By the time I was eighteen I was married and pregnant, by the time I was twenty my husband had left me with a two-year-old son to raise and no forwarding address. Of course, I applied for a divorce and got one very quickly thanks to the fact that no-one could find the sod so there was no contesting of the divorce, at twenty-one I was free yet still lumbered with a kid to bring up. I suppose in a way I took out some of my anger with my ex-husband on my son Max; don't get me wrong I loved him, but I just couldn't seem to express that love to him and, as I was damned if I was going to let my life be ruled by anyone anymore, Max ended up spending a lot of his time with either neighbours or baby-sitters. Maybe I wasn't as good a mother as I could have been, but somehow I think events would have turned out the same even if I'd been the best mum in the world.
From the time of getting my divorce until I was thirty I lived life to the full, it didn't take me long to get a reputation as a 'loose' woman, sleeping with every man I went out with saw to that, but I needed sex and I didn't let a little thing like a reputation stop me getting it as often as I could. One thing I was determined about though was that I was not going to make the same mistake twice. I was willing to let men screw me, hell I was only too happy for them to, but I was damned if I was going to let a man tie me down again so all my relationships were loose and uncomplicated, as soon as a man started to get serious I dropped him like a ton of bricks. Naturally Max was aware of my 'loose' ways from an early age, he couldn't help but notice the succession of men passing through my life and my bedroom as though on a conveyor belt, but I was too busy to care how it affected him even if I'd had the time to notice.
When Max finally hit five and started school I heaved a sigh of relief as it gave me even more time for my pleasure and less risk of him upsetting the man I was with by wandering into the bedroom. The years passed and eventually Max went on to high school, he'd been there a year when I got a call from the school to visit the headmaster, of course I was curious as to what he wanted so agreed to go along to the school the next day. When I was ushered into the head's office I was surprised to see Max there, he didn't even look at me as I sat down and I wondered why he was there; when I found out I was shocked.
"Mrs. Calder," the head puffed, "we seem to have a problem with your son. Now we understand that he is from a broken home and have done all we can to control the situation ourselves, but I'm afraid things are just getting worse and I have had no other choice but to call you in to discuss the situation seeing as you have not answered the letters we sent to you."
"What is this situation you are talking about?" I asked thinking guiltily of all the unopened letters from the school that I had just tossed in the bin.
"It's your son's constant fighting," the head replied giving me an odd look, "surely you must have noted the cuts and bruises he comes home with. I'm afraid your son is always starting fights, unfortunately he doesn't seem to be that good at winning them, but that's beside the point. Max is becoming a disruptive influence at the school, there isn't a day goes by without him being involved in at least one brawl, usually more. We've tried talking to the boy, we've tried detention and lines, all of which seem to do no good, whatever the problem is Max won't talk to us about it, I was hoping that you may be able to shed some light on the matter. I must warn you though that unless Max changes his ways we will have no choice but to expel him."
"Fighting?" I mused, "This is the first I've heard of it and I can't say I've noticed anything out of the ordinary in Max."
"Good God woman are you blind?" the head exploded, "You call a black eye and a split lip normal?"
I noticed Max tensing in his chair and turned my head to look at him, for the first time I noticed the bruises, cuts on his face and knuckles, and wondered how I had managed to miss them. Was I really that disinterested in my own son?
"Don't you even care about the fact that your son is taking beatings daily" the head went on angrily, "as a result of his starting the fights? What sort of mother are..."
"DON'T YOU TALK TO MY MUM LIKE THAT!" Max suddenly shouted as he leapt from his chair.
The head barely ducked the fist that my son threw at his head as I leapt to my feet aghast, Max was taking another swing at his headmaster and I just couldn't believe what was happening or that I hadn't noticed this violence in my son before. With an angry shout the head was out of his chair before Max could strike at him again, after a lot of noise and confusion the situation was brought under control, but the head was fuming when he finally sat down again.
"That's it!" he stated flatly, "Max is suspended for two weeks, you have that long Mrs. Calder to get to the heart of the matter and sort it out, any further incidents after he returns and he will be expelled from the school. Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly." I responded dully.
Max was sent off to get his things while I cooled my heels in the waiting room wondering what the hell I was going to do next; for the first time in nearly ten years I was having to pay attention to my son and I hadn't a clue how to deal with the situation. When Max came back I led him out to the car and in a stony silence drove us home. When we got home I still hadn't got a clue how to even begin handling the matter and there was little time left before I had to go out on a date with one of my 'friends'. I decided to take the bull by the horns and confront my son, ordering him into the living room I went in behind him and started in on him.
