Paul gripped his mother harder. “I don’t hate you!” He didn’t realize it was true until he said it. The reason it hurt so bad to feel abandoned by her was because he loved her.
“I’ve been trying to think of ways to make it up to you, to earn your forgiveness, but everything I do just seems to make it worse.” She kept talking as though she didn’t hear him. “I’m not going to stop trying though. You were braver than I was. What you did probably saved both our lives, and I forced you to it. I let him …”
Her breath caught and she couldn’t manage to say anything else for short time, but she did manage to eventually compose herself. “I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I never deserve to be loved by you again, but I’m going to try.”
He looked up at her, and it may have been the first time in years he looked into her eyes, though tears made it hard for him to see. “Nobody deserves forgiveness,” Paul said.
The anger in his heart fell quiet. A part of him knew it wasn’t gone, but no longer felt overwhelming to him.
“It’s a gift, like love,” he continued. He understood the words now, but that didn’t make it easier to do. What Paul realized was that he wanted to forgive her. He wanted to be a son. He wanted to be her son, and he wanter her to want to be his mother.
“I’ve been suspended for two weeks,” he said.
“The principal told me you got into another fight,” his mother said.
“I’m just like him,” Paul admitted.
His mother snatched his head in her hands. It was surprisingly gentle given how instantaneously it happened. “You are never like him.”
“I hit people who make me mad.” Paul gave her a flat look. “That’s exactly what he did, but I don’t want to act like him anymore. I think he always felt weak, so he wanted to make himself feel stronger. At least, that’s how I feel. I feel like I wasn’t strong enough to stop him.”
It got hard for him to talk. Admitting his feelings seemed to get more and more difficult even as it strangely made him feel better.
“So now I hit whoever I know I can hit and get away with it. That’s what he did to us.”
His mother opened her mouth a few times and her hands fell away from his face, but she didn’t look like she knew what to say. Paul didn’t want her to make it ok. That would have been the same way she reacted to his father. She’d make excuses for his actions rather than condemning them.
“I’m going to try a better way though.” Paul wrapped his arms around her. “Mom … “
He took a deep breath. No matter how much he wanted to say the words, it was so hard to say them. Did forgiving someone for what they did mean it was ok that they did it? Did forgiveness mean nobody paid. Shouldn’t someone pay?
“I … “ he froze. He was about to say he wanted her to act more like a mother, and he did, but that wasn’t what he really meant. “I don’t want you to let me do whatever I want anymore, and when I mess up, don’t be afraid to punish me.”
“I’ll never hit you.” The response was so full of anger Paul looked up at her. “I’ll never let you feel pain again.”
“I don’t think it’s the same thing,” Paul said. “I just shouldn’t get away with things.”
He didn’t have a clue why he was saying what he was, but even that was easier than what he really wanted to say. Finally, he took a deep breath. Be strong and courageous. It’s easy to be angry. It’s easy to fight back. It’s way harder to let go.
He sat up straight so he could look at her.
“Mom, it’s ok.” He pursed his lips. That wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t the same. “I love you, Mom.” That was better, but it was far easier to admit than the last part. “I forgive you.”
Her lips trembled as he spoke, but as he finishes she broke down crying and throwing her face into her hands. “How can you? How can you possibly forgive me!? How can you even look at me.”
The answer seemed to click even as she asked her questions. The funny part is, the answer is what gave him the strength to forgive her.
“I already told you.” He laughed as he said it, and he felt so good. He wasn’t sure he’d ever felt that good before in his life. “I forgive you because I love you. I just want to be your son. I just want you to be my mom!”
It was his turn to weep, but these tears made him feel better. They made him feel free.
They returned to their embrace, taking turns saying they loved one another and offering their forgiveness. Paul thought back on his life and realized he really had never been this happy before.