Iguess I came to all this through the kind of existential late-20s crisis that has become a stereotype of my generation. In spite of a good education and what I’d call a somewhat better than average mind, no job I chose had ever brought me satisfaction, and due to the fact that I’ve never been motivated by money, I found myself back in my mother’s house.
A decade before, during a time when it had been decided that I had transitioned into responsible adulthood, my bedroom had been transformed into a space for guests. The room was bursting with overly stuffed pillows, the kind designed to be looked at rather than used, speckled with pictures of seashells and starfish. The only practical feature of the room was a memory foam mattress that had been purchased to save the backs of my mother’s honored guests from the spring-filled torture device of my youth.
I was laying on my back, sunken into the bed with the comfort of late morning weekday drifting, which only the unemployed and the depressed can appreciate, when my mother knocked loudly on the door.
“Yes,” I managed in an annoyed groan.
“Is it alright if I come in?” she asked meekly.
I pulled myself upright so as to cut a more appropriate figure for 11:18. “Of course! Come on in.”
My mother entered the room with a tight-mouthed face of concern. Her lips were pressed into a small, perfect circle with such force that they were completely drained of color. She approached with her eyes fixed on the floor and sat lightly on the corner of my bed.
“Look, since you got here, I’ve been trying to give you some space to let you figure things out,” she began measuredly, “but there’s something I really need you to do for me.”
She might’ve been girding herself to pounce on me for my laziness, or it might just have been a preamble to asking me to take out the trash. She was sweet and never wanted to offend anybody.
“Sure, Mom. What’s up?”
“You remember Mark Davies?” she asked carefully, as though I might not remember my best friend growing up. We hadn’t been in touch for five years, not due to any falling out, but simply because I’m a total loss at maintaining relationships.
“Of course,” I said, “he’s a fireman now, right?”
“Not for a while now. He gave that up at least two years ago. I think after he’d been doing that job for a while, he decided he wasn’t sure if that was what he wanted to do.”
“There’s a lot of that going around, I think,” I offered.
“Well, he’s never really been as,” and then she paused, looking for the least offensive word possible to be highly critical of someone, “as together as you. I had lunch with Sam yesterday, and she’s really worried about him.”
My ears perked up at the mention of Samantha Davies, a memorable figure from my childhood and close friend of my mother’s. I had a self-centered disinterest in Mark’s problems, but for some reason, I was moved by the thought of his mother’s concern.
“Are we talking about drugs here?” I asked. The entire region seemed to be in grips of a vast and deadly heroin epidemic.
“I don’t know,” my mother replied glumly, “but he’s always drank more than he should have, even going back to when you guys were in high school.”
That was true. He was the first person my own age I’d ever identified as a problem drinker. He was a suburban kid like the rest of us, but for some reason that I’d never figured out, the hardness of the world seemed to have presented itself to him first.
“So what do you want me to do?” I suddenly heard myself asking, apparently more interested in the problem than I had been willing to admit.