[My Momma Loves Me.]

“I just don’t think it makes much sense,” he shrugged. “His college is paid for; he can go anywhere he wants to go, anywhere in the state. I’m not dishing out forty-two thousand dollars so that–”

“It’s not going to cost him forty-two thousand dollars! It’s not going to cost you anything. He’s paying for it! He is!”

Yes, that was the plan, until one particular acceptance letter invited the present furor into his home. The shouting downstairs had torn into his dreams; now the boy couldn’t sleep.

“…and what if he can’t? I’m cosigning, right? What if he can’t pay? Then what?”

“What do you want me to say?”

Fair enough; one day his son would finish college with a mass of student debt strapped to his shoulders, and he would most likely not know what to do or where to go or how to pay.

“I want you to acknowledge that. I want you to stop acting like I never do anything for him. I want you to–”

“Fine,” she fired, “fine!”

He spied them both from above, crouched at the top of the stairs in the darkened hallway. Eyes rolled, voices rose; they sat poised against against each other, flinging epithets and objections from the two love seats at the corners of the living room.

The boy wanted his father to smile and understand, and to know that he would pay — that he was/would be a man. He didn’t know for sure, but he prayed. His mother had taught him that sometimes, all you can do is pray. Every day he knelt and whispered in his room.

“…I want you to consider for one second whether I can afford it, whether you can afford it, goddammit, whether he can actually afford it.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“I want you to consider how much money I’m wasting; I want you to consider how much money you don’t have. I wanted him to go to UVA and for you to back me up on that. I want my son to go to college, and I want him to be able to fucking afford it.”

“I don’t know what to say,” she stammered on, “I just don’t know what to say…”

Mother knew best, the boy thought, but she couldn’t, wouldn’t win this fight with his father. He was sad, and his mother was mad, and his father was right. He couldn’t afford Georgetown, and maybe he’d never leave the discomfort of home.

“You can’t just–”

“He can’t–”

But he could!But he could! Mom told him that he could, and he’d believed her. “We’ll work it out…it’ll all work out.” He was happy then, but now his parents were shouting — first over the phone, but now, finally in person, for hours into the early morning.

He cried and smiled and sniffled and cheered for his mother from the shadows upstairs.

“You can’t do this to him,” she lobbed her outrage into his ego. “He wants this. He’s always wanted this, and you knew that! I don’t know how we’re going to do this, okay? I don’t know what else to say…”

“Goddammit, you…I don’t get to say that, alright? I don’t get to say, ‘I don’t know how.'” He stood up, tossing and pointing, with spit flying over the coffee table.

“I don’t know–”

He snapped, “I don’t get to just hope that everything just works out for the better. I don’t get to be the good guy.”

She didn’t know what to say, and she didn’t care; she’d stopped listening hours, days, years ago, really. Her son would go to college, wherever he pleased, and she would stand as an immovable object against the irascible force of his father.

Silently, she cast a plague upon him. She no longer needed words; her anger waned. She cried. Mom kept her thoughts and a heart full of love.

His father shouted her down, again, knocking some unspoken defense of their son that she no longer bothered to utter. The young man spied his parents from above as they sparred into the sunrise. He hoped, wanted, cried, prayed, smiled, sniffled, cheered. He loved his mother, she loved him, and that was all.

Latest posts by R.A.B. (see all)

  • “Goddammit, you…I don’t get to say that, alright? I don’t get to say, ‘I don’t know how.’” He stood up, tossing and pointing, with spit flying over the coffee table.

    Absolutely beautiful R.A.B.

    You’ve just articulated every major argument with my wife about our family’s future in such a painfully accurate way. Knowing that in the end my wife usually knows best and I wind up conceding, I’m assuming the son went to Georgetown. Did he?

  • nichole

    This made me cry. God bless you both.

  • This must be well written, because I absolutely hate it. The father is a totally one-dimensional avatar of Negativity and the mother is a saint. As a father, I’m really sympathetic to the dad. I went to a state school specifically not to bankrupt my father, or myself, in the process. Now I work at the top of my field in interactive advertising. Homies who went to even worse state schools, like Norfolk State, are now working in PR, in journalism, in medicine, in entertainment. Where you go to school does not solely determine your trajectory in today’s society. There is a lot to be said about not coming out of college essentially an indentured servant. There is a philosophical tradition of pragmatism in the African American community which seems to have become entirely trumped by manic consumerism masquerading as a dream.

    • R.A.B.

      Claiming that the dream is irrational is different that claiming that the dream is fake. Also: nothing anywhere “solely determines” anything; that’s not a real observation.

      Re: the private/state school debate, I think you’re missing the point. I know people who went to state colleges that are doing well for themselves; I know people who went to private universities that are doing well for themselves; I know a few cats that only graduated high school who are still doing pretty well these days. If you think it’s about X will get you to Y socio-economic position, you’re bound to miss the point; it’s also about whether you reach Y on your own terms or someone else’s.