"Okay," I snapped, "what the hell was all that about and what is all this about fighting?"
Max gave me a sullen glare, but stayed silent; I glanced at the clock and saw that I had little time left to get myself ready angrily I tried once more.
"Look I haven't got time for games," I said firmly, "now out with it, what the hell is going on?"
"What do you care?" Max muttered, "Why don't you just go and have your fun, you're not really interested in hearing about it anyway."
I was shocked by his words, it was the first time I'd heard him speak like this and he sounded hurt and bitter and seemed to blame me for whatever the problem was, but I had no more time to spare and left him sitting there sulking.
When I met my friend I was not in the best of moods, strangely I kept thinking about my son and wondering whether in some way it was my fault that he was always fighting, though I couldn't see how. It was later that evening that I found out how I was responsible and it shook me to the very core. My friend was telling me an anecdote he had heard from his son who had got it from another boy, it was all about a boy who spent his time getting beaten up leaping to the defence of a mother who, by all accounts, didn't even know he existed.
"Seems the boys mother is a bit of a slag," my friend laughed, "I think she is supposed to have slept with most of the fathers of the boys at this school and the sons mouth off about it. Her son flies into a rage and ends up getting the shit beaten out of him. You'd think he'd have learnt some sense by now and realised that a woman like that just isn't worth defending."
I felt cold at the sudden realisation that I was the 'slag' the story referred to and despite everything my son, who I had never really paid any attention to, was leaping to my defence even though he was losing almost every time. The glee with which my friend told the story made me feel even worse, it was bad enough that I was the butt of people's jokes, but to have Max the butt of them because of me was just too much; I left him there staring at my retreating back as I stormed out of the restaurant.
When I got home Max was up in his room, he wouldn't answer me when I called to him and when I tried the door I found that although there was no lock he had managed to jam it shut somehow. With growing concern I went down to the living room and poured myself a drink then sat down to think. One drink turned into half a dozen and the more I thought the more I realised just how shitily I had treated my son over the years. I'd been so intent on enjoying myself that I hardly even noticed that he was there, hell I couldn't even remember the last time I'd bought him a birthday or Christmas present. Yet he always gave me something on my birthday or at Christmas.
Before long I was fairly drunk, tears were rolling down my cheeks as the mass of things I should have done for my son and hadn't just seemed to grow and grow. There was no way I could ever make up for what had happened in the past, but I came to the decision that I was damned well going to change in the future. Having reached this point in my rather bleary thoughts I decided to inform Max of my decision, I'd staggered out to the hall and part way up the stairs when the whole house spun around, I felt myself falling and cried out as I travelled downstairs faster than I had gone up landing with a force that drove the breath from my lungs and a sudden pain in my left ankle. A moment later I was looking up at my son's face, all three of them and not one of them staying still.
"Maxie." I cooed up at him drunkenly.
His face twisted in a snarl of disgust as he leant down to help me to my feet; when I put my weight on my left ankle I let out a yelp and nearly fell over. Had it not been for Max I would have done, with a dark mutter under his breath my son helped me up to the bathroom, sat me on the edge of the bath, took off my shoe and stocking and wrapped a cold, wet towel around my ankle.
"I think it's only a sprain." Max said with a sound of disgust in his voice.
"Max," I said trying to pronounce my words very carefully, "I've come to a decision..."
"Mum," my son interrupted, "you are blind drunk, why don't you just go to bed. You know and I know that you don't really give a damn about me so why not put a sock in it."
"But I do care!" I wailed as I slid off the bath, "Ouch!"
Max snorted and got me back to my feet, without another word he took me to my room and dumped me on the side of the bed, as he turned and walked out of the room I heard him mutter 'you can undress yourself, it's what you're good at after all' and I felt heartbroken that my son could feel that way about me. The bedroom door closed and I burst into tears, I knew that I had only myself to blame for the whole situation, and despite all my 'friends' I felt very much alone as the hard fact of my failure both as a mother and as a woman was driven home by those parting words of my son. Still fully dressed I curled up on the bed and cried until I fell asleep.
