According to Rob, the turning point was the day that his aimless loser of a roommate skipped out, leaving Rob with unpaid bills and impossible obligations, forcing him to sleep on people’s floors. For months, he kept going. Finally, he had to assess what was left. With a dead-end job and, now, nowhere to live, he saw just how it felt to be held to account for someone else’s failures. Even his siblings had no interest in seeing him. To make his way back, Rob had to admit that, essentially, he had an addiction, a dependency on anger. Blaming other people was familiar, and so much easier than taking responsibility. He set out to change. The first hurdle was swallowing his pride and retracing the road back to our house, having discovered that home was more than a place.
In life, it’s almost impossible, or at least damnably hard, to permanently break an addiction—to drugs, food, cigarettes or booze. It’s hard to believe that Rob actually did. But so far the change in him is durable. He still has to fight the impulse to retreat into the familiar sneer. He still has a short fuse. Now, though, his anger lasts a day instead of a month. He’s alienated so many people, he does not want to risk losing more. He calls his -brothers—even helping Marty, at college in Indiana, with math long--distance. He doesn’t forget the younger kids’ birthdays or achievements. Saving bits from his grocery money, he gave his sister Mia a microscope and dozens of slides he’d made himself.
Almost each day, Rob sends me a funny link or a bit of trenchant political commentary. Now he signs his notes “Love” and pops up on my chat line to challenge me to a “lyric-off” (something at which we both excel). The last time, we vied to repeat the words to “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid, and he won. “Why shouldn’t I know it?” Rob teased me. “I’ve got eight younger siblings. You know how cool it is to tell people that?” Siblings? Cool? Sometimes I can scarcely believe what I’m hearing. For years, Rob didn’t say the things young kids say to their moms, but he says them now. For example, he says that when he’s a successful video game designer, he’ll make me rich.
In fact, I already am: People say that they consider Rob one of the most delightful young men they’ve ever met. And he is.
For more than two decades, since he learned to read at three, I never had the chance to brag about my boy—only to make dry jokes to cover my alarm and shame. It is as if a clenched muscle in my breast has finally relaxed. Perhaps it is my heart.
A note about the author: Jacquelyn Mitchard's 11th novel, Second Nature: A Love Story, will be out this fall.
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