      • I didn’t say the dream was irrational. It is, but that’s beside the point – most dreams are irrational and based more in emotion than necessity. Kids don’t want to be rappers, athletes and reality stars because it’s a pragmatic reality. The same can be said for attending Harvard, Princeton or any Ivy League school. The odds of acceptance and financial ability meeting are often very different, and sometimes opposed, realities. When emotional push comes to shove, irrationality can drive us to the position of the mother – “everything will work out.” Essentially, “God will provide.” Sure, why not? However, it is equally true that passing the buck doesn’t make the buck disappear. Somebody always picks up the tab and it’s usually the guy going, “Wait, can we afford this?” God works in mysterious ways, but not that mysterious.

        As far as nothing “solely determining” anything – that’s a philosophical point that has nothing to do with my emotional response. I inserted the “solely” to qualify the statement from “Where you go to school does not determine your trajectory in today’s society” – which is obviously false. So… pick your poison. And then again, I could also argue God determines everything everywhere, or I could say the Big Bang if you’re an atheist… whichever. One could make a case that the definition of the word “determine” means “solely” unless qualified in the way I have. Let me see – “Your existence is determined by your birth,” “Your genitalia is determined by your sex,” “Your spouse is determined by who you marry.” I don’t know, dude, it seems the word works just fine.

        As for your final point, which is really my only rational point (I mean who am I kidding, I’m totally just reacting to your work – which, by the way, is a compliment no matter what I say), I have to say that perhaps in the same way you intend “nothing ‘anywhere solely determines’ anything” you have made my point. You cannot reach Y on “your own terms” because “your terms” are not solely determined by you. They involve everyone making a contribution to getting there. The son should respect that.

        • R.A.B.

          I’ll just say that in my own situation, the guy saying “Wait, can we afford this?” didn’t end up paying for much of anything aside from a few semesters of textbooks. But that’s beside the point of this as, uh, fiction. 😉

          I wasn’t playing David Hume with your “solely determining” bit; my point is that post-college position is the sum of many inputs, including these kind of choices — all of which are *important* decisions regardless of whether any of them are *pivotal*. Yeah, your kid might break into PR with a VCU degree instead of a Georgetown degree, but maybe they’d wind up in PR with an associates degree. Does that mean you talk your kid out of getting a bachelors degree if that’s something they want for themselves as a life goal?

          • R.A.B.

            Re: that first paragraph, I don’t mean to be indignant toward pops or anything like that, but I had fam that didn’t, you know, *conceive* me do a lot more to help put me through college. This isn’t fam with money lying around, either.

          • tabitha

            speaking soley on your last sentence- yes.
            not to that specific example but moreso to that ideology.
            the notion that we should go anywhere we want b/c it’s our goal/dream is simply not rational. there is this sentiment that we (as in the entire country) seem to have about the education institution that nothing is too much in pursuit of the highest education. that’s simply NOT true. $50K+ of private education debt is VERY real and it can be like an immovable force stalling our ability to get ahead financially in life. i’d argue that a good financial education from your parents and a decent school could place you exactly where you want to be in life. there are critical skills to advancing and moving forward in one’s career that are probably learned primarily outside of formal education.
            i simply don’t believe in essentially promoting huge amounts of debt to pretend we can afford overly costly education.

      • Well, I didn’t want to break the fourth wall if you weren’t but…

        Yeah, and my pops basically paid mine off after my son was born so I wouldn’t be hamstrung by debt. He wasn’t present for much else, but he came through when I needed it.

        Thanks for clarifying the Hume bit; I think I showed my hand a little… philosophy major. Guilty.

        …and VCU alumni.

        Go Rams. :-)

    • R.A.B.

      Also, the parents are one-dimensional because the central, observational character is a child with a decisive bias.

  • I don’t get it.

    The dad is an ass beacuse he saved to send his son to University of Virginia debt free, and is balking at Georgetown becuse of the cost?

    I think the dad is on point for questioning the abliity of his son to pay back a possibly six figure loan – and having no real advantage over a UVA grad, depending on his field of study.

    More background is needed here – what does dad do for a living? What is this kid’s major? Are mom and dad married or divorced? Those details might make me more sympathetic to the son’s dreams. As it stands, I want dad to hold is ground with the UVA choice.

    • R.A.B.

      I mean the son’s dreams as a point of discussion here (rather than simply as a given). The mom, the dad, the kid, and the narration are biased, yes, but we’re outside of the story.

      That said: why would you need to know whether his parents are divorced? [Although I feel I left a true enough hint in pointing out that the parents had been fighting over this all week, yet this was their argument in person.]

      • I’m sure dad had dreams too, and in saving up for his son’s education (to the best of his ability I’m assuming) he did his best help his son have the opportunities he didn’t have.

        The marital status of mom and dad matters (to me) because the argument between them leading up to this final blowout may have more to do with what went down in their marriage than the desires of their son. This could be the moms last shot at sticking it to an ex-husband who she believes did her wrong in a failed marriage.

        Coming back to the story a day later helped – my initial reading drew a strong response – props to you for that.

    • -k-

      “I think the dad is on point for questioning the abliity of his son to pay back a possibly six figure loan – and having no real advantage over a UVA grad, depending on his field of study.”

