she thought.
She felt the weariness of the day come over her. Work had been taxing, the book business was not so good these days. She was thankful for the accounting job. It was the least he could have done, to pay for her training after he left her. It had been so hard, Carlos alone so often after always having his mamá home.
Still, she blamed herself. She was his mother. God had put her in charge of this boy, to cook for, and clean for, to keep clean and strong and healthy, to bring him to his full potential. She was the one. It was on her.
Slowly, the pain in her hand began to register, and she looked down to see the crucifix dug deep in her palm, her fingers curled so tightly they were nearly white. Oh! Hastily, she brought it close to her face to see if any fractures had formed in the creamy ivory and noticed the red dents it had left in her hand. The pain focused her.
She watched the people talk, back and forth, back and forth, their voices rising. They’re arguing. Her weariness settled in, her body feeling so heavy she could hardly stand. Please God, I have to pray.
It was her fault. She would do penance, she would go to confession, the priest would tell her what to do. God. Her stomach started heaving again, as she watched through the glass wall, and remembered.
“Why son?” She had asked it a thousand times, since he had woken up. Why did you buy the motorcycle? Why did you ride it so fast? Where were you? What were you doing? Why all that black leather, and so tight, Carlos? What kind of getup is that for my son?
Her son would look away, his face and neck red. Stop, mamá, stop asking me.
But she would not stop. Answers were needed. Yes, the insurance would cover some of the hospital, and she had made sure Carlos’ father would pay, too. But the motorcycle, the leather, it was so unlike him, and all his money was gone now. A little insurance for the bike, just to have it totaled.
Why? What made you do this?
And finally, with tears and sobs, he told her.
She thought maybe she might be sick, and began to look for a trashcan, anything. The bathroom, she saw the sign, and hurried, her hand clapped to her mouth, then safely in a stall, the door latched, her retching, and crying, and retching, and crying . . .
I am the one who did this, it is me, it is always the mother.
Now at the sink, rinsing her mouth, rinsing her face, pulling paper towels from the dispenser. She looked in the mirror, and felt distanced from the small women who looked back, dark circles under the eyes, collar wet, the lines in her face intensified by the harsh light. Then she saw the crucifix peeking from her sweater, Mary’s Son. The thought arrested her.
God, You had a plan for Your Son, and You have a plan for mine. You knew before I did about his lover. Yet You saved Carlos, my son.
The relief made her feel dizzy, and she grabbed the wash counter to keep steady. God loves my son, and I love my son. That is all that matters.