In His Room by Mary Mandeville

Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Editor's Choice, June 26th, 2017

"He put a noose around his neck and used the limb as a platform to exit his life."

Mary Mandeville Essay Nailed Magazine
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A personal essay by Mary Mandeville.

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I’m curled into a blue recliner in what used to be Brandon’s room. With a white fleece blanket wrapped around my shoulders, I cradle a mug of turmeric and black pepper tea between my palms, warmth and spice against the chill. Our six-year old dog pads into the room. He touches my hand with his wet nose in a brief hello then leaps onto the bed and curls into a ball. My chest and belly expand with a deep breath. I’m glad I still have his quiet company. I don’t have Brandon and like mothers of dead sons everywhere, I’m missing mine.

My nineteen-year old son vacated the room he’d painted black and blue. He left in a huff of rage, befuddled by a developing paranoia so desperate he couldn’t accept help. He ran off on a Friday night, his giant long-trip backpack on his shoulders, stuffed with gear. Somehow he got about an hour’s drive south where he found refuge in the branches of a Giant Sequoia. The evidence says he must have huddled there for a while – days even – escaping a world insisting on sanity as his fell to fear, paranoia, and voices that whispered to him day and night. Finally, candy bars eaten and cigarettes smoked, their remnants littering the tree’s crotch, he put a noose around his neck and used the limb as a platform to exit his life.

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My hot tea sends a curl of steam toward my face while snowflakes flurry outside and I tuck my toes under my thighs. I miss Brandon but I don’t want him back the way he was when he left; his lips pressed thin with rage, his dyed black hair stringy from lack of washing, and his eyes darkened by the phantoms with scary voices that only he heard. I don’t want to see that bowie knife or the compact black hatchet hanging from his belt. I don’t want to wonder when or where either blade might find its mark.

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On a lazy Saturday afternoon a while back, my twelve-year old son, Sam, and I sat at opposite ends of the couch watching something on TV – Supernatural or the Walking Dead, some gory show he liked and I had learned to tolerate.

Brandon shuffled by on his way to the kitchen, knife and hatchet on his belt. Tension rippled out from my spine, gripped my shoulders, and stiffened my neck.

“Are you ever just sitting here?” Sam asked in a whisper. He sat up straighter, pushed thick blond hair out of his eyes, and leaned toward me.

“Then Brandon walks by,” he went on, “and you get the feeling he might grab you like this.” Sam took a hunk of his own hair in his right hand and yanked his head backwards.

“And go like this?”

The fingers of his left hand sliced across his throat with an invisible blade.

My eyes popped wide. When Brandon walked by, the muscles of my back pulled my shoulder blades together. The tightening happened so often it had become a way of being; tense, hard, on edge. When Brandon entered a room, an invisible cloud of apprehension and anger came with him, like the dust we kick up but only see in a certain ray of light. Still, I didn’t imagine him pulling my head back and slitting my throat.

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When I sit in Brandon’s old room sipping hot tea and allowing my mind to wander, my chest ebbs and flows with heaviness but I don’t miss his outbursts of raw fury and deep rage. I don’t want to argue with him about grades or stealing or about taking that damned knife off his belt. My shoulders no longer hang out around my ears and my eyes don’t sport dark circles from sleepless nights filled with worry.

There was another Brandon. A boy and young man I sometimes glimpsed. In the sparse moments when he escaped the PTSD from his early years in a meth house, he swash-buckled around our back yard like a pirate king, stick sword slashing the air. When for a minute or even an hour he dropped the seething resentment from early neglect that left him pale and skinny, wary, and unable to count to ten at age seven, he donned a thin black cape and turned into a young wizard, using his stick as a magic wand for good. In rare and beautiful moments when he might have imagined himself a Real Boy worthy of home and family and love, he sported shiny hair, engaging eyes, and a winning smile.

We fostered a puppy when Brandon was fifteen, and he sat on the back deck with the pup stretched out against his thigh.

“He’s cool with these tiger stripes. Whaddya call ‘em again?” He patted the puppy’s side.

“Brindle, tiger brindle.”

“Brindle, yeah, that’s right.” He gently stroked the dog’s ear between thumb and forefinger. “Can we keep him?”

“Well …” We already had two dogs and didn’t need another.

“Please?” He flipped long sandy bangs out of his eyes. “If it’s a matter of money, I’ll pay the adoption fee.”

