Julie Dolcemaschio is a writer and a poet. She has written several books of poetry, including Jewels in the Dim Light, The Phoenix Elegies, Map of Me, Musings, life, untitled, Surface Cuts, and An Angel Walked In, dedicated to her mother.
Testarossa is her first novel. She is currently slogging through rewrites of the sequel while mothering and wifing.
She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. She is not Italian.
In Defense of Hand Holding
by Julie Dolcemaschio
“Mom, if I ever get hurt, will you help me, even when I’m old?”
“Yes,” I answered him. “Of course.”
“Even when I’m old.” This was a statement, not a question.
“Yes. Even when you’re old.”
That was my six year old, back when he was six. We were in the car, going to, or coming from—I don’t remember which. He and I had conversations like this a lot.
“Kids get lost, you know,” he’d stated, as if this were late-breaking news.
“Yes,” I’d answered.
“If more kids held their mother’s hands, they wouldn’t get lost, right?”
Right. How could I tell him it wasn’t that simple? That once in a while we had to let go, for their sake as well as ours.
“I have a feeling something bad is going to happen,” he said. He had been saying that a lot. I settled on my pat answer.
“You stick close to me for a while, then, alright?”
The first time I said this, a week or a month prior, in answer to his statement, I never elaborated on what I meant. But he knew. He held my hand tight that day, whenever we were out of the house and not in the car.
“I’m sticking by you,” he reminded. “Just like you said.”
He was looking out the window at the passing cars, deep in thought. “Mom,” he said. “If I ever get lost, will you find me?” The pain in my stomach was so rich that I stopped breathing. You read, you hear on the news all the time about kids getting lost and never found, no matter how much their parents love them. I couldn’t help but think about how many children go missing each year. To me, a mother, the numbers are staggering.
In reality, stereotypical kidnappings, where the kidnapper intends bodily harm upon the victim, is quite low—around 100.
Small comfort if you’re that kid’s mother. The question threw me, stunned me. I knew without a doubt that I would die trying. Would he wait, patiently unafraid, because he knew I’d be there? Or would he worry that I wouldn’t show up, that I’d forget? This discussion, framed differently, was like all the others. They all held a central theme. The same idea remained; the same question hovered in the air, but never asked directly.
Do you love me?
The sun was out, I remember that. John Legend was on the CD player, I remember that, too. He was sitting in the back, in a booster seat he wished he didn’t have to use. His brother, who was 13 at the time, didn’t have to use one, so why did he? He’d had a haircut recently, and it was shorter than it had ever been—almost shaved. He wanted to look like his brother. He had a foot up on the seat, while the other one hung down. Between the haircut and the way he was sitting, he looked much older than his six years. I knew what my answer would be, but I questioned the success of it.
He had good reason not to trust. I’d let him down before. I write. I never expected it to take up so much of my time, both physically and emotionally. I have a book out—a crime novel, oddly enough. Marketing and promoting Testarossa, while putting the finishing touches on the sequel, takes up a lot of my time, and it’s time I take when I’m not mothering—or wifing. I am not as present as I should be. I’m always thinking of the next scene, the next red herring. I forgot to read to him last night. We ran out of time. But really, I didn’t make sure we took the time. When I first began writing, late in life after children were had and finances were secure, I felt guilty, devoting myself to something other than them. I was distracted from them, preoccupied with something else—and enjoying the hell out of it. I wasn’t spending enough time. I was forgetting. I didn’t care enough. I wanted to be good at something, because I certainly wasn’t good at motherhood. And now we have all settled into a familiar pattern, where I disappoint and they are disappointed. Perhaps I am a better writer than I am a mother. The sooner they accept this, the better off they will be. No disappointments when you understand the way things are. No expectations then. No expectations, no disappointment.
His question hung in the air like a wet fog. I imagined him sitting back there, waiting for me to answer, and knowing what my answer would be. Would I disappoint?
He is nine now, and he still takes my hand, still sits on my lap, still stops me on my way to something else, grabs on to me, holds on until I return the love. The day is gray and still in anticipation of the coming storm. The TV is on. I am folding clothes. He is making an AK-47 out of sticks and camouflage duct tape. If he weren’t such a gifted baseball player and linguist, he’d be a ballistics expert in some big city police department. For now, I’m content that he’s a sweet, funny fourth-grader who’d like to play for the Yankees someday—or announce games for them.
The newscaster, a blond woman too perky and wide-eyed to be anything but, informs us that a mother waited thirty-one days to report her child missing. As the evidence mounts against her, she flirts in court with her attorney. Evidence of death and chloroform were found inside the trunk of her car.
“She didn’t hold her daughter’s hand,” he says, not looking up from the perfect replica of the killing machine he has almost finished building. His hair sticks up on one side, his refusal to comb it evident to all but him. His oversized shorts, his red t-shirt with some pithy baseball slogan plastered across the front, still serves as his uniform, even on a cold, almost-wet day. The fire is on, we are warm inside our house, and we don’t know about suffering—we only hear about it from others. By his comment, I see that he doesn’t understand, wasn’t paying attention to the story, and for that I am beyond grateful. He does not realize that this woman is being accused of killing her own child, then partying for thirty-one days before reporting her missing. I cannot fathom this, and frankly, I’d like for him not to fathom it either, at least right now.
“If she had,” he said, “I bet she wouldn’t have killed her. Can’t kill something you’re holding. Impossible.”
“If you ever got lost,” I answered my six year old, “I would absolutely find you. If it took me forever, I would find you, and I would bring you home.”
He smiled and looked out the window. “I knew it,” he said. “I just knew it.”
And in the quiet loaming, under a moon full and a love ripe, I shed a child, and became blessed.