      Exactly. I’m with Dad, all the way. As a person who also turned down “better”, more expensive opportunities and went the (dirt cheap) community college then state school route with no misgivings whatsoever, the kid in the piece (or his mom) would really have to make a better case for why the Georgetown thing was a good idea for me to be even remotely moved.

  • Mary

    I only wish my parents had the same argument. My mother and my father fell on the same side, and off to state school I went.

    That was twelve years ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t wonder how different my life would have been if I’d gone to any of the top-tier private schools to which I was admitted, but denied financial aid because of my lack of “need”.

    This was painful for me to read.

  • Seth in LA

    Great story. Well written. And I don’t think it was one-sided at all. I heard the father’s argument and felt his pain. Every father wants to be a hero to his child and the day he has to face up to the fact that he can’t be that hero, whether due to lack of money, lack of courage, lack of faith, is a painful one. You captured that here, as well as the son’s and the mother’s feelings. Well done.

  • I hope that I won’t have to have this argument with my sons father when it is there time. Wait he hasn’t saved a dime, so he gets no say in where they go.


  • Winslowalrob

    Beautiful stuff, and I agree with Seth on how well you captured the pain of the father.

    Still, I question how you cast the father’s position versus the mother and the son. Basically, when it comes to choosing colleges, there are no such things as dream schools. There are colleges that you THINK will be your dream school, and then there is the experience of actually going there. It is not akin to a marraige (a partnership based on a leap of faith) but rather akin to asking out the super-hot girl/guy on a date after worshipping her/him from afar: you really have no idea what they are like, just how ridiculously good-looking they are. Which is why I cannot sympathize with the son and the mother: because going to a dream school (as an undergrad) a shallow dream. Now, if the kid already had his roomate lined up, his major lined up, had already talked to his future professors and had some sort of research project cooking then it is a different story. But I did not get that impression. College is a crapshoot, which means that the father’s position is not just pragmatic but the right position, and to be right AND be the bad guy, while a great literary device, is not something I saw here.

    Sorry for the salt, it WAS a great piece, and I am just throwing out my own experiences with ‘da universidy seesdum’. Thank you for making me think.

    • R.A.B.

      “Basically, when it comes to choosing colleges, there are no such things as dream schools. There are colleges that you THINK will be your dream school, and then there is the experience of actually going there.”

      Right on. I mean, again, I wrote the kid and the narration with clear biases, but as much as I cast the mother as a saint, I didn’t give her any compelling arguments or effective diffusion of anything the father is saying. Her sentiments may be compelling, but nothing she says is particularly rational or practical or basically thoughtful.

      When I first wrote this in 2007, I was playing with the characters as a sort of Rorscach test, which is why I’m interested in all of the responses here. It’s not my best writing, really, but it’s provocative re: a debate that I’ve been remembering and reliving lately.

      • Winslowalrob

        You mos def succeeded. A lot of meat in such a short story.

        • shani-o

          (Fam!! So you got that awesome thing that lets you go on the bad internet sites in China, finally? Welcome back!)

          • Yes!

            A) I love that picture. You always have real sweet photos at your disposal. I tried putting up something on gmail through flickr but, alas, I am a dumbass and it did not work.

            B) It is a proxy call ‘puff the magic dragon’. I do not know which is more awesome: the service, or the name.

            C) I had a student (!!!!!) message me, wondering whether my american popular culture class (aka my hip hop class) would talk about culture or just pop music. I could not figure out how to get the proxy to work for months, but this kid got it working and knew enough about facebook to talk to me. I feel so worthless.

  • Good stuff.

    My father didn’t even flinch when he told me I wasn’t going to USC when I surprisingly got accepted. Didn’t even break his stride while he was washing dishes.

  • As a parent (and the wife of a man who went to the local state college on an ROTC scholarship while I went to an out-of-state private college on student loans that didn’t get paid off until I was almost 40), this reads as a good piece of fiction (albeit one based, presumably, on fact). From the pov of the kid at the top of the stairs, which is clearly the pov we’re supposed (as we read) to identify with, the father is being mean and the mama is backing up the kid in reaching for his dreams. But there’s also my pov as someone standing outside the story, which is that the father has a damn good argument and is a lot more sympathetic than the kid realizes.

    Presumably as the narrative evolves, the kid will come to have a little more respect for how his dad sees things, whether or not he comes to agree that the Georgetown education was too expensive. And all the class/personal history stuff that’s doubtless feeding into this scene has been or will be shown elsewhere.

    I like it: it’s got a lot of layers.

    • R.A.B.

      The title of the piece (I named it last week, not when I originally wrote it) is a reference to the title track of The Blueprint, which I chose as a nod to the fact kids, being kids, don’t always have the most accurate perspective on their parents. Granted, naming the piece so may have been me making too long a stride for the sake of subtelty and pretense.

  • sjelly

    Did you mean to suggest that the father doesn’t love the boy because he’s concerned about money? That the mother loves the son more because she doesn’t worry about the money? I’m asking seriously because that’s what struck me about the title and the end of the story.

    • R.A.B.

      I’m suggesting that the boy, as a boy, sees it so.