The sign outside of Felix’s bedroom door said, “Keep Out,” and he meant it. His mother found out the hard way when she walked in without knocking the other night and found him smoking out the window. She believes smoking is of the devil, so she had a righteous fit, and he turned fifteen different shades of red. The next morning he bought a deadbolt for the inside of his door, and she stood outside his room banging on it with her ineffective fists for close to twenty minutes. To no avail.
She had him when she was fourteen, a child having a child, and she had planned to give him up because the father wasn’t going to step up, even though he was seventeen and supposedly an adult. They weren’t going steady or anything, just two drunken idiots who went too far without a condom. Lesson learned. Felix was her only child, but he was more than enough for a teenager to handle. He was more than enough for anyone to handle. Her mother was no help, condemning her and throwing her and her son out of the house when he was four years old.
Felix always loved rap music, and she never knew where he got the obsession from. She and the sperm donor were both as white as chalk, and they lived nowhere near the “hood.” She eventually realized that geography didn’t matter, that if he had somehow heard some of it even on the radio and liked it that was it. Most of it was offensive in several different ways, but she tried to tune it out when Felix played it at high volume in his bedroom. She tried not to kick the door down and throw the stereo out of the same window out of which she had caught him smoking. She had to practice her meditations again.
Other than the smoking, and the dreadful music, and the huge lock on his door, Felix had always been a good child. Not perfect, because no one’s perfect, but good. It was the most she could have hoped for, especially since he grew up for the most part while she was in her 20s. She desperately wanted for him not to be a stereotype, not to fall through the cracks of the same system that had abandoned her when she had been abandoned by her own mother. And when he turned fourteen she gave him the “talk,” hopeful that he wouldn’t continue the cycle of men who fathered children but who felt their commitment ended there.
“I don’t smoke all the time,” he told her when they spoke.
“Smoking kills,” she told him in response.
“It can, but I know a lot of people who are just fine,” he said. “Besides, we’re all gonna die someday anyway.”
“But you don’t want to make it come faster if you can help it,” she said.
He had given her the look, a combination of pity and disdain, what she remembered as the same look she gave her mother when the older woman had given her the talk about sex. That talk was two weeks before she’d gotten pregnant, so she knew Felix was only humoring her by even responding when she told him that smoking kills.
She sighed and looked at herself in the mirror. When had she gotten old? It seemed like just yesterday when she had been his age, when she had given the looks instead of received them, when life had been spread out before her like an open book. When had the book closed? There were crow’s feet in the corners of her eyes, but she was barely 30 years old, so they were testament not to age, but to the sort of hard life that being a single parent entailed. She had grown up quickly without a manual or a blueprint, and she worried more than most other girls her age.
The stairs led her down into the basement where she had stored some items. The apartment had come with the storage space, but the drawback was that there was no way to lock it up, so she worried often that someone would take her treasures. But there had been no recourse since the apartment itself was infinitesimally small, and she was lucky she could afford it on her waitress’s salary. In her storage nook she had the cheap dollar store photo albums that she insisted on having even though all of her pictures were on her phone. Every month she went to Walgreen’s and forked over a few bucks to print the photos out so she could add to those very albums.
Most of the pictures were recent, most of them featuring Felix through his various stations in the growing up process. As she thumbed through the pages her eyes misted over because it was clear that her little boy was no longer little, that her little boy was becoming a man more by the day. It was no wonder he shut her out of his room and blasted the gangster rap that made her ears bleed. He was testing his boundaries, flexing his independence, being the young man that she had raised him to be, not the sheep her mother had always hoped she would be.
It was difficult for her to separate the two — the wild child that she had been, and the good, but not perfect son that she had raised. As she looked through the pictures the tears began to come because she saw the same patterns in expressions on his face that she could clearly see on her own from when she was his age. She wondered if despite her best intentions he would turn out just as she had, but in reverse. Would she get a call one day from some hysterical mother of a girl her son had impregnated? She shut the photo album abruptly and prayed to god it wouldn’t come to that.