I was sitting in the cold on my birthday, outside the Starbucks on St. Simons Island. The weather outside was warmer than the looks I received inside. My tattered shoes were taped up to keep the soles from falling off. My jacket was dusty, faded. Sipping a coffee, I enjoyed the dreams I was pursuing, and I held fast to the mission I had claimed for myself.
She drove up in her Mercedes, walked calmly over, sat before me and said quite simply, “So, what is it that you want?”
“I’m on to something. People really like my message, my teddy bears. They seem to understand what it is I’m trying to do.”
She only sighed, looked away before saying, “You know, it’s really good to have goals, just as long as those goals are realistic. You need to think about the fact that you don’t have any money, you have no where to live. These goals are-”
“What is it you want for my life? What goals do you think I should have?”
The tension was building, the distance between us growing further, and in my head all I could think was, just listen to her….She’s your mother, she wants the best for you.
“You could have been anything you wanted. Anything. You’re smart, you’re attractive…..you had such promise. You could have gone to Rutgers. You could have been ANYTHING you wanted. But, my friends ask me what you’re doing with yourself, ” and she rolled her eyes as she said it, “….still knitting teddy bears, I tell them.” The sentence was finished off with a sigh as she lit a cigarette, looking off into the distance. Was it into the distance? Or was it into the past? Or was it searching quickly for the moment I failed, or the moment she failed to reign me in? Was she looking off to make sure none of her social contacts were watching? Was she waiting for me to comply with the lie that the life that had been designed for me had failed miserably and that everyone’s approach to what I should do, how I should do it, when I should have done it, had nothing to do with me, but their impression on other people?
Hard to make light of it at a dinner party. “So, what is Gregory up to?” Do you tell them he’s homeless? Do you admit to that in a social gathering where everyone’s delight is in boastful statements about their children and how well they’re doing, but that your own failed? How DO you handle that? What DO you say when someone asks over cocktails, “How is your son?”
You readily admit with a rolling glance toward the ceiling, “Still knitting teddy bears…..”
I said very little, found solace in my own self confidence. Everything I had been through had become a cliff of reaction. I could stand and look over, or I could leap off. It’s one thing to lose everything, it’s another to have your face shoved into it, it’s another to be told that your attempt at survival is……not very socially acceptable.
“You could have been anything you wanted.”
“I AM everything I wanted.” Now, as you read that, you may have heard it as a shout, but no. It was said calmly, quietly. I didn’t need to profess. I WAS everything I had wanted to be. “I’m a good person….and that’s all I ever wanted to be.”
“What is it that your want to do with your life?”
“I think the better question is, what do YOU want me to do with my life?”
“Maybe you could get a little job dish washing? Find a little home for yourself, just…..get a little job and…,” she seemed emphatic now. “have a simple life where you just go to work and have a little home and find some safety. We could help you. But, selling these teddy bears like you’re….begging for money, like you’re selling them on the side of the street like a farmer selling peanuts. That will amount to nothing. Get serious.”
“What you see for my life is that I simply wash dishes…..”
My face was stoic, cold. My eyes found their mark sharply on her. “So, in this conversation I went from being anything I wanted, to nothing more than a dishwasher.”
I stood, walked away in my duct taped shoes, turned round with this chin of mine held high and said, “You’re right. But, you know what’s funny? I couldn’t GET a dish washing job, so instead….I’m going to employ myself….YOU may think I’m only ‘knitting teddy bears,’ but I’m actually knitting myself hope, a future….and damn it, yes, an empire. Do you understand? That TEDDY BEAR is all I have!”
I gathered my things, head for Orlando, Mario in tow in her pillow case. I knit and knit the whole way down. My mother and I didn’t see each other for another four years….
(Read the book, “Man VS Skein-The Confessions of a Male Knitter” to see how things turned out.)
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