By B. Craig Grafton (Rated PG)
Janice saw him there off in the distance as she sat in the food court at the mall all by herself. There her son was with her, that woman, that woman whose name she could not bring herself to say, not even to herself in her mind. This was her way of blocking out the past, never admitting that woman had ruined her life, never even admitting that woman ever existed.
He turned Janice’s way and immediately she averted her eyes, lowered her head, and looked at her styrofoam plate of moo goo gai pan in front of her. A second or two later, when she thought it was safe, she looked back up. He was not looking in her direction but he was still there, with the woman, and it looked like the two of them were arguing something fierce from the way she kept gesticulating, her whole body moving up and down, her arms flailing, her mouth going a mile a minute. She was the one doing all the talking, not him. All he was doing was standing there in place shaking his head affirmatively no, repeatedly refusing to do whatever she was demanding of him to do. Then suddenly she stopped and pointed in the direction of Janice while her eyes were still fixed on him. Janice knew that the woman was pointing at her even if she wasn’t looking at her. When he shook his head no again, she stomped her foot down and walked away in a hissy fit with the three children, leaving him standing there all by himself.
That woman wanted him to come over here and say something to me, thought Janice. But thank God he refused. Good for him. For over the last six years now Janice and her son had avoided each other like they had the black plague. So whenever they saw each other in public, each of them would always turn tail and walk as fast as they possibly could in the opposite direction.
That woman had always dominated him right from the start as far as Janice was concerned. Thank God she failed this time because even if she had succeeded and got him to come over to her, she would have gotten up and left the second he would have set a foot in her direction. She was never ever going to give that woman the satisfaction of making her husband come over and talk to her. So now, just to be on the safe side, she slowly rose from her seat while keeping her head down. She turned her back on him, and walked away from her untouched moo goo gai pan as fast as, but as nonchalantly as she could.
She didn’t see him again until about a year later, again at the mall, again at the food court. This time while she was waiting for her childhood best friend Cheryl to show up so they could do lunch together. They always did lunch once a month. Janice saw her son with that woman, her two children, and the child they had together. They all went into the children’s clothing store. But this time Janice couldn’t hold it in any longer. Too many years of stress and tension had built up inside her, and upon seeing her son playing with the youngest child, their son, her one and only grandchild, so cute and all like that, well that was the proverbial straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. The dam of years of held back emotions finally cracked, burst open, and cascaded out into an onrush of tears. Janice broke down and started crying uncontrollably right there in public, oblivious to those all around her. She put her napkin to her eyes, hiding her face as she wiped away her tears, and that’s when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up. It was Cheryl.
“You okay?” Cheryl asked.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” sniffled Janice and then started crying again.
“You saw him, didn’t you? That’s why you’re crying, aren’t you?”
“Janice, you have got to get over this. How much longer are you going to let this go on not talking to Jason, pretending he doesn’t exist anymore, not knowing your grandchild, ruining everyone’s lives?”
Janice dried her eyes and straightened herself upright.
“Oh Cheryl, I had such high hopes for him, you know? My other two kids never played sports, never won anything, weren’t good students, but he was homecoming king, quarterback of the football team, star basketball player, straight A student, got an athletic scholarship at a good Lutheran College, had his whole life before him and what’s he do but throw it all away for that… that…” Janice stopped mid sentence before she said something tacky and undignified that would have degraded her, and ended the sentence simply with “that woman.”
Cheryl gave her friend a hug, sat beside her, took her hands in hers, and leaned over and put her head against Janice’s in an attempt to console her. Then she remembered that she was here on a mission.
“Janice, it’s over. You lost. Admit it and accept it. There’s no other alternative now but to forgive and forget. It’s time for you to go back to being his mother again and for Jason to go back to being your son again, and for you to meet your grandson for the first time.”
But Janice was still defiant.
“Oh you want me to admit that we were wrong, do you, in kicking him out of the house when he refused to break it off with that woman? That we were wrong in not going to their wedding? That we were wrong about that older woman who seduced our innocent young son, told him not to go to college, not get a degree and a good paying job, but to marry her instead? That we were wrong about all that? She used her wiley worldly womanly ways on our innocent son to trap him! You know that’s what she did. You know what kind of woman she is.”
“Yes, I know what kind of woman Andrea was,” Cheryl agreed. “But that isn’t what she is today. She’s grown up, matured. She’s a good wife and, more important than that, a good mother. Let the past be the past. Don’t go on any longer beating yourself up like this. Do you want to die like Rex without ever having known your one and only grandchild?”
That reminder about her husband and their one and only grandchild sent Janice into another another emotional shoulder-heaving wailing outburst.
