FaceTime with mom: Boys and art

I called Mom late last night to talk about my mental health.

She picked up my FaceTime from the living room couch. I knew she’d be awake. She squinted at her phone screen a bit before finding me, then smiled with a big, open mouth. There he is, that’s my boy.

I smiled back. There I am.

She asked me where I was calling from. I said from my desk and apologized for the darkness.

My roommate’s asleep, but in the other room. I just hate the overhead light.

She said no worries, the glow from your laptop helps, as long as I get to see my boy.

I asked her how things were back home. Good, she said. Been reading a lot and took Dad to the Gay Men’s Chorus. When she asked me how things were at school, I made a tiny pout with my mouth like a disillusioned Hollywood actress. I said they were alright but could be better.

Mom dropped her smile.

When she asked me what was the matter, I told her I couldn’t make sense of anything that’s happened to me in the last seven months. She raised her brow skeptically and asked what exactly I meant by that. I groaned at her skeptically raised brow. 

Don’t groan at me, she said. You need to know your audience and treat communication the way you would in an MBA program. You’re making me sound like a broken record.

I told her I don’t have an MBA. She said I wouldn’t be so cryptic with her if I considered one after graduation.

I paraphrased. By anything, I meant relationships — personal relationships. By last seven months, I meant young adulthood.

Mom stared at me with a doubtful expression. Her lips were pursed.

I paraphrased. By anything, I meant male relationships — the intimate ones that give you all the mmms and uh-huhs and unwanted sinus infections. By last seven months, I meant college. Frosh year, to be specific.

Mom’s face softened into a sympathetic expression, having finally uncovered the heart of my issue. She said I might not ever understand what motivates men — why they follow you where they follow you, what they say when they get there, how they say it. I said that makes sense, but only a little bit, because I’m a man, so I should have some insight here. Mom said she’s a woman and she doesn’t understand everything women do. I said sometimes I think I’m as sensitive as a woman. Mom said don’t say that, men and women are equally sensitive. 

You’re just an artist, that’s your problem.

I told her my sensitivity was maybe the fault of my attentiveness. Mom threw her head back and laughed. When was the last time I had picked up after myself? I said I’m very attentive when it comes to boys and art, but otherwise absent-minded. She agreed with that, and then the screen froze mid-agreement. I checked myself out in the self-view thumbnail on our frozen FaceTime call. I looked good.

When the Wi-Fi finally rerouted, Mom returned from a pixelated image of herself and asked what exactly confused me about the men I entangled myself with. I told her it was the inconsistencies — boys treat you one way over dinner at a dining hall table, and another way entirely in a fraternity bathroom on a Friday night.

Mom puckered her lips and nodded very perceptibly.

What can I do to make sense of all the senseless things men do across dining hall tables and in fraternity bathrooms? Mom’s eyes narrowed into tiny slits I knew very well. She said she’s been trying to get me to write since the beginning of the quarter, because it’s artistic and because getting stuff down on paper is its own form of therapy, but I haven’t done anything yet. I said, well, actually, I have been writing, as of yesterday, and I’m listening to a lot of jazz right now, which seems to be helping.

She asked, how on earth did you get into jazz? I said I needed that cheesy rom com coffee shop ambiance to get the creative juices flowing, I’m not sure why.

Mom replied with an inquisitive “mm,” and fought against the natural placement of her glasses on the bridge of her nose. She said maybe the issue is that I romanticize things too much, when life really isn’t all that romantic. If I took a more realistic approach to men and music and art, I might not be so cryptic and confused and upset about everything all the time. I might have a stable boyfriend and lots of very normal things to write about.

I said that’s a good point, but I only really like to write about the romantic stuff. I just don’t have a lot of good material to go off of — too many inconsistencies. No story there.

Mom looked dissatisfied. She said life is full of stories, because stories can be inconsistent, too. Maybe that was it — I had a fundamental misunderstanding of stories. That’s why I struggled to write about my life, with no When Harry Met Sally coffee shop ambiance and delineated romantic plot line in the real world.

I told her maybe that’s true, but it’s also different when you’re an artist. You think maybe you’re supposed to live and love and tell stories differently. To exist outside of that reality somehow. Also, Sally was way out of Harry’s league.

Mom looked serious. She said all artists are supposed to do is make art. Lovers are supposed to love, storytellers are supposed to tell stories, and Harry was supposed to meet Sally.

I said that’s not very interesting.

Mom laughed.

A yawn escaped my open mouth.

The clock on my desk read 4:08 a.m.

My phone sputtered on two percent.

I told Mom it was getting late and I should go to bed. She said OK, but promise to reflect on the stories and the boys and the romance in the morning? I said yes, I promise. She said good, I love you. I said I love you, too. I went to turn the call off.

She said sorry, one more thing.

Mom closed her eyes and thought hard. I imagined she was solving a very difficult math problem in her head. She asked if there were any boys who had wanted to write stories about me before — boys who might call me inconsistent, too. I said yeah, sure, what about them? She said don’t forget those experiences. You need to be empathetic. I asked why can’t you be one of those bad parents who feeds into their child’s delusions and sends them to college with shark teeth and a knack for playing the victim?

Well, that wouldn’t make for very good art.

I admitted she was onto something there and sank quietly into the back of my seat. Mom craned her neck to one side and asked what’s wrong, you look upset. I told her I was confused, that’s all. She said that’s a feeling a lot of people can empathize with these days. I told her it was a specific confusion. What bothered me most was not understanding why things happen when they happen. Anyway, I was getting more comfortable not knowing what it was all about.

Mom said it’s all about growing up.

The screen flickered and went black.

I looked around.

A soft beam of light had filtered through a crack in the closed curtain. It landed in a half circle on the edge of my desk. A few vehicles whisked by in the distance. Outside, a bird was singing a bit obnoxiously. I listened to him greet the morning as I finally lulled to sleep.

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