Hal was quiet when he got to my apartment on Friday night. Mindy dropped him off and I had dinner ready to go – chicken cutlets with mashed potatoes and some spinach salad. He came in and didn’t say anything at all.
I don’t know. Sometimes he has a tough time switching between us. Sometimes, I wonder if he’s become a different person for each of us. I wonder if there’s maybe something hard for a kid about trying to please two different people. Then other times I’m just plain certain that it must be.
Anyway, so he came in and I told him to drop his Transformers backpack (the one I got him last year, which he loves) in his room. I heard him washing his hands in the bathroom. Then he came to the table and sat down.
Now, the little man loves chicken cutlets and honey mustard. I let him scoop as much of that crap on the chicken as he wants when he first gets here. Mindy can’t cook at all, but she won’t let him order the stuff he likes from the restaurants where she orders food either. So Hal has to eat on her terms all the time.
So he dug right into the chicken cutlet. No surprise there. Used about a gallon of honey mustard too. Again, business as usual. But he wasn’t saying anything. Like, not a word.
I asked him “Hey pal, how’s school? What comics did you bring? Are you excited to be here this weekend?” All the stuff that I’ve learned gets him going. Nothing.
“Buddy you’re going to have to tell me what’s up. Because you’re acting a little strange.”
Hal looked down at the table and then put his head in his hands.
“Something wrong at school?” I asked.
He didn’t say anything. Instead, he pushed his chair back from the table, came around to my chair, and reached up for a hug. No idea what the hell is going on at this point, so I just held the little man. But there was a fear welling up inside me that Mindy had done something. This was some seriously strange behavior from a kid who could talk the leather off a basketball if you gave him the opportunity.
And damn. Put a plate of hot cutlets and tell him that he can eat as much honey mustard as he wants, and the shortstack still doesn’t say anything? Now an unprompted silent hug? I could feel the back of my neck starting to heat up, because in my head there was already only one answer.
“Should I call mommy and ask Hal?” I said it tentatively, sweetly as I could, trying not to let on. “Do you want daddy to call mommy and have a chat about what might be going on?”
Hal nodded into my chest. When he pulled away, tears were already coming down his face. And I nearly lost my damn mind, knowing that she’d done it again to him.