This story is by Kathy Kovacs and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The sound of the doorbell brings me to my feet. Now I understand why the dogs get so excited when someone shows up at the house. Deliveries have become the highlight of our day. Electronic gadgets, food, work-out bands, craft kits and, of course, clothes have been making regular appearances on our doorstep during COVID-19.
Some days it feels a bit like Christmas in May. Who would’ve thought just a few months ago that this could even be possible? Yet, here we are.
“Thank you!” I shout to the delivery driver who’s now at the end of the driveway.
I tear open the packaging to find a couple of tank tops, a pair of white walking shorts and some cute baby pink canvas runners. My own Mother’s Day gifts to me.
As I put away the clothes, I think about how Mother’s Day has always been an emotional time, beginning with my first one when my oldest son was born on Mother’s Day weekend. My ex and I seemed to have it all back then. A new baby, followed by another son just 22 months apart.
For close to a decade, we lived in a beautiful home with a swimming pool, a hot tub and a live-in nanny, while I had a high profile career as a sports broadcaster. My ex was a former professional wrestler and we had met when I interviewed him for a story I was working on.
When the boys were still toddlers, I remember him saying to me, “Every day is Mother’s Day, so why do we have to do something special for you today?”
He then tossed me a ten dollar bill.
“If you want to go out for dinner so much, go down the street and grab your own burger.”
So I did.
I drove myself to the little café inside a nearby casino and ate my Mother’s Day meal alone.
It was the kind of isolation that, unfortunately, became all too familiar. His verbal tirades and emotional manipulation cornered me into a very dark place inside our home; a pretty jail that held me prisoner for years. By the time I had the courage to finally break free, the boys were already in middle school and had been devastatingly subjected to their own fair share of trauma.
I spent everything I had on lawyers and when I had nothing left, I represented myself in court. After nearly three years, a judge finally awarded us the right to move away. Just hours after the verdict, the boys and I had packed up our minivan and were headed to my hometown on the prairies. With more than a thousand miles between us, I had hoped my ex’s manipulative tactics would just fade away.
A knock on the door brings me rushing back to the present. I’m safe at home with my now-teenaged boys, but also to my new partner Jerry, going four years strong and counting. We’ve been isolating together along with Jerry’s adult daughter Ramona, who’s currently couch surfing after she was laid off as a hair stylist when COVID hit.
“Sorry, Ma’am.” The same delivery driver hands me another box.
“There’s one more package addressed to you.”
I open up the box to see a beautiful red and pink floral dress. It dawns on me that it must be a Mother’s Day gift – but from whom? It’s a size or two larger than what I normally wear but thanks to self-isolation and all the baking we’ve been doing, it’ll probably fit in another week or two.
Baking has become a crucial coping mechanism, not just for me but for my oldest son Davis, the Mother’s Day baby. He’s been asking for brownies and chocolate chip cookies ever since he and his girlfriend broke up a few weeks ago. Isolation has taken its toll in many ways. His anxiety has been so high in recent weeks, I’ve had to take him to the last place you ever want to go during a pandemic – the hospital. Not once, but twice. While the psychiatric team has been extremely helpful, I can’t help but wonder how much of this stems from the years his father and I were together.
I manage to say nothing about the dress until Mother’s Day morning when I sway downstairs and into the kitchen where Jerry and Ramona have already started making brunch.
“Hey, nice outfit!” But they insist they didn’t buy it.
My youngest son, Jack, shuffles in shortly after.
“Nice dress, Mom. If that’s the gift we got you, I promise I’ll chip in for it later.”
Davis then peers around the corner, wearing his much-too-small Superman pyjama bottoms and a Rolling Stones t-shirt.
“Hi M-m-mom, H-h-happy M-mother’s D-d-day.” I’ve learned that the amount of his stammering is in direct relation to his anxiety level, but thankfully he still manages to give me a hug before heading into the living room and plopping himself on the couch.
