Jerry didn’t want any friends, he enjoyed being by himself. He loved looking at the night sky, wondering where he was from. Besides, he was never truly alone. His shadow never left him.
His parents loved him, but he didn’t think he had much in common with them. He told his mother that very thing, while they were eating chocolate chip, banana, pancakes one morning. She looked surprised.
“How could we not have anything in common?” she asked. “You came out of my body, you have my genes inside of you.”
“I have stardust inside of me as well,” he said. “But that doesn’t make me a star.”
“You realize you’re not making any sense, don’t you?”
“Maybe,” he said. “The pancakes are good.”
“Why don’t you want a dog?”
“Too much work. I’ll have to walk and feed the dog, pet the dog, talk to the dog, play with the dog, and the dog might want to sleep with me and then I’ll be awake all night.”
“Fine,” said his mother, eating a pancake. “I love you.”
“What does that mean?”
“What does what mean?”
“What does it mean that you love me?”
“It’s hard to explain.”
“Shouldn’t it be easy?”
“Maybe. But it’s not,” she said. “Anyway, I love you, so I will do anything to keep you safe and happy.”
“Okay,” he said, wiping at his mouth with a napkin. “But I thought you said people had to make their own happiness.”
“That’s true, but the people around the person can add to the happiness a person feels.”
“Or make them feel worse,” he said, frowning.
“Yes,” she sighed. “That too.”
“What star do you think we’re from?”
“None. Stars are too hot. Stars are suns. Maybe we should think about which planet we’re from. Which solar system. Which universe.”
“Do you know which one?”
She shook her head. “No. I don’t.”
“That doesn’t seem fair.”
“Nothing in life is fair,” she said, pouring more orange juice into his glass.
“That’s what I was afraid of.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. You make up your life as you go along. Tell me what you want to be when you’re big?”
“Good choice” said his mother, grinning at him. “That means you have to figure out a way to make enough money to do whatever you want to do.”
“But making money means that you’re tied to a job, doesn’t it?” he asked.
“Not necessarily. You can be an artist who becomes famous. A writer, or…”
“That could take forever, and so few really make it. Most don’t get famous until their dead and I don’t see how that’s helpful at all.”
“You can invent something.”
“I could probably do that,” he said thoughtfully.
“I don’t doubt it.”
“That’s just because you’re my mother and see me as special.”
“You ARE special.”
“No one is special. Not really. If everyone is special, then no one is special. It’s just simple logic. Parents want to believe their kids are special. They aren’t. That’s a hard thing to face, I guess. I’m not having children, so I won’t have to think about it. Kids are more work than having a dog. Look at all you’ve had to do for me, and I’m still a kid. Your life revolves around my life. It’s like the planets circling the sun. You can’t escape. Did you know that would happen when you had me?”
“We didn’t think about it that way.”
“You should have,” he said. “You’d have tons of money and you could do whatever you wanted to do and never have to think about me.”
“We wanted you. We will always want you. We wouldn’t give you up for two seconds, for any reason. Ever.”
“I don’t think you and dad thought it through,” he said, rubbing his nose. “I don’t think you realized that I’d be here forever and all of your time and resources would go toward me.”
“Getting back to a job,” she said. “If you love what you do, it’s not like work. Think about becoming an astronomer. You love looking at the stars and…”
“I could sit and stare at a screen for thirty years waiting for a blip, or a dot to move across the shadow of a planet.”
“So, that’s a no then.”
“I could get stuck somewhere and my oxygen could run out.”
“Okay, so no astronaut.”
“I think I want to be a hippie.”
“Hmmm,” said his mother.
“That’s what you and dad are.”
“Well, yes, but we’re more than that. And being a hippie isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. Your father is a geneticist and I’m a surgeon.”
“I know, but when you’re not at work, you look at the stars too.”
She smiled. “I do. And I always have my shadow.”
“I might do something with that,” he said, smiling. “With shadows, I mean. Maybe, I can make them more independent and alive.”
“Scary thought,” she whispered, “but maybe you can.”
“It’s something to think about,” he said. “Or robots. I might like to work with robots.”
“Wonderful ideas to explore. I mean the shadow thing is terrifying but, hey, have at it. I’m getting cats.”
“Cats?” he asked.
“Yes,” said his mother. “I can’t stand being without them.”
“As soon as we’re finished talking.”
“Can I name one of them?”
“Why are you getting them?”
“I can’t live without them. I can’t breath when cats aren’t here.”
“Those are really good reasons.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Can I pick out the cat I want to name?”
“Okay. That works for me.”
“I’m glad, because it would have happened no matter what.”
He nodded, picked up his books and said, “I understand that completely.”
“Have fun in school.”
“That’s not the slightest bit possible, but thank you.”
She hugged him and covered his face with kisses. “I have to get the cats and operate on two people, so see you later.”
“Later,” he said and walked out the door.
Jerry’s father walked into the kitchen. “I heard part of that conversation. Is our kid weird?”
“Everyone is weird, my love.”
“Okay,” he said. “Just checking. See you tonight.”
“You can name one of the cats, too.”
“Already planned on it,” he said, walking away.