“Why are you so mean to me, Cheryl? I thought you were my best friend,” she cried..
“I am your best friend and that’s why I’m telling you this. You have got to stop acting like a spoiled little child and grow up. If Andrea can, you can too. Look, I’ve talked to her and she says she has been trying to get Jason to talk to you but he’s still reluctant. He’s still hurt by the way you and Rex treated him. But she suggested that if you’d just meet him halfway this could all be over with. Look at all the time you’ve wasted here, Janice. You’ve thrown away times of your life that you can never get back again. Life’s too short to throw away time like that. You going to throw the rest of it away too? Deprive little Darius of his grandmother? He’s already been deprived of his grandfather. You should see him. He’s such a cute little boy.”
Cheryl knew she was laying on a little more than harsh here, almost to the point of being cruel, but she deemed it necessary. She had to do it for Janice’s own good.
Andrea, Jason, and the kids came out of the children’s clothing store and looked their way. Janice didn’t see them because she was crying again with her head down on the table. But Cheryl saw them and Andrea saw Cheryl. Cheryl waved for Andrea and her entourage to come over and join them.
It was obvious Jason was still reluctant. Andrea gave him a nudge and pointed toward Cheryl and his mother. But he stood there and didn’t move. So she put down her packages, took the hands of her two children, left Jason there with Darius, and started walking over to Cheryl and Janice.
Cheryl poked Janice. “Get up and pull yourself together. Your daughter-in-law is coming over.”
Janice’s head popped up. She tried to get up and flee but Cheryl clamped her hand on Janice’s shoulder and physically forced her back down into her chair. Janice dried her eyes and straightened herself up, best she could anyway, and braced herself for the inevitable.
“Hi Mrs. Anderson,” said Andrea. “Nice to meet you ma’am.”
She got no response.
Cheryl poked Janice in the ribs again. Janice winced.
So, taking her cue, Janice rose from her seat, extended her hand, and said, “Nice to meet you too, Andrea.”
Andrea took Janice’s hand and shook it.
“This here is Duwain, your grandson,” she announced, going over to him, standing behind her son, and placing her hands on the boy’s shoulders.
Janice was about to retaliate with, “You mean my step grandson don’t you?” but Cheryl, anticipating that this, spoke up and said, “Jason adopted him and your other grandson Diego here too.”
Jancie looked over her newly discovered grandchildren. She already knew that Duwain was half black and half white, Diego half Mexican or something like that, that neither of their fathers had married Andrea. That was the reason why she and Rex didn’t like her. A woman of low morals who engaged in premarital sex with people not of her own kind. That and even more important than that was the fact that she was nine years older than their innocent son. Jason was supposed to get a good education, get a good job, and then settle down, marry, and have his own family, not take up with some floozie and throw his life away. But at least my grandson was born a year after their marriage, she thought, not illegitimate like the other two. But that was of little comfort to her.
The silence was becoming unbearable and Andrea did something about it.
“Duwain’s thirteen now. Diego’s almost eleven. As Cheryl said, Jason adopted them. Both their fathers fought it, but the judge said that since neither of them saw their child or paid any child support, their parental rights were terminated and he granted us both our adoption petitions. We had to skimp and save some to pay the attorney but it was worth it. Jason was supporting them anyway. He’s always been a good provider.”
Janice did not know exactly what her son did for a living. She knew that he had gotten a job as a stock boy for a large discount department store here in town when he was first married. Then she heard that he had worked his way up to assistant manager and then store manager. She never went to that store anymore.
“Where’s my other grandson?” asked Janice not to be deprived of her ‘real’ grandson.
Andrea looked over to where Jason was still standing holding their packages in one hand, clinging to Darius with the other. She shot him a look that said get your butt over here now.
Jason resigned himself to the inevitable and came over with the packages and Darius in tow.
“Mother,” he said. Then he stopped, trying to think what to say next. But the words never came.
Again the prolonged silence was too much for Andrea and she stepped in.
“Well, Jason, aren’t you going to let your mother hug Darius?” she prodded.
“Go on, Darius. Go on over and hug your grandma,” coaxed Andrea. “She’s the one we’ve been telling you about. She wants to meet you. Go on now. Go over and give her a hug and a kiss.”
The kid was a little scared of this woman who had been crying the whole time he was here. So Andrea took him by the hand and led him to Janice.
“Well go on, hug your grandma. Give her a kiss,” said Andrea in her best soft smooth comforting voice.
