Prom Night 454NEM3QLWEPBAHLeE78plQ4NvRRF2LMx9
When an aging mother tries to text her son, a chance encounter leads her to someone better–another mother.
It is Lily’s self-assigned duty to wake up before her husband each morning. Admittedly there is no romance left in their relationship so I’ve learned not to think anything kind of it. There is no breakfast to follow or good morning to be had. Every drop of kindness has been drained from their relationship. Disappearing with it is all of the attention Lily might have received from others at earlier stages of her life.
At 63, she’s proud to at least have the ability to wake up before her husband. To put in perspective, Ling does work night shifts at a car factory and often stays longer to work overtime. Lily says that the legitimacy of his overtime work is questionable.
After their son moved away, Lily and Ling started the vacant room to tenants from Lily’s church. I know that Lily and Ling are financially savvy out of need and that they do not enjoy living in overcrowded environments.
At the moment, the room is rented out to Pei, a single mother and her son Jason. Everyday Lily and Pei rival over something new.
It’s escalated so fast, it’s hard to remember how it started.
The first I remember of it was a text message I received from Lily. She was upset that Pei never took out the trash. The next day Lily bought Pei a trash can of her own, implying that they should each keep track of their own rubbish.
Lily’s plan quickly backfired as that amounted to two trash cans that she became responsible for. I wasn’t there to witness the arguments which transpired but the next time I heard from Lily, she said her husband had volunteered to assume responsibility for both trash cans. This infuriated Lily more. Why should her husband do chores for another woman?
That was months ago.
The first time Lily had mistaken me for her son.
For a while, I didn’t respond. Not initially.
It wasn’t until Lily had accidentally put me in a groupchat with her actual son on Christmas day. Her message read “Merry Christmas son! I love you and I’m so proud of you. I know you’ve been busy with work so I won’t bother you!”
For a holiday greeting there was something so bittersweet about it. Why should a mom have to say that to her son? As a bystander, I felt the sting of that message as the hours passed and her son never replied. At that moment, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to do something, anything!
I wrote a very harmless “Merry Christmas!”
In the minute that followed, Lily dropped some of the happiest emojis I’ve ever seen her use into that group chat. Nested between those joyful emoticons, she asked how I’ve been and when I planned to visit her.
I waited for her son to chime in.
To explain the situation to his innocent mother.
But no text messages came from him.
So I didn’t text back either.
When New Years rolled around, Lily texted again to the same group chat “Happy New Year Kyle!! Maybe this year we can get lunch sometime!”
Her asshole son never responded.
And neither did I.
A month after New Years passed, Lily texted asking if I had quickpay. I thought she needed money which I wasn’t prepared to give.
“For what?” I ask.
“It’s Chinese New Year! I want to give my son a red envelope for good luck.”
That was two years ago. I’ve watched my own son take his first steps since then. I’ve watched him discover laughter, anger, and every emotion in between. I am still watching him learn new things about the world everyday. I hope he never learns indifference towards me, his mother.
And maybe I was thinking of myself. But when Lily started messaging me in the Spring after that New Years, I couldn’t stop myself from texting back. I wanted her to feel heard. Especially if her own family couldn’t do that for her.
I started with small acts to acknowledge that I had received and read her messages. Annotating them with exclamation points and thumb downs when I didn’t agree with the horrible things that she reported. How Pei hides broken shards of glass in the kitchen's garbage disposal to torment Lily and how Pei purposefully, and frequently, spills water all over Lily’s seat at the dinner table just to spoil her meal. The worst is that Lily suspects Pei and her husband of having a secret affair together.
She texts me all the dramatic bits in bursts but it’s the lone messages that worry me most. “Work hard son, when you have money to buy a house, mom happy to come live with you. I help you cook and clean! Please!”
When these messages come in, I have no choice but to really pretend to be her son and ignore her. What could I possibly say?
Lately Lily’s been decluttering.
She sends photos of Kyle’s old possessions, like a dusty Snoopy plushie checking if I still want it. Maybe it’s another way of baiting her son to come home, but I am not her son and I’m starting to really resent the guy.
“Toss it” I tell her.
She sends photos of a vintage Nintendo NES gaming console carefully stored in an old leather mahjong case. The console is in exemplary condition, no doubt capable of turning on, with a complete set of controllers and an NES zapper alongside games like Duck Hunt and Super Mario 3.
I don’t spare a second before replying. “Toss it.”
If Kyle wants to be absent from his mom’s life, then he can at least free up the real estate at her home.
At this point, maybe you're thinking I'm too involved for someone who has no skin in the game. That I’m meddling in affairs I might not know anything about.
But that’s not necessarily true.
I know Kyle.
We dated in high school and now he is the deadbeat father of my son.
When we were together, he would save contacts in my phone naming them all in variations starting with his own name like “Kyle Work 1,” “Kyle Classmate 2,” and “Kyle Friend 4”. It wouldn’t be out of character for him to rob me of my own person by saving me simply as “Kyle” on his mother’s phone.
What does surprise me is how Kyle can go on being so apathetic to the person who gave him life and to our son, the person whose life he helped conceive.
I check his instagram from time to time for Lily and my son, thinking there must be good reason for his distance. But there isn’t. He lives in the same town as his parents and me, posting frequently as though his life were perfect. His grid is full of photos of designer accessories. Goyard wallets and Louis Vuittion belts next to photos of him and his friends popping bottles at the club. How could I have ever liked someone so... basic?
I think about telling Lily about her son all the time. But how would that come across? Everyone would think I’m in the wrong. And god forbid it might even put my relationship with my son at risk. So I don’t.
Besides, I’d have to be a fool not to recognize the undying devotion Lily has for her son. Despite all his flaws, every time Lily reaches out to him (me) she speaks of him as if he were light himself. So I bite my tongue while looking for a way out of this entanglement. I’ve even thought about appearing on the show Catfish.
Finally the answer came to me in the next photo that Lily sent.
A cardboard box filled with Kyle’s old books.
“How about these?”
Peeking out of a tiny black notebook was an orange index card I never thought I would see again.
“Can you send a photo of the orange card please?”
Lily sends a photo of it.
In my teenage handwriting I read “Prom Night” followed by a string of 34 nonsensical looking characters, something resembling a default wifi password but longer.
A small gasp escapes me and I catch myself looking around, checking to see if anyone else saw what I saw. But I am alone in my fascination.
During our senior year of high school, Kyle and I had planned to do acid after prom. We found a vendor selling liquid acid online who only took payment in the form of cryptocurrencies.
This is the key to our bitcoin wallet.
I laugh to myself while feeling wild with curiosity and wonder.
In my disbelief, I wanted to share my discovery with someone, anyone, even though I wasn’t sure I found something worth anything at all.
Then Lily texts me.
“Is important? I keep for you?”
Reminding me that of course, somehow, Kyle is involved. How important can loose change scribbled on a piece of paper be to him?
I debate with myself almost forgetting that it was my idea and my money used to purchase the psychedelics to begin with.
Then my son laughs from the other room, pulling me back to the present and releasing me from all the pettiness I felt seconds ago. I smile knowing that he feels joy and is generous enough to share it with me even in these small unintentional ways. I want us to know this feeling for as long as possible.
“No, not important. Toss it.” I tell Lily before blocking her.
Later I sign into the wallet and discover that the change once not even worth a quarter has accrued to a little over $20,000. Immediately I liquidate all of the digital currency into cash.
The next few days are spent waiting for the transaction to complete.
When it does, I wire every penny of it to Lily attached with a note that says “Your son loves you.”