It’s night and John joins Mary in the living room where she is collapsed in a chair with her feet on the coffee table. John brings her a glass of wine.
Mary: Did you hear her? What she said about me? (pained) As if I couldn’t hear her that stupid… (teeth clenched, seething, angry)
Mary: I can’t! That woman! Anyone in the restaurant could tell that we were having trouble. That Mark was different and that we were trying.
John: Try to be quiet. I don’t want him to wake up. (pleading, kind, soft)
Mary: Why did we take him? What is wrong with us? Of course the whole thing was a bad idea! (verge of tears, manic) But he was doing better! I didn’t imagine it did I?
John: No, you didn’t. He’s been eating with us at the table. Not as angry, laughing more, he wanted to go. We both thought that he could handle going out. It was just a diner. It’s not your fault! You know that these things happen no matter how much we plan. (facing her, trying to hold one of her hands. She is undone and can’t take comfort yet)
Mary: One night. Just one night out. For my mother’s birthday!
John: Babe, we all thought that he was ready and I think he was. Maybe it was too crowded or maybe he was just so excited because it was your mother’s birthday. The food took so long to come out.
Mary: He’s 10!!!!!!!!!! (in pain, loss, grief)
John: I know. (soft)
Mary: He’s come so far and I get to feeling hopeful like things are going to turn out OK for him but then .. tonight and I think my God he’s going to end up in a group home!
John: Breathe. You can’t just jump so far. Mark has his whole life ahead of him. He could come out of this. Dr. Steve is tweaking the meds, he’s still developing…
Mary: (manic, angry) John, he’s not ever going to “come out of this”! He’s mentally ill! He’s bipolar! It’s for life!
John: I know what he is, what he has! I also know that Dr. Steve said that we should have faith in Mark. He’s just a kid.
Mary: I know that! Don’t you think that I know that! But I’m the one that sees him unravel when he cycles! I see him regress to like when he was three and couldn’t even wipe himself! He says he wants to die! He says that he wants to kill me. You’re at work!
John: Is that an accusation? That I’m at work?
Mary: No, No! You’re taking it all wrong! I just mean that you don’t see everything.
John: I see a wife that is so entangled, ensnared, en-something emotionally with our son that she is dissolving. She’s in pain because she can’t fix him. She’s mad at me because I can’t fix him. The doctor’s can’t fix him! No one can fix him! You know what? We can only be there for him. Support him. Love him!
Mary: I know that! (rageful, controlled, desperate) But, it wasn’t supposed to be like this! We can’t even go out to a stupid diner! Forget about going to museums or concerts! (She breathes and expels with the words) He was on the floor! He was screaming! And that woman! Saying that someone should call social services on us in the middle of the restaurant! Who says that!
John: (rubbing his forehead, elbows on his knees) I don’t know.
Mary: It’s not like we were even yelling at him like millions of parents do when their stupid “typical” kids “misbehave” (use the air quotes emphatically). We were patient with him. I held him on the floor until his rage passed. He sobbed in my lap for God’s sake! She looked at me like I was some kind of unfit mother!
John: Honey, you can’t expect people to understand that don’t live it. (soft) How can they possibly understand?
Mary: People give lasagnas to families whose kids get sick, get in accidents. (voice breaks) People call the police on families whose kids have mental illness! How is that? Like it’s our fault?
John: Tomorrow you need to get away from this. I’ll take the day off, put Mark on the bus and you go do something. Get your nails done!(smiles, happy with the suggestion)
Mary: Huh!( derisive) For what!? I get away, I feel human and then it all starts again! I’m a crap mother and this is never going to end!
John: God this is not about you! (angry)
Mary: What did you say!?(enraged)
John: I just mean that you need some perspective.
Mary: That’s not what you meant! (head shaking)
John: (he’s had enough and is angry) You take it all in, you take it all in but for what? To be some martyr? Like you can somehow absorb all his pain? You can’t though! His pain is his! You can’t fix him and you can’t make this easier. It’s his and I’m sorry for it. It kills me every day when I think about it. You don’t think I feel sad? You don’t think that I wish we could go out to dinner like a normal family.
Mary: Don’t say normal (quiet now)
John: You know what I mean! (a bit loud, restrained, still angry) You think that you are the only one going through the pain, the loss. I just don’t collapse every time Mark loses it.
Mary: Well maybe you should! (quieter than before, somewhat calmer) I would know that we were together in this. I feel alone. I feel isolated! I don’t have any friends to talk to! It’s not like I can even meet anyone through Mark’s school! I’m the social pariah because our kid is an outcast!
John: So what? It’s Mark’s fault that you have no friends?
Mary: No! Yes! I don’t know. Yes. No one wants to come over here. Hell I wouldn’t want to bring anyone over here. One minute he’s fine, social, happy and the next minute he’s throwing things and swearing. It’s too much.
John: Real friends understand. Real friends won’t judge and will support you.
Mary: Sometimes I just wish….
John: Just stop.
Mary: No really. I think that I am just not built for this. I am just not enough for him. For the long haul. I’m not that good of a mother for what he needs.
John: Oh OK well I’ll just get him a new one OK?
Mary: (dismissing the sarcasm) It’s just that it’s so hard!
John: Yes it is hard! It’s really really really hard! But you know what? (takes a breath, recharges, smiles, slower) He’s really cute when he sleeps! He gives the best hugs in the entire world! (she smiles) He has the best laugh! (she nods) And he’s ours. He’s ours even though he, and we, are so completely imperfect.
Mary: (tired, smiles) yes
John: We will figure this out. We will all be fine because we are a family.
Mary: It’s just that I love him so much and it makes me so sad…
John: I know.
Mary: I just wish it were easier.
John: Me too.
Mary: But it’s not.
John: No, it’s not.
Mary: Screw that woman.
John: Screw her.
Mary: And the diner.
John: And the diner.
(They hug and walk away)
Jacobs, was born in Troy, NY, and received a B.S. in Biochemistry from Syracuse University. “The Birthday Party” was performed in this year’s One Act Play Fest, hosted by Lawrence Library. Her essays have been published online. She typically writes about people living with disabilities. She lives in Hopewell Township with her family.