I’ll be honest I was expecting an apology after your son tells mine he’s going to burn in hell for not believing in Jesus. When school finishes, we stand outside in triangular formation on the freshly cut grass near the community centre in east Vancouver, your son tugging on your arm, yelling at you, before he wraps himself around a metal pole. He turns his face up to the sky and shrieks, and you plug your ears, scrunch your face and tell him to stop but he just yells louder.
“He was supposed to keep that private,” you say, your fingers still pressed in your ears.
My eyes open and close slower and longer than usual. The rest of me goes numb. No words form. No sound escapes from my mouth.
Your son flings himself sideways spinning around like a tetherball, which was a game I used to play at summer camp, where the ball went ‘round and ‘round the pole and wacked me in the face if I wasn’t paying attention. I hated that game.
I stare at you and your flipped-out son and then glance at my six-year-old who is sitting quietly in the back seat of my silver Toyota with the crank handles, his window rolled down the tiniest bit, his nose buried in a comic book, completely oblivious to our conversation.
You—you’re my friend. We go for coffee together. You know we’re Jewish. That my grandparents are Holocaust survivors.
I blink and blink and blink. Because what can I say? Do I walk you through the thousand’s year-old history of anti-Semitism with your fingers still stuck in your ears?
My mind flashes to the swastikas my sixth-grade classmates etched into their desks, the time they goose-stepped across the playground field in their cadets’ uniforms, arms outstretched in the Nazi salute.
But my biggest worry in that moment, isn’t you and your non-apology. It’s how to explain all of this to my son. Does it make me a bad mother that I care more about keeping the peace and the future of his relationship with your son, his best friend, the boy who thinks my kid will burn in hell and who is still hurling himself at the pole howling.
My son rolls down the crank window and tells me he’s finished his comic book and asks when we’re going home. I inhale the sharp sweet smell of grass and watch as you attempt to yank your kid away from the pole. But he glues himself to it again and again like a magnet, lifts his hands up as if to strike an imaginary tether ball.
Clenched fists on steering wheel, jaw tight, I drive away still wondering what I’m going to say to my son when my body begins to thaw, and I feel the first twinge of anger at my freeze response, my penchant for people-pleasing.
A week later when your son is kicked out of school for being a troublemaker, I am consoled by the fact I no longer need to explain myself to you, relieved that his absence has created an opening for new friends.
Claire Sicherman is the author of Imprint: A Memoir of Trauma in the Third Generation. Her writing has been published in anthologies and journals including Awfully Hilarious: Period Pieces (forthcoming), Don’t Ask: What Families Hide, Sustenance: Writers from BC and Beyond on the Subject of Food, Grain Magazine, Lost Balloon, Hippocampus and The Rumpus. Claire is a teacher, speaker, and mentor, supporting writers in bringing the stories they hold in their bodies out onto the page. Find her at https://www.clairesicherman.com/.