I think “aftermath” is such an odd word. It sounds like it should be a fun party after you take a math test. Alternatively, the space where you suffer after a math test, where you know that you had no fucking idea what you were being asked so you spewed a rainbow of quadratic equations onto a page and hoped it was enough. Despite my fear of numbers, I am fascinated by mathematics. And physics. What makes things move? How do they move? What moves them? Do the laws of physics apply to love?
When Max was around two years old, he developed this odd tick. He would roll his eyes and twitch his head. And, around that same time I was trying to potty-train him. I tried everything. Finally, because the twitch kept getting worse, I took him to his doctor, who set us up with a visit to a neurologist. We went to the neurologist, who put leads on his head and attached them to a machine. He was scared. She told me, “You can lie down with him, but we need to have him rest here for a couple hours while we measure his brain waves.” I laid down there on the cold examination table, holding my baby, who had wires attached to his head. I kept telling him it was okay and we would be done soon and we could go home. And he turned to me and he said, “I’m sorry, Mommy. I promise, I will go potty in the toilet.” And that was it for me. I pulled the wires off his head, I picked up my kid, and I left. The neurologist followed me out and said, “We aren’t done with the testing!” I turned and said, “Fuck the testing. We’re done.”
And then we figured it out. And we got it fixed, with a simple note from a teacher and a test. Max has ADD. Just like me. Both of us are much better now. Thank you, modern medicine and generic pharmaceuticals.
My then-fat Max, my sweet constant companion, lost his weight, and found his confidence. I selfishly miss my fat Max because that was our time. When I studied for the bar exam, he was my study buddy. Max used to lie on the floor next to my desk while I studied for the dreaded California Bar exam. He learned all the torts, the crimes, the rules, the exceptions. He once said to me, “Mom, so a pair of double-A’s went to court. What was the crime they committed?” (Long stage pause.) “Battery!” I said, “Max, I can’t write that on the bar exam!” He said, “Sure you can, just put it on the side somewhere. You’ll get extra credit.”
Another evening after studying for hours, I told my ever-present Max, “Okay, I need to go take a shower so I am clean and ready for work in the morning.” He said, “Yeah, because if you couldn’t get into the shower and you just had to throw on whatever clothes were there and you looked all crappy, after a while you would be so stinky that your boss would call you in. And your boss would say, ‘I am sorry, but you are so stinky and you look so bad that I just have to fire you.’ And you know what, Mom? You wouldn’t be able to fight it. Because under the Constitution you can still get fired for being stinky.”
I didn’t pass the California bar exam the first time. No one was more devastated by that failure than my Max, who studied so hard with me. But I passed it the second time. And, as I hoped, my son Max’s life has gotten incrementally better because of that choice I made, to step into a career that I postponed for so many years, to take a chance, to fail , and to succeed hugely, so that my sons would see that you must always, always, persevere. So in the end, the aftermath is really about surviving the odds.
Max told me about a year ago, “Mom, the reason why I work so hard and I am not accepting less for my grades and on my projects is because you showed me that you have to get back up and keep fighting. You didn’t give up. You fought back and you took that bar exam until you passed.” So maybe the aftermath is really about not giving up when you’re stuck and sad. So here’s to me and Max, for making it to the aftermath. It was fucking hard. It still is. But it’s so much better than the beforemath.