Excerpt from The Distance
Today mom said she would get me after school, so I wait with this kid Joseph and this girl Renee from my class on the playground and we see who can swing the highest in the swings and jump out. Sometimes Mr Lucero the gym teacher will give us a basketball or a soccer ball when he sees us but he’s not here today so we just do the swings. Then Joseph and Renee have to go home so I sit on the sidewalk in front of my classroom and read a library book until she comes and then I’m really interested in the story and I don’t even see her drive up and she honks the horn. Just in time, because my butt was getting really cold on the cement.
I put my backpack in the back seat but I keep my book out in case and I climb in the car and right away I say You said you weren’t going to smoke around me.
I’m not she says. I’m not smoking.
You were. The whole car smells like it. That’s the same as smoking around me.
It’s not the same.
Okay, I’m sorry, baby. I won’t smoke in the car, either. She pushes the gear and starts to go and then a car honks super loud and she slams on the brakes and she says Fuck real loud. She looks out the window as the car goes past and a mean-faced lady is shaking her fist and yelling something but we can’t hear her with all the windows up. Mom turns to me and says Sorry, buddy. Sorry about that.
I didn’t see her coming up behind us and I pulled out in front of her.
So it was your fault?
Yes, it was my fault. I thought I looked, but maybe I didn’t. She looked this time in her mirror and started going again and we went the rest of the way home without saying anything. When we got there she got two bags of groceries from the back and I got my backpack and we went upstairs and I took off my coat and my backpack and she unloaded the groceries. I opened my backpack and took out a worksheet I got back today and I went back out and sat on my stool and I put the paper on the counter for her to look at and she opened a bag of pretzels and brought them over to me. What do you want to drink she says.
Do we have chocolate milk?
I can make chocolate milk.
She sees the paper and looks at the score right away like she always does. 92! That’s terrific, buddy. I don’t remember this one…when did you work on this?
We had work time in class yesterday and it was easy so I finished it there.
If it was easy how come it’s not 100? She grinned at me. Then she went to the refrigerator and got the milk and then the Ovaltine from the cupboard.
I said on one of them I counted how many pie slices wrong and on one of them it was a trick because all of the others followed the same pattern but this one skipped.
Sounds like maybe you should slow down a little. And check your work after you’re done. She poured some milk in the glass and then two spoons of Ovaltine and she put the spoon in there and brought it to me to stir.
Yeah. I went fast because if I get done then Mr Hammond lets me walk around and help the other kids.
You like that, huh?
Yeah, it’s fun. They call me Mathman.
Are they teasing you?
No. It’s okay. I like it. I start stirring my milk and she starts looking at the worksheet. The spoon dings against the side of the glass when I stir and I start stirring faster and faster and I keep stirring and dinging even though it’s already done. Finally she notices.
Okay, okay! Are you going for the world record there? She holds out her hand and I give her the spoon and grin at her. She shakes her head a little and smiles back at me. Mathman, she says. I’m real proud of you, Gordie.
Thanks, I say. Are we gonna watch a movie? Usually when she picks me up from school we either walk to the park or we watch a movie and it’s kind of cold so I think it’s a movie.
We can watch a movie, but I need to tell you some stuff first.
Okay. I start thinking of if I cleaned my room or if I was supposed to take the trash down to the bin or something else.
I don’t want you to be scared, okay?
Okay. Right away I start feeling scared even though I don’t know what of.
I went to the doctor and…
When you were at school.
Yes, today. That’s why I could pick you up after. She came around the breakfast bar and sat on the stool next to me and I turned on my stool to look at her. I tried to drink my chocolate milk but my throat felt choked like I was going to cry. I put it down on the counter.
I went to the doctor and there’s something that I need to do.
Okay. Did you do it?
I have to go somewhere to do it. I have to go to Rosado. And it takes a long time.
A few months.
So we have to move to Rosado?
Well, I do.
It will be hard for me to take care of you, Gordie, so I think it would be better if you went to stay with grandpa.
Mom, what’s wrong? Are you really sick? Now I started to cry and I didn’t even try not to. Mom got up and she hugged me and she said it’s okay Gordie it really is come here and we went over to the couch and sat on it and she put her arm around me.
It’s not bad, Gordie, it’s really not.
Then why do you have to leave? And go to Rosado?
I just do, baby. It’s something I have to do. I know you maybe can’t understand, but believe me I wouldn’t want to be away from you if I didn’t have to.
What if something bad happens to you and I’m at grandpa’s and I don’t ever get to see you again?
That’s not going to happen.
How do you know? I was starting to cry really hard now and I couldn’t say anything very good and my nose was running like crazy. Mom got up and went and got a box of tissues and came back and started to wipe my nose and I took the tissue and I did it.
Grownups just know some things that kids don’t know, Gordie. Someday you’ll know things that you don’t know now. But you just have to trust me. This is the best way.
The doctor said?
No, the doctor just said I’m…then she stopped and she said The doctor told me what’s going on with me, but I decided that I should go to Rosado and you should go to grandpa’s. That’s my decision.
So you don’t have to?
Yes, I have to.
But the doctor didn’t tell you.
So you don’t have to.
Yes I do. Not because the doctor told me to. Because it’s the best thing for me and for you.
Why is it the best thing for me?
Gordie, I told you. I wouldn’t be able to take care of you.
I can take care of myself. Mostly.
I know you can, buddy. Listen. Then she breathed a deep breath and sat for a long time and didn’t say anything. I wiped my nose again. I didn’t know what to do with the tissues. Listen, here’s the thing. I know you can take good care of yourself. But it’s kind of like me. I’ve been trying real hard to take care of you and take care of me. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job. I have.
I nodded at her because I think she has done a pretty good job.
But it could be better. I could do better. And to do better I have to make some changes.
What kind of changes?
Just things I need to do. Grownup things. And that’s why I have to go to Rosado.
Will you get some medicine in Rosado?
I don’t need medicine.
No. It’s not that kind of…thing.
But you’ll get better.
Will I get to come visit you?
I don’t know. I don’t think so.
For how long?
For a few months.
That’s a long time.
Yes, but you’ll be with grandpa and you’ll have fun.
Until my birthday?
Longer. Probably until school is out.
And I can’t see you that whole time? When I said this then mom started crying. She cried for a long time and she kept trying to stop crying but she couldn’t. I just kept on leaning against her and giving her tissues until finally she stopped crying and she breathed out real slow.
I know, she finally said. I really messed up this time.