One of Tyler’s most vivid memories is of the first time he experienced a panic attack. His mother had asked him if he loved her, and he didn’t know what to say. He remembered crying, silently at first but breaking out into full sobs once his mother repeated the question with more anger. She continued to ask, her voice getting louder and louder until she was screaming and Tyler couldn’t breathe. He was on the floor, his head between his knees as he breathed deeply but felt as though the air wasn’t getting to his lungs. By the time he was able to calm himself down, his mother had stopped screaming and was instead staring down at him with her arms crossed and a sour look on her face.
“Stop being so dramatic,” she said before walking away. That night at dinner, she acted as if nothing had happened, instead talking about everything going on in school, how late basketball practices were going, and what did he think about going to the earlier church service that weekend so she could go out to lunch with Mrs. Dun afterwards? It was so normal that Tyler wanted to scream.
They never talked about it again.
He was painting Madison’s nails on the living room floor when he accidentally knocked the bottle of nail polish remover over. He picked it up quickly, only a little bit getting on the carpet; it couldn’t have been more than a spoonful and it wasn’t going to stain or ruin the carpet. He didn’t think it was a big deal but his mother believed otherwise. She let out a roar, stomping around the room as she cursed Tyler for his stupidity. Tyler had backed himself against the wall, staring at her and trying not to panic. She stopped and faced him, going quiet as her mouth twisted into an ugly sneer. The room was entirely silent for a single moment before she grabbed a small decorative mirror off the table next to her and threw it at Tyler’s head. He collapsed to the ground as it shattered on the wall above him, covering him in shards of broken glass as he crawled into the corner and attempted to make himself as small as possible.
“Tyler, baby, I’m so sorry,” his mother said, walking over and wrapping her arms around him. He remained frozen in place, listening as his mother whispered apologies and Madison sobbed across the room. It wasn’t until his mother pulled away and wiped at his tears did he realize he was crying. She laughed quietly, remarking, “I’d better clean that up,” before leaving to get the vacuum. He mindlessly went to his room, collapsing on his bed and practically passing out in seconds. When he woke up the next morning, he quietly walked down the stairs and into the kitchen where his mother was cooking breakfast. She turned as he came in, smiling and handing him a plate loaded with eggs, bacon, and french toast. Madison was reading at the table, eating with one hand while holding her book with the other.
Neither Tyler nor his mother commented on how only three of her nails were painted.
His mother confronted him about the cuts on his arm and he told her the cat did it. “Bullshit,” she said, demanding to know the truth. He told her, “I don’t want to talk about it,” before trying to walk away. He didn’t realize his mistake. Her hand was around his arm before he could get out of reach, holding it so tightly he feared he would lose circulation. He turned to look at her and that telltale ugly sneer was on her face. She grabbed his shoulder, digging her nails in as hard as she could. Tyler stared at his mother defiantly, her grip growing tighter and her nails digging deeper the longer he refused to speak. It wasn’t until he started to bleed through his shirt that she let go and walked away without saying a word.
Later that night she brought him a cup of hot cocoa. Before she left, she softly squeezed his uninjured shoulder and told her she loved him more than he would ever know. Tyler didn’t touch his hot cocoa.
Josh had spent the night at his house, the both of them staying up late into the night watching the X-Files. Early the next morning, Tyler’s mother barged into his room and began to berate him for not putting his laundry away the day before. Josh was fully awake, staring at Tyler’s mother in fear. Tyler, on the other hand, was still half asleep, only half hearing his mother’s words and unintelligible murmuring in reply.
“Clean your shit up,” she snapped before leaving his room and slamming the door on her way out.
Josh looked at him, his eyes wide in disbelief. “What just happened?”
“It’s just how she is,” Tyler replied.
“But she’s always so nice,” Josh said in confusion.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “It’s not like she’s abusive.”