"What are these?" I had asked.
"Missiles," he told me.
I showed the picture to his pediatrician, who announced, "Sam doesn't feel safe."
Nine years later, he evidently still felt unsafe. Perhaps his club-hopping was a way of seeking danger. He was going after an experience that would confirm an existing feeling. Mulling the situation, that's what I concluded. The knife was not a weapon but protection. I didn't think that anyone else would necessarily accept this interpretation of the facts, but I didn't care. I knew Sam. What I couldn't determine was whether his late-night expeditions to clubs where alcohol and drugs were readily available marked the beginning of a downhill slide.
I continued to obsess until I made the decision to leave Manhattan. Until Sam was out of high school, when his fragile teen years were over, we would live in a missile-free town.
"We're moving to Sakonnet Bay because I think you'll be better off there," was all I told him. I came armed with a map so I could point out our coastal town.
He didn't bother to look.
I started to fill in the details, to describe a place he'd never been able to visualize in his childhood drawings, but I choked up. He hadn't stomped away in anger. There was no one he wanted to phone, no friend to bitch and moan to.
Four months and no questions later, that August, we moved. Ladies' Home Journal wanted to accompany my peppy article with a photo of Sam and me attempting to install a hammock in our first backyard. I remember this day fondly, my pounding a nail into a tree while Sam held the hammock aloft as if it were a giant fish he'd landed. Sam, my baby, was now six feet tall, his flesh as pale as mole rats I'd seen on the Discovery Channel, animals that never once encountered the sun. He wasn't fat, more soft and squishy from a disinclination to move except when absolutely necessary. Still he was sweet-looking. Impish blue eyes, and brows that curved comically over them like quarter-moons. Nose straight and fine, a strong chin with a dimple. As the photographer snapped, Sam squinted into the sun, his head cocked back as usual. He led with his chin, walked with it tilted up and out.
I had stuck a copy of the photo in a frame, a reminder of the last time I could look at my son without wincing. The morning after that lovely afternoon, when he had, incredibly, swung in the hammock, and Jane had arrived with housewarming presents - candles and a transistor radio for the inevitable power outages - Sam shaved the sides and back of his head and pulled his remaining dirty-blond hair into a rubber band so it looked as if he had a spout on top of his head.
In Manhattan, Sam had gone through a phase in which he wore a set of plastic werewolf fangs to school - they fit neatly over his upper teeth - and that was fine. That was, in my opinion, in the normal range of teenage behavior. But one evening he had confessed to forgetting his algebra homework. This was well into his freshman year, and when I suggested he call someone in class, he said, "I don't know their names."
"Any of them?"
Not in the normal range.
I tormented myself with this code of measurement. No friends. Not in the normal range. Hair spout: NNR. I longed for normal range, lusted after it. When I signed the lease for our new home, I envisioned Sam strolling down Main Street, laughing and talking to other kids, munching a doughnut, powdered sugar misting his neatly-tucked-in alligator shirt. Within months, he would be as pretty inside and out as Sakonnet Bay. I caught myself, wanted to bang my head against the real estate office wall, dislodge a few pictures of oceanfront houses to knock some sense in. I must keep my expectations reasonable. Still, in the recesses of my heart, where reason did not dwell, a boy was talking and laughing, walking with friends, munching doughnuts. Having a wonderful time.
Reprinted from Big City Eyes by Delia Ephron by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Delia Ephron. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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