When I woke I had a blinding headache and a momentary blank memory, but then it all came flooding back to me and the tears were rolling again. I just couldn't hold them back, I was still crying when I hobbled into the bathroom to use the loo and when I hobbled downstairs to make myself some coffee to take some aspirin with. An hour later I was still crying, my body wracked with sobs as I kept coming back to the contempt which my son held for me, and despite that he was in trouble for leaping to my defence and I had never even noticed. It must have been heartbreaking for him to come home day after day covered in bruises to a mother that was too wrapped up in her own pleasures to notice. I didn't look up when Max came into the kitchen though I did try to suppress my sobs, but it was no use, they escaped from me like a guilty conscience, which I suppose is just what they were. My son came and sat down opposite me with a frown on his face.
"Why all the tears?" he asked.
And I blurted out all my thoughts in one hurried stream that was only interrupted by my sobs as I tearfully told my son what a failure I considered myself. He sat there silently listening to me, his face set in a frown and when I finally wound down he said nothing at all, just looked at me with one eyebrow raised.
"I'm... I'm sorry Max," I sobbed after a few minutes of his silence, "I'm sorry for being a lousy mother, I'm sorry for being a lousy woman, but most of all I'm sorry that it hurt you."
"You really mean it!" Max whispered in a surprised tone, "Christ I never thought you cared about me at all."
"I care," I sniffed, "I just can't seem to show it. I know you can never forgive me for the past, but can't we try again. I'll change, I promise I'll change."
My son looked at me with wide, surprised eyes and it suddenly dawned on me that his whole attitude was that of an adult not that of a twelve year old boy and I burst out crying again at the thought that I had taken away his childhood and made him grow up before his time. He sat there shaking his head as though unable to believe what was going on, I suppose it was a bit much to swallow that I could change my ways just like that, but I was determined that this time I was not going to let my son down. He may never be proud of me and he may never think of me as a good mother, but I was damned well going to try!
"What about all your, ahum, friends?" Max asked, "Won't it be hard on them."
"Fuck them!" I said with feeling.
"That's what I mean," Max said bluntly, "how long will it be before I'm falling over one of them coming out of your room. You've no how idea how it made me feel not knowing whose face I'd see each morning over the breakfast table."
He was right I had no idea how he had felt about it, but the fact that he was even mentioning it at all meant it had hurt him very much; it hurt to think that I had screwed up his life so much.
"The only face you'll be seeing from now on is mine." I stated wiping my red eyes, "That's a promise!"
He gave a wry grin and shook his head and I wondered just how many times in the past I had broken my promise to him; it seemed like a lot and I didn't blame him for being sceptical.
The rest of that day was spent quietly, Max made an effort and stayed close by though I could see that he was uncomfortable about it. I tried to make up for all the lost time and asked him about school and so on, but each reply seemed to bring out another way in which I had failed him and before long I felt the tears brimming in my eyes again. Maybe my son was right, maybe there was only one thing I was good for, getting myself laid, and as I had that thought an idea came to me, one that was shocking yet exciting. If all I was good for was getting laid why not let him lay me? Hell, there was no way I could consider myself a mother so why not give myself to him? It was late evening when I had this thought and I felt a smile curl my lips as I looked over at Max lounging in an armchair, he must have sensed that I was looking at him because he raised his head and looked me right in the eyes, just like that I knew that not only could I offer myself to him I would.
"Max," I said slowly, "you don't think much of me at all do you?"
"Mum, I love you or I wouldn't keep getting into fights would I." he sighed, "Only I really don't know why I love you, you've never been there for me, you never notice me, you can't even seem to remember my birthday. Being honest, yes, I think you are a lousy mother, but you are all I've got."
"What do you think of me as..." I breathed fighting back tears, "a woman?"
My son looked surprised, he frowned and looked me up and down as though looking at me for the first time. That he was puzzled by my question was clear, but he would find out the reason for it soon enough.
"I've never really thought about you like that," Max said at last, "but you are pretty. What else can I say?"
"As a man, could you fancy me?" I asked the last question.
"Well, yes," my son replied hesitantly, "I suppose I could. Why are you asking me these questions mum?"
"Well," I sighed heavily, "I'm no good as a mother so I thought perhaps you could use a woman instead. You know, use me for the one thing I am good for."
It was harder than I thought it would be, but I got the offer out then sat and watched my son's wide eyes as he took in what I was suggesting.