This is the opening of Cindy House's memoir, Mother Noise.
After The Telling
In February 2017, standing in an elementary school cafeteria under a ceiling full of tissue paper and cellophane jellyfish, I decided I had to tell my nine-year-old son, Atlas, that I had once been a heroin addict.
I watched the crowd of kids do the Dab in unison to the DJ’s loud dance music. They all looked so much older on the dance floor, so different from the huddle of children squatting over a pile of Legos that they had been just last year.
My friend watched her son bend and twist next to mine. She told me about her impending divorce, holding her baby girl who squealed with the music.
“I think he’s struggling,” she said, watching her son. She looked gaunt and anxious. I wondered how much weight she’d lost. She shifted the baby to her other hip. “I just want my kids to be okay in spite of our stupid adult crap.”
On the dance floor, I watched my boy trying to catch on to the moves his friends were doing. All the kids’ arms went up in the air and he followed, a beat behind.
If I don’t tell him soon, it could become a lie by omission, a distance between us, a secret that might leave him feeling like he doesn’t really know me.
The girls in my son’s third grade class pummeled him with balloons, circling him and abandoning their dance steps.
It might take me months to work up to it, but I had to tell him.
A few years before, a writer friend’s kind, musical, lovely twenty-three year old son had died by suicide after a long struggle with addiction. Because I know my friend was an excellent, empathic, involved mother who did everything she could to save her son, I began to worry about mine. It was as if the threads of our lives suddenly knit together and now the future awaiting my son and me was terrifying.
I have barely mentioned Atlas to this friend in seven years. She has told me how thoughtless people can be. She said one friend would email her photos of her little boy with the subject line, “This will cheer you up.” Sometimes seeing pictures of this other woman’s seven-year-old in rain boots, on the beach, holding flowers out to the camera, sent my friend to her bed for days.
I did not tell my friend that my son’s therapist would say to me, on bad days, “But your child is not her child.”
I carry the possibility of disaster, the worry about what could happen, even as my friend gets up every day in spite of what did happen.
Reprinted with permission from S&S / Marysue Rucci Books. You can learn more about Cindy and follow her work here.