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The International Writers Magazine: Life Lessons

Mom, Me, and Boyfriends
• Sarah Fils-Aime
I never once woke to the sound of my mother sneaking in with a stranger, heels in her hand. I was not reared in a house where a new man would shuffle out while I ate my cereal. But my mother has had many boyfriends. While the men have come and gone, she was careful never to introduce anyone until she was sure they would stick around.

The Boyfriend

And they would stick around, some of them for years even. The problem was, and still remains, that she is a woman scarred by the fear of divorce.

I was five when my parents separated and eight when the paperwork was finalized. Shortly after, my father remarried, but my mother must have said a million times, “Girls, wait a long time before you even think about getting married.” The first time she said this I was six. She had sat my sister and me down in the guest room of the house my parents had owned together. She had been holding her Bible.

Despite the fear, she re-entered the dating realm. First, Mark. She’d say I’m telling the story wrong, but I remember Mark with broad shoulders, bulging muscles, and arm tattoos. I always imagine him with a Harley Davidson Hog, a real James Dean, but I saw him several years after the matter at a county fair. He was a mere Aqua Blue employee, selling shells of above ground pools. Mark was a hunk, and he taught me what a rebound after a divorce should look like.

After Mark, we moved south and met Bob. He was older than my mother and rubbed her feet at the kitchen table. Bob told me once that my mother is “a goddess.” Every time he came over, he bought my mother flowers. We ran out of vases, so bright bouquets inside of mason jars littered the house. Sometimes a man can be too nice. Bob did not last long.

She dated David for over three years, even revisiting the relationship after they first broke up. David owned a hot tub, had two daughters himself, and bought me my first Gameboy one Christmas. David had beach houses and a dull sense of humor. He lived a full hour away, and my pet fish, Gilligan, died one weekend when my mother, my sister, and I stayed at his house. He only listened to the same Nickelback CD, and I got yelled at once for describing him as “a saltine cracker.” David was my mother’s favorite, I’m sure, though I have no idea why. Despite whatever she saw in him, I discovered that I never want to end up with someone who won’t sing in the car with me.

She met Steve at church. The first time he came over, he brought our dog a bright red, rubber bone. He taught me how to sweep a broom when I was eleven and supplied my first close-up example of the word “condescending.”

My mother had known Tracy in college, and they reconnected when I was in the eighth grade. Tracy was Mexican, a businessman in southern California, and still the funniest person I have ever met. He told me he hadn’t been at my parent’s wedding because he was boycotting the union. During the time they were together, I would return from school to packages from him filled with plastic exotics: karaoke microphones, The Office themed bobbleheads, or water bottles that emit mist. One Easter, he wanted to propose to Mom with a ring inside a bright yellow egg. I’m not sure what went wrong, but he returned to San Diego shortly after the holiday. They hardly talk now. No matter how well they seemed to fit with each other, Tracy taught me that some things will never fall into place.

She dated Geoff for the latter part of my high school career and broke up with him exactly one week after Valentine’s Day of my first year at college. Geoff always, always muted the television during commercials. He brought my mother specially filtered water each time he visited. He was a therapist, though he used to be a hairdresser. My sister and I called him “geee-OFF” behind his back, and once to his face, after a whole bottle of white wine. Geoff was an atheist. He taught me that you can only say so many things about a person’s religion before they will dump you exactly one week after Valentine’s Day.

Recently, she’s met a different man named Mark. Mark is funny she tells me, and she talks about him often. Maybe Mark will pull this sequence full circle. But Mark is in remission from cancer, she says, and he might be moving away. She insists that she just doesn’t want to rush into anything.

My mother taught me that dating is hard, that humans are flawed, that relationships are sticky. She taught me never to settle, but perhaps she taught me too easily to let go. When I met Patrick, my first real boyfriend, I told my mother almost right away. I said, “I think I’ve met someone special.” She said, “There’s one in every port.” I’m still not sure if she’s right.
© Sarah Fils-Aime November 2015
filsaimesj at
Sarah Sarah is a student at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, studying English and Creative Writing

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