For a boy whose history of neglect inspired him to hoard clothes he’d outgrown and toys he’d broken, who bristled when I cleaned granola bar wrappers or the hard plastic packaging from a set of batteries off his floor (“I might be able to use that someday”), for a kid who slipped every nickel, dime, quarter and dollar bill that wasn’t locked down into his own pockets, his offer to spend the little money he’d managed to save over the summer to help the puppy drew an involuntary aww from my lips.

“That’s so sweet of you. Not necessary though.”

“Please?”

He took the other floppy puppy ear between his thumb and forefinger and stroked with care, as if handling fine velvet.

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The desk beside the blue recliner is one that Brandon painted and stenciled; I set my teacup there. The brindle dog snores loudly from the bed, the almost-orange tiger stripes of puppyhood faded to tan. My breath does a little somersault under my breastbone before I can exhale. The dog’s still with me six years later, Brandon’s not.

I close my eyes and wonder: what might have allowed that boy, the gentle, creative and kind one, to flourish rather than perish? This is the boy I miss, the young man I long to see again, the sweet soul whose absence aches beneath my breastbone.

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A room with soft brown walls and amber light beats with the vitality of a throng of people. Mostly young, fresh-faced, lithe. Bodies press together, voices hum and rumble. Mouths are stretched in smiles and wide open, raucous with laughter. Energy pulsates through the room between laughing, talking, dancing bodies. It’s a rave, the mosh-pit of a rock concert, the jumble of bodies in an overflowing house-party that rumbles with loud music and joy.

Amidst the anonymous crowd, I see a young man surrounded by admirers. All smiles, his sandy hair shimmers in the warm light. Long bangs almost hide wide hazel eyes as he reaches to touch the hands of those around him. The people near him press closer and closer. Suddenly, he glances up. It’s as if he feels me staring at him. 

I can hardly believe how handsome he is. It’s not the physical features themselves that make him attractive, though those are nice: a square jaw, high cheekbones, twinkling eyes, a slender, well-muscled physique. Something lights him up. It’s more than his bright orange shirt and his clean and shiny hair. His movements are smooth as he reaches hands in black fingerless gloves to one person then the next. His confidence is pervasive and contagious. The calmness he projects sets everyone at ease. Even me. The blades of my shoulders melt down my back.

He catches my eye, winks, tips his head as a gentleman might tip a hat. Acknowledging. Saying hello. 

I fight through milling arms and legs and torsos. I don’t know what I expect when I push through to his side. Will he accept or reject me? It doesn’t matter, I must get closer to him.

He keeps his eyes on me, I keep my eyes on him. The draw is complete and compelling, a force outside myself; moon to planet, planet to sun. It’s an overwhelming attraction. Nothing in my body knows how to know this young man without fear and tension. Yet everything in my body, each cell of belly and chest, bones and skin, knows this young man like my child, like flesh and blood.

After the press and smell, the heat and pulse of close together bodies, I arrive at his side. Everyone steps aside and air circulates around him.

The faint color of blood blushes his cheeks, gaiety lights his face. I stare deep into his eyes, searching for a hint of the madness that plagued his life on earth. Wherever we are, whatever sliver of time and space I’ve slipped through to find him, I see in his eyes a swirl of stars, a dance of galaxies, a splash of universe. 

With all the confidence of a prince, a wizard, or the leader of a band of pirates, he leans over and kisses my cheek. I am shot through with electricity, white and hot. This young man’s pain has burned away in his passage through stars, cooled by the cocoon wrap of huge feather-soft angel wings. A bubble forms deep in my belly, builds and rises, erupts from my throat in a fit of laughter.

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Outside Brandon’s window, the branches of the Cedar Deodara hang heavy with accumulated snow. I pull the soft fleece closer around my neck. His black walls and navy blue ceiling are now soft tan and crisp white. With paint, I exorcised the same demons he choked to death with a noose. In my mind’s eye, in a black hole somewhere in the universe, Brandon’s hazel eyes twinkle and he winks conspiratorially.

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Artist feature courtesy of Constantinos Chaidalis. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

Mary Mandeville Essay Nailed MagazineMary Mandeville writes in Portland, Oregon where she lives with her partner, surviving son, and two pitbulls. Her essays have been published in Voice Catcher, Role Reboot, NAILED, Brain Child, Fugue Literary Journal, Hip Mama, Pithead Chapel. Her work has earned two Pushcart nominations. She’s working on a full length memoir.

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Carrie Seitzinger

Carrie Seitzinger is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Seitzinger is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.
Learn more about her at her official site.