In 2014, my son Sean was in a bad relationship. It didn’t start out as bad, but it became evident rather quickly that it was heading in a bad direction. Before he met her, he really was in a good place. He had recently lost 100 pounds and had a great job. He went to Serbia on business and lived like a local while he was there. He was confident, healthy, and satisfied with life.
He met her on a dating app, and although her picture was much better than real life, he found some common interests and continued seeing her. He introduced her to his friends and they all hung out together, playing board games and all the other things 20-somethings do. But he began to eat like she did. One of their first pictures together was of them downing large DQ Blizzards. I cringed but said nothing. I knew how hard it had been for him to lose the weight. She was obese, and soon he was obese again, too. I’ve noticed that when he’s happy, his weight goes down; when he’s depressed or stressed, his weight goes up.
But soon they moved in together in an apartment nearby. She put planters on the balcony and started growing some cherry tomatoes and herbs. I thought they were doing alright, but she started to get rather testy if he invited me over. It was uncomfortable. I told him that if it was going to cause problems, he could just come see me at my place whenever he wanted. Because of her attitude toward me, I didn’t expect them to last. I knew if there was one thing he wouldn’t tolerate, it was anyone coming between the two of us. When his sister died, he leaned on his dad and me more than before. It was very hard on him, and as a result, we became closer than before. We had a shared grief that we quietly endured.
Before I knew it, though, he was looking for a place to buy for them. Well, okay. Good, I thought. Maybe things are better than I think, and yes, good for him for buying a home instead of paying rent. He found a townhouse near a major shopping route in Frederick, and they moved in. It was a cute place, if rather small.
But that’s when things really went downhill for them.
She had trouble finding or keeping a job (something I later learned her parents had warned him about). Everything was cause for a meltdown with her. Life was so unfair! Sean, being the kind and understanding man he is, supported her and tried to help. But things continued to spiral down. He invited me over for dinner one night, and she stayed in the kitchen, occasionally glowering at me from the pass-through. We had dinner, and I made an excuse to leave shortly after.
I admit that I was secretly hoping she would go away. I could see that Sean was stressed out, though he said nothing. She had really turned out to be a moody, sour person.
When he told me he was looking at rings and was planning to ask her to marry him during the holidays, I was stunned. I just couldn’t see it working, but again, I said nothing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that if you try to tell someone how to have a relationship or who to have it with, it will always backfire.
So I wasn’t surprised when he called me one day and said, “Well, her parents are coming to get her.”
“What? What happened?”
“I came home to find her in the closet upstairs, wailing and carrying on about how I didn’t love her and didn’t support her, that I didn’t understand her,” he said. “My bedroom was covered in trash and dirty clothes, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I told her to get up and clean that stuff up. Mom, there were tampons on the floor!”
Her parents apologized to him for her behavior as they were leaving with her and her things. They knew he was a good man, and their daughter had blown it.
Ugh. I hated it for him. He had taken so much pride in buying a home, and she was disrespecting it — and him! By this point, he had put all his lost weight back on. He was clearly unhappy.
Eventually, she was gone and he found a roommate to help with the cost of the place. A 3-BR place on 3 levels had room for privacy and shared space. He went through three roommates over time, though, each worse than the last.
When my marriage ended in 2016, I became his roommate. I had the 2nd floor to myself and navigated my own depression at the loss of my marriage, my home, and my peace of mind. We were a comfort to each other. When my house was empty of tenants again last year, Sean decided to sell his place so we could move into mine (which is a single family home with fewer stairs). The plan was for him to pay some things off and then move back to North Carolina where he had lived for awhile.
Last year was a year spend navigating our own single lives and futures, but it was also a time for healing. Finances shared are finances eased. Plus we benefitted from sharing meals and going for walks and just being. No one making any demands on either of us. No crazy relationships. We needed the downtime.
Earlier this year, he was preparing to find a place to move to in NC. Though I knew I would miss him terribly, I wanted what was best for him. He has a lot of friends there, something he hasn’t had here in MD since the ones he had become virulent Trump supporters as well as rabid evangelicals. (And they asked him how it felt to know that his mom was going to burn in hell for being gay. That was when he told them in no uncertain terms to fuck off.)
Then I found the lump
“If it’s cancer, I’m staying to help you,” he said, because that’s the kind of man he is.
As you now know — as we now know — it’s cancer. I never asked him to stay, but he wouldn’t hear of leaving. He has been solid for me, taking me to appointments, listening when I need to talk, and making sure there is healthy food if I’m able to eat it.
More than that, he has really grown as a person during this time. He has taken on many duties that I either did myself or hired someone to do last year. He is doing the lawn care. He does the shopping. Most of the time he does the cooking (and he’s such a good cook!). He surprises me with little things and big things. He killed a hornet that got into the house, though he’s deathly afraid of them. He planted beautiful flowers outside, put up a hammock, and put in a fire ring so we can sit outside and chat and have s’mores in the evening.
Suddenly, he’s interested in life again. He has a little herb garden in the kitchen. He tends to the watering of the apple tree and all the flowers. He assembles things that need to be assembled. He breaks down the boxes for recycling. In short, he has learned what it is to be a homeowner and a full-fledged adult. And he is loving it.
Now when we talk about NC, he says he isn’t interested in an apartment. He wants to find a house with a yard where he can entertain his friends and have gatherings. He wants to have a yard to take care of. His weight is coming down again, which proves that mentally he is healing. That woman took a toll on him and made him doubt whether he wants another relationship. As I’ve told him, not everyone is the same. You have to be choosy and take your time, advice I’ve also given myself.
It’s funny how the worst news (cancer) can have so many silver linings. It’s made me examine my life in new ways, and in some ways, I’m falling in love with life again. That has been a long time coming, let me tell you! And it has forced Sean, in some ways, to expand what he thought life could be. It has nudged him toward a new phase of his life and a new understanding of who he is. I think he is falling in love with life again, too.
May we both continue to enjoy the peace we have found at long last, and may he continue to grow into the man he wants to be. I hope that someday he will find the right companion who will grow with him in love and respect.