Freddy was smart in ways I would never be, he was strong and able and I wanted to think that he had potential. I’m his mother, of course I did. I decided then to prepare him to take his GED test instead and then figure out where we’d go from there. I printed out a practice GED test and gave it to him. He made a 60. I was heartened and thought he didn’t have far to go and we could do it. The neurotic half of me however felt his opportunities might be limited by having a GED and I just didn’t know what we should do.
Freddy and I talked it over ad nauseum and I did some research and talked to my stepmom and I’m not sure how we landed on it but we decided that Job Corps was the best course of action for him. He could get his diploma or GED and obtain a technical certificate and I left that decision to him. He decided on welding and I felt that was just as good a choice as any. He had to wait until his sixteenth birthday which would happen two months after summer and that left us both at loose ends for the next five months. The preceding events were weeks of agonizing and my crying over how I’d failed as a mother. Freddy’s tears and beating himself up over not being smart enough or good enough to be “regular. It was tough and now it meant that he was home alone with Tucker for that time while I was at work and Harlow was at school.
I was filled daily with a sense of dread, niggling at the back of my brain, a tiny fish butting against the side of its bowl, constant and fruitless but swimming nonetheless. I didn’t want Freddy hanging with Tucker every day. The potential for emotional damage to my son notwithstanding, I knew that whatever Tucker was doing every day was probably not all that savory. He seemed to always come up with cash for things at the last minute and I took it reluctantly but I still took it. Every time I made a deposit, I knew deep down that it was ill-gotten gains. My mother had often bandied that term about but it was Tucker that made me really feel its full import.
I approached Freddy one night before bed; I went into his room as I did occasionally just to say good night. He’d been hanging out with Tucker most of the summer during the days and they had their occasional disagreements that they of course wanted me to referee but he still went with him every day. I sat on the edge of his bed and asked him how his day was.
“It was fine, Mom.” He never took his eyes off the television. I reached across him and picked up the remote and muted the television.
He looked at me then, “What did you do that for?”
“What did you guys do today?” I tried to stay conversational as if I just wanted to have a talk with him.
“Why?” He looked suspicious and wary and I hated it. He shouldn’t be suspicious of his mother. Not like this.
“No reason. I just wanted to check on you and how you’re feeling. I worry about you with your having to wait to go to Job Corps and I know you and Tucker get into it sometimes. I just want to be sure you’re okay.” I tried my best to be noncommittally worried. Concerned but not too concerned.
He looked at me and matter of factly said, “We just run around cashing checks and taking James and May wherever they need to go.”
James and May were the meth head couple that Tucker had suddenly decided were his bosom buddies when we moved to town. We were constantly giving them money and taking care of their kids or more correctly, I was taking care of their kids. James and Tucker often ran off for hours at a time and May was left to socialize with me and she was boisterous and country and so were her kids. They lived on food stamps and social security checks and whatever it was James and Tucker were doing or whatever money Tucker gave them. Their trailer in town was a bad episode of Hoarders. There were paths through the shit in every room. Stacks and stacks of clothes everywhere and piles of undetermined papers and boxes and I was surprised the children were allowed to stay with them. I guess no one cared enough to call CPS and I sure as hell wasn’t getting in the middle of it. May scared me and I wanted no part of that meth induced psychosis she was constantly riding.
I turned my attention to what he had said then and shifted on the bed and lowered my voice, “Cashing checks?”
“Yeah, we go to sand nigger stores and banks and stuff and we picked up some of James’ friends and they cash checks and stuff that Tucker makes on the computer.”
My stomach dropped and I felt sick and scared. I told him not to say sand nigger anymore and of course that’s what Tucker calls them. Those men are Indian and Pakistani and you don’t use those words.”
“All right Mom, fine.” He was going to clam up if I kept berating him so I let it be. What sank in more to me was the check writing software Tucker was using on the computer. I had made my own checks for my account for a few things. I hadn’t ordered any checks because I knew Tucker would have ruined my checking account again. I had taken my information out of the machine but it occurred to me that he knew.
He knew my account number; he knew how to make the business checks for their cattle accounts. Then the hamster wheel in my head turned faster as I sat on the edge of my son’s bed. He was cashing checks not using them to pay for cattle. What the hell was he doing?
I asked, “Do you all go to the sale barns around and buy cattle?”
Freddy turned his head back to me from the muted television screen, “Sometimes we do, but mostly we just run around to the sand ni---to the stores.”
I told him goodnight and gave him his remote back. I knew there was more to this but Tucker’s desk was covered with stacks of papers and I knew I wouldn’t be in that house when he wasn’t to look through them and figure out what was going on. It sounded like they were just making random checks and cashing them but I knew they’d opened cattle accounts and thought he’d been order buying.
I didn’t want to come out and ask Tucker because I knew he’d just lie to me anyway. I didn’t have to wait too much longer for my answer.
I was driving home from work when I got a call from Tucker, “Where are you?” he sounded sort of frantic but almost like he was struggling to be cheerful.
“I’m halfway there, almost to the two lane.” I figured he was going to make me stop and get horse feed. A chore I loved in my work clothes and heels.
“I need you to turn off on the dirt road and meet me and take my briefcase. There’s a Ranger at the house and I just don’t want any of this paperwork on me. It’s no big deal.”
“No big deal?! Are my kids home???!!” I was sick and had already pulled onto the dirt road and saw him coming down the road from the other direction. I threw my cell phone in the seat and got out of my car.
He pulled up and rolled down the window handing out the offending briefcase to me. I backed away and yelled at him, “What the fuck? I don’t want my kids in the middle of you being questioned by a police officer. I’m going home to get them.”
“No! Just drive around. Go to the dollar store and get a few things and you can come to the house when he’s gone.”
He was cajoling, pleading and begging and he was in a hurry. I took the briefcase and put it in my trunk and didn’t tell him good bye. I drove off towards the dollar store and wondered how long it would be before I could go and get my kids. Then I hated myself for not telling him to go and fuck himself and going straight to them. I just thought he’d be able to talk himself out of whatever the hell was going on just like he always did and we’d all be fine.
I couldn’t have been more deluded.