Michael swallowed the bile that formed in the back of his throat. He stood on the stoop of the town home, taking in a deep breath as he balled his fist to knock on the mahogany wood door in front of him. He hadn’t been here in a long time. Butterflies pattered in his stomach. Why was he so nervous? It was his own fault why he hadn’t come around.
He pounded his sore knuckle against the door, forgetting about the gash from the punching bag. Gritting his teeth, he switched to his left hand and knocked again, hoping it could be heard on the other side. He held his breath when he heard the hinges squeak.
“Michael? Is everything okay?”
Nodding, he stepped back. “Mom, you got time to talk?”
“Of course, hon, is everything okay?” She moved to the side to give him room. “Come on in and have a seat. I bet the subway ride up here wasn’t all that great.” She was now living in Queens. He remembered her always vowing to get away from Hell’s Kitchen as soon as she could.
The house smelled just as he remembered. It was a clean smell. Everything was in place and well taken care of. His eyes scanned the living room with all of the pictures of family on walls and shelves. He walked to a few pictures of him and Casey when they were younger. Running his hands over the frames, he couldn’t help but smile at how goofy they both looked with their haircuts and clothes straight from the eighties. Casey looked really healthy. It was a shame what the drugs had done to him. Then of course, there were photos of their dad. A chill ran down his spine and he turned back to his mom.
“You look more and more like your dad every day.” She was sitting in a recliner, sipping on some tea. “It’s almost scary. He’d be so proud to know how well you’re doing with the department.”
Michael felt his face heat up. He never realized how much he resembled his dad until she pointed it out. “I had a good role model.”
She patted the chair beside her. “Come sit down. You look like something is really bothering you.” Pausing, she began to stand up. “You want something to drink?”
He held his hand up and leaned back in the other recliner. “No Mom, I’m fine.” She looked frailer than the last time he had seen her. Her dark hair was now highlighted with grey. She was always a thin woman but she looked like she had lost even more weight. Was it stress? He and Casey weren’t always the greatest sons and he regretted ever treating her the way he had. “I’m sorry I don’t come by more often.”
She pursed her lips and smiled. “No need to apologize, Michael. I understand you’re a busy man. Now tell me the real reason you came by.”
Sighing, he closed his eyes for a second. “I need to know if what I did is the right thing to do.” The room fell silent except for a faint ticking coming from the clock above the TV.
“What did you do?”
Biting his bottom lip, he opened his eyes and looked at her. “It’s about Casey.” The look on his mom’s face was full of pain at the mention of his name. She clasped her hands together but didn’t say anything. “He came to me about a week ago needing a place to stay. I let him. He lied straight to my face about everything and even invited some of his friends over after I told him not to. I gave him several chances but I ended up kicking him out again.”
She took another long sip of tea and put the glass down on a coaster. Neither spoke as the words sunk in. Had he made a mistake by coming to her about him? She was definitely broken hearted by what Casey had become, but he would never forget as kids she would teach them that there’s always hope. Had that value in her life changed?
“And you’re worried that kicking him out is only going to harm him?”
Michael nodded. It felt as if his stomach was tied in a thousand knots. “I’m scared he’s more exposed to stuff out on the streets. Like maybe if I would’ve let him stay that he would be more sheltered.”
His mom shook her head no and leaned forward in her chair. “No hon, both of you had a sheltered life here and both of you still found what you did. You had your problems. Casey took to the drugs. It doesn’t matter where you live or what kind of family you have, if you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it. The will power lies within the person. You found a way to not drink so much. I left it up to you and God. Made you leave here and go find yourself. You became a man all on your own. Casey still has yet to find it and he might not ever.”
Michael stood up and went back to the shelves where all of their pictures were. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see her standing right beside him. “You can’t help someone who isn’t ready to help themselves, Mikey.”
He felt a tear trickle down his cheek and quickly wiped it away. Seeing the pictures of their youth stung. If only they would have known what the future entailed. “I know. I just hate myself for kicking him out. He has nothing. I think he’s in some money trouble too.”
“You would’ve hated yourself more if he ruined your life too. If he truly wants to get better, he will, whether it’s under your roof or out on the street. There’s always a way. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I think you did the right thing. It’s out of our hands and up to Casey.”
He pulled her in for a tight hug, instantly missing the embrace of his mother. Her subtle perfume ignited memories from years ago. “You’re a good man.” At that moment he told himself that he would make it a point to come see her more often. It would be wrong not to.
He stayed for dinner that night and got caught up all of the months he had missed without her. Despite that, he still felt a void. He would never get that time back with her. He had learned from his job that every day wasn’t a right; it was a blessing and definitely wasn’t guaranteed.
“You know, son, my door is always open.”
They both stood out on her stoop and watched the sun set behind the high rises. “I know.” He draped his arm over her shoulders and gave her a side hug, kissing the top of her head. “I’ll be coming around more often, I promise.”
She pulled away and wrapped her jacket around her. “Be safe on your ride home. I really hate those subways.”
“You got it.” He walked down the first two steps and stopped, looking back at her from the sidewalk. “Thank you, for everything. I love you.”
“I love you too.”