Darius stepped forward and then suddenly Janice pulled him to her and smothered him in her arms. She started crying even louder than before as she ran her fingers through her grandson’s blonde hair. Blonde just like his father’s and his grandfather’s and he had those beautiful bright blue eyes just like them too. Darius said nothing, dumbfounded. He looked to his mother for guidance as to what to do next.
“It’s okay, Darius,” she said. “It’s okay. She’s just happy to meet you, that’s all. Give her a kiss now.”
Janice let go of her grandson and he gave her a kiss on her cheek. She smiled, wiped her tears away, gave him one back, and then suddenly grabbed him and pressed him to her bosom again for what seemed like an eternity.
This time it was Cheryl who broke the silence and said, “Well Janice, aren’t you going to hug and kiss your other two grandsons too?”
It was Janice’s turn now to break down and face the inevitable and she knew now what was her newly imposed grandmotherly duty. She went over to Duwain first, hugged and kissed him, and then ran her fingers through his hair. It was definitely different, wiry, and it was kind of dark brown, not really black.
“Let me look at you, Duwain,” she said.
The boy backed up a step and she looked him over head to toe. He was well proportioned, not fat at all like a lot of kids today who were constantly feeding on snacks and colas. Probably had her son to thank for that. He had always watched his diet to stay in shape for sports. Duwain was coffee colored, not black nor white, coffee with cream colored that is, and he had light, not dark, brown eyes.
Then she hugged and kissed Diego likewise as she ran her fingers through his thick coal black hair. Such a full thick head of hair, she thought. His eyes were definitely dark brown and he had that dark swarthy handsome look to him. That dark and swarthy handsome look that some women swoon and drool over. He’s definitely going to have to fight the women off, she thought. She had always thought of Mexicans as being small in stature but this boy was not. He was also well proportioned and tall for his age like Duwain.
All this was going to take some time getting used to, she realized. So then and there on the spot she resolved to do so not only for her sake but for the sake of her son and her grandchildren as well.
“Jason, why don’t you tell your mother about your promotion,” said Andrea, picking up the conversation again.
“Yes, I’d like to hear about it please,” said Janice. She’d finally learn just exactly what her son did for a living.
“Well, Mother, I got promoted to regional manager. It’s a lot more money but it does involve some travel and I won’t be home as much to help the boys with their football. Might miss some games. Duwain and Diego both play Pop Warner football and I’ve been coaching them on how to play quarterback. Darius starts next year. So I guess when I’m home I’ll just have to double down some.”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Cheryl, her patience starting to wear thin now. She wanted all this over with now, today. Besides this was not her show any longer and she thought it best she got out of there now. “Why don’t you all go get something to eat, come back, have lunch together, and get caught up on everything okay?”
The boys’ faces lit up as they looked over to Taco Bell.
“That okay with you Mrs. Anderson?” asked Andrea.
“Call me Janice, please, and yes that’s okay with me.”
“Okay let’s go guys,” said Jason and he took his family off to reel in their meals.
Janice and Cheryl rose from their chairs.
“Well, let’s go too, Cheryl.”
“Just a minute please. There’s something I have to tell you first.”
“About being a grandma now.”
“About being a grandma now?”
“Yes, Grandma. When you’re done with lunch you take the boys over there,” Cheryl nodded to the Dairy Queen, “and buy them some ice cream. Don’t ask their folks for permission. Just do it. And when they’re done with their ice cream, take them to the toy store here and buy them each a prize. After all, it’s a grandmother’s right to spoil her grandkids, now isn’t it. And believe you me, I ought to know. I got five of them. So you got that, Grandma?”
“Yes, Grandma’s got it.”
“Good then. Now go get yourself some moo goo gai pan like you always do and join your family for lunch. Catch up on everything. I can’t stay. I gotta run. Besides, I’m the odd man out here and I’ve already done my part.”
That last sentence, I’ve already done my part, had inadvertently slipped out and the ‘oops’ look on Cheryl’s face gave her away.
“Your part? What do you mean, your part?” Janice demanded.
Cheryl didn’t answer.
The wheels were now visibly turning in Janice’s head and the proverbial light bulb came on.
“Wait a minute. Just wait a minute now. I got it. You set this all up, didn’t you? Didn’t you?”
“Well, what’s your best friend for anyway if she can’t help you out when you’re in need of help. No crime in that now is there?”
Janice threw her arms around her best friend, clamped a bear hug on her, and started crying again. But this time they were not tears of self pity. They were tears of joy.
“Thank you Cheryl.”
“You’re more than welcome,” said Cheryl hugging her back and she too started crying.
Sacred and blessed are the times of our lives. Blessed are the peacemakers.
This little drama had played itself out. Exit Cheryl the peacemaker stage left.