Close to a decade before I had my son—back when you always said I was like a mother to you—we sat in our favorite dark bar in Seattle, drinking and crying. You had just told your gay-bashing, Christ-obsessed, perfectly coifed, chilled-as-Chardonnay-Mom that you are that hopeless, beyond rescue fag she would never allow into her church. You’re a fag and you’re going to hell for sure. How you wept, little boy blue. I wrote out Little Boy Blue in my childish cursive for you, and you got it tattooed across your chest—my hand on your heart to soothe you.
But you’re still somebody’s son and she did not leave you. She wasn’t good to you sometimes and then perfect when you needed her to wipe your ass and spoon-feed you after that near-fatal car wreck years later, knowing you’re still a hopeless fag beyond rescue. She broke many dishes and said unkind words, but she did not leave you forever, even if she is in the dark with you now. You recovered. You left her house for the second time. You don’t speak about who you are. She stayed, your Mom. She stayed your Mom.
Nico left her son. And she loved him too. His name was Ari and he became the king of lost souls on the needle’s edge when he grew up. She dropped him off at Grandma’s and went off to become a famous artist and fuck Lou Reed and Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop and trim her bangs in silent peace with no one tugging at her shirtsleeve. Would her hair ever look that good if she had stayed. This is not a question. She brought her son some oranges when she came back to visit. But what he really needed she’d have to stick around to find out. And then it’s scary sometimes, to really know. She can’t ever undo leaving in the first place. He can’t either. Which is worse? This is the real question.
Susan Sontag took off on her son to go be a lesbian when it was still very dangerous and become a smart person who could put together sentences most people have to pretend to understand. Her son manages her brain estate now and I think, maybe, he is so very lucky his mom left him when she did. She couldn’t be a Mom but she gave her son a purpose; a literary legacy to nurture as a respectable lady of letters.
There are so many other deserters of the body, but not the mind—children gone but not forgotten. Moms with no baby to hold who still hear the smack on the bottom and the first cries of the one who will ask for them forever. Joni Mitchell is just another diamond drop in the runaway stream who became someone special when she gave away her daughter, and lived to regret it when that baby grew up and found her like a laurel bush seeking its canyon. She’s Joni Mitchell though, not just a Mom. Leave someone to become somebody. Leave some boy and become a somebody? Stay, and be a lucky nobody. Stay, and pray that your faggot son doesn’t go to hell after all.
We don’t sit in dark bars holding hands like we used to that much. Now I’m a mother to a son who needs me to stay and be a lucky nobody for good. I want to be Nico, Sontag and Mitchell each day, but can’t afford to open doors that might collapse my house of cards and show a wild, leaving hand. Your voice is hoarse from band rehearsal and telling off the stupid boys who just don’t get you, and now I’m leaving you before the night can turn to poisoned dawn. At least I know you’ve got your own Mom back to hold you, even if it’s never the way you want. So I can stack my buckets full of wishful thinking well water with sinking feelings and too much to carry and spill over with regret until it runs dry, but I don’t have to clasp my hands and pray for you, little boy blue, because your Mom, she never left you.