The first thing that comes to mind is always the truth. I wanted to walk away. I wanted to tell him that it was none of his business. I wanted to ask him why he cared so much about what I did with my time and what I said about my plans for the future. But those were all lies, and the first thing that comes to mind is always the truth.
“My dad died when I was 17,” I heard myself say. “After that, things were really hard for me. We didn’t have a lot of money and we had a lot of debt from his hospital bills and funeral costs. My mom had to go back to work full time just so we could afford groceries and pay our rent on time every month."
I kept talking, but the words continued to feel distant, like a robotic voice. She didn’t have time to take care of me or help me with school after she got home at night, so instead she put me in after-school programs so I wouldn’t be home alone while she was at work. The only way she could afford them was by putting me in cheaper programs where they took kids without asking questions about their background or whether they had enough food or if they lived with both parents or whatever. And sometimes a couple kids in each class would be from broken homes or have parents who were addicts or criminals, and sometimes they’d ask me why I didn’t have a dad anymore and how come my mom had to work so much, and sometimes I’d just tell them that my mom was a superhero instead of saying that she was putting in extra hours at her job because my dad died of a heart attack while he was driving home from the country club after playing golf with his friends. And it wasn’t like the teachers ever helped me figure out what to say about my dad when the other kids asked questions either; they just told us to stop talking so we could get on with our projects or finish our math homework. And some nights when I got home from school, there wouldn’t be any dinner ready yet because Mom had left too late to start cooking after her last meeting of the day had ended, so instead she would heat up a frozen pizza for us to share while we watched TV together before she went into her bedroom to lay down for an hour before going back to work again.
And even though the frozen pizzas were good and it was nice to have Mom’s undivided attention while we ate them in front of the TV, I still felt bad because I knew that she was exhausted and hungry and stressed out all the time because of me. And even though she told me not to worry about her and that everything would be okay, I still felt guilty for making her feel so tired all the time after work. And even though she said it wasn’t my fault, I still felt guilty for making her feel so tired all the time after work. It made me angry at myself for being such a burden on her -- I wanted more than anything else to be able to take care of her instead of needing her help with everything. And sometimes when she went into her room to lay down before going back out into the world again, I’d hear her crying in there because she couldn’t make enough money fast enough to give me a better life -- it made me angry at myself for being such a burden on her.
And sometimes when Mom was crying in bed before heading back out into the world again, I’d go into her room and sit on the edge of her bed until she stopped crying and took deep breaths to calm herself down before going into her closet to choose an outfit for the next day. And sometimes she’d ask me if I wanted to help pick out what dress or suit jacket she should wear, and we’d spend a few minutes trying to decide which one looked better with her black shoes or which one made her look slimmer than the others did. And sometimes when I picked out one of the outfits for Mom, she’d tell me that I was good at picking out clothes even though I was only in middle school, and that made me feel proud because it meant that maybe someday I could become a fashion designer so Mom wouldn’t have to work so hard anymore after I grew up.
And sometimes when Mom asked me if I wanted to help pick out what dress or suit jacket she should wear, I told her no because choosing clothes seemed like more of a girl thing than something boys did; choosing clothes seemed like more of a girl thing than something boys did. And even though picking out outfits together made Mom happy, I didn't do it very often.
And sometimes Mom would ask if I wanted her to drive me home so I could spend time with my friends after school instead of going straight home. And even though those nights were fun and exciting -- they were fun because it felt good to do something without feeling guilty anymore, like now I had a way to help Mom without her worrying too much that all the work she was putting in towards bettering our lives was just making it harder on me -- they also made me feel even worse inside because now that something had changed for the better, everything else could stay exactly the same as before. And even though Mom told me not to worry about it anymore because we were finally doing okay and things were getting easier, it still felt wrong for things to be easier now just because something bad had happened.