After insisting once again they had nothing to do with the dress, I begin to have other suspicions. As if on cue, their dad calls. He tells both boys to pass along his well wishes to me. I wait till I’m around the corner before I do the mother of all eye-rolls.
That evening, we’re about to sit back down for a late dessert when I hear laughter coming out of Davis’s bedroom. But it isn’t his laugh. Who on earth would be in his room with him, during a pandemic, no less? With my heart racing, I knock and hear nothing.
So I open the door.
He’s lying on his bed, alone. There’s also a small pocket knife in his right hand.
“Oh my God!”
I rush over and grab the knife.
“Did you use this, Davis? Have you hurt yourself?”
He nods ‘No’. I hug him but he’s in a far off place.
I ask him why he would even contemplate such a thing. His eyes begin to water and then he flings his head back and lets out a Joker-like cackle that makes all the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It seems to go on forever before he snaps his head right back down, and blankly stares back at me.
As if nothing happened.
I try to sound upbeat when I call my mom back to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, successfully hiding the fact that I’m currently in a hospital room. I twist and turn in the hard plastic green chair next to the bed, eventually drifting off knowing the psychiatric team will be back to re-evaluate him come morning.
I’m much calmer now that the doctors explained to me that the hysterical laughing can be somewhat of a natural reaction, especially in younger people, when they feel so completely overwhelmed they simply don’t know which emotion to express. As a default, they resort to laughter.
“Mom?” I’m woken out of my half-sleep.
“Yes, I’m here hon.”
“I have something to tell you.”
“It’s about the dress.”
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“I-I-I j-just want to l-l-let you know… that I b-b-bought it.” he says sheepishly.
I study his face.
“And,” I reply just as sheepishly, “I can tell by the look on your face you didn’t buy it for me so you obviously bought it for May before your break-up and…”
“Mom, stop. P-p-please j-just STOP!!”
I freeze, mid-sentence.
“I d-didn’t bbuy the d-dress for you… or for May.”
“Okay,” I say.
“M-Mom, what I’m trying to say is I bought the dress for ME! That dress is for ME, okay?!”
He collapses into my arms sobbing, saying how sorry and confused he is and how he doesn’t want his dad to know any of this, and….
Now it’s my turn to tell him to stop.
I rock him while I stroke the back of his head. It’s something I’ve done hundreds of times over the past 17 years. I know this head better than I know my own. My baby, my child, my super sensitive, people-pleasing, amazingly talented teenager who sees nothing but the good in people.
I tell him I love him and accept him no matter what. In this moment, I feel closer to him than ever before. I now realize that being isolated has been a gift. In being encouraged not to go outside, he’s been able to do this major shift on the inside.
“You know you can always share what’s on your mind with me, right? And who knows,” I say with a laugh, “Maybe one day we might share other things too. Like accessories or a love of fashion, or…”
“Mom! Stop again already!” But this time he’s smiling.
“I love you, Mom.”
It’s the best Mother’s Day gift I could ask for.
Kathy I love this story. I was attracted to the story by your title and cover, but realised I had read it before.
I love the twist at the end and your imagery and writing is stunning. Thankyou and the best of luck.
Page Craw says
An expressive journey through the tunnel of abuse, to come out the other side. I love the cascade from light to dark to light again. You portray clearly and evocatively the heartbreak in your own relationship and the devastating effect on Davis and above all, the love of a mother. I liked your story because it read so true. Congratulations, Kathy, on “The Dress!”
Anita Merriman says
My favorite part is, “I tell him I love him and accept him no matter what. In this moment, I feel closer to him than ever before. I now realize that being isolated has been a gift. In being encouraged not to go outside, he’s been able to do this major shift on the inside.” So beautiful. It ties everything together. Wow.
Your story has a lot of soul in 1500 words. So glad you wrote this. So glad I read it.
Louis Chin says
Such a beautiful story. So understanding. So real and touching. Thank you for sharing, Page.
Louis Chin says
Such a beautiful story. So understanding. So real and touching. Thank you for sharing, Kathy.
Ray Kelly says
Simple title. Complex story. Well told.