Jeff Phillips: Bryson’s Mom


Remember that guy back there? The one at the bend, where the pier becomes the breakers. The one that pretended to be goofy, friendly, with beer on his breath, that asked “can I get some hi-fives up in here?” and you thought, why not be friendly. It’s the 4th. Why be stingy with your palm, why be all closed off? Why walk the rest of the way up to the end of the breakers with a stick up your ass? It was a simple request and we went with it. And we felt bad for a moment, when we hesitated because of the little wound on his hand, that reddened scratch. But that was closer to his wrist. So it wouldn’t make contact. You gave him a hi-five first and it was very hesitant. It was obvious. It was a limp tap. But don’t feel bad. I would’ve done the same had I gone first. I felt bad when I saw that so I gave him a good hearty palm slap.

Then we walked passed him feeling good, like we were one people on this holiday, Americans ready to embrace each other as brothers. And freely dish out hi-fives despite someone being a stranger. Because this is good for countrymen who haven’t ever felt like countrymen because we’ve never had to fight off any invaders before.

That was the guy in the blue tank top. He had a beer in the other hand. I remember thinking “I hope the cops don’t see him and give him a drinking ticket” because he’s having harmless fun. Let him continue.

So we went passed him after the sort of playful toll we paid, then right away met the barricade that blocked off the rest of the breakers because that’s where the fireworks were set up to be lit later, so we turned back, thinking we could wander down to the cove and get out on the water along the sand bar, and so we had to pass that guy again. The guy with the blue tank top we thought was our friend. Until he said “I just went to the bathroom and didn’t wash my hands, so joke’s on you. You guys were great.”

That felt like a betrayal, am I right?

Remember that sort of put a damper on things? We didn’t know what to say. We didn’t say anything, but after we passed back by him we thought of everything we wanted to say like “the real joke will be when they finally let you graduate from high school” and “I’m glad we ran into you again, your mom is looking for you, she wants you to change the bed sheets you peed in since you’ll be sleeping with your sister tonight.” That would have felt great. I don’t know about you but I thought about going back there and throwing down one of those comebacks, but that would’ve been too late. I even secretly wished he would get a drinking ticket, batter down the fun.

But you know what I found out? And I’m sort of glad we didn’t say anything. That we just let it go, because this is really fucked up. While you were sitting on the see-saw talking to your mom on the phone, I ran into my cousin working cleanup at the park and I pointed out that guy in the blue tank top to him. I pulled Andy to the start of the pier, pointed at him, and told him what had happened. Andy told me that guy’s name is Bryson and it’s no surprise he’d be a dick like that. Last year at the fireworks, one year ago exactly at this very beach that guy Bryson’s mom got drunk. She was walking up the sidewalk, stumbling around and she saw this little girl, maybe 5 years old. She looked at the girl, made bleary eye contact, and then all of sudden head-butted the girl and the girl fell onto the sidewalk. The pavement clubbed the back of her head and she bled. She bled a lot, but was okay in the end. There was a commotion and Bryson’s mom ran off. It took a few days, Andy thinks it was almost a week later, but they were able to pull her face from the park security cameras and the police went and arrested her in front of Bryson while he was trying to talk his girlfriend at the time into mowing the lawn for him.

His mom cussed at the police, called them “porker jagoffs.” And Bryson may have even laughed, but they took her away and she’s in a woman’s correctional facility for 38 months.

So it makes sense where Bryson gets his humor from, his off-putting style of a joke. And I can’t tell whether Bryson needs the shit kicked out of him to prevent him from fully stepping into the mannerisms of his mother, or if he needs absolutely no attention paid to him whatsoever. So he slips down from his confident ass-clowning, on down through the stages of boisterous overcompensation, to meek and quiet because everything he’s thought of to say hasn’t been met with smiles, applause, or even chastisement. Every thing he’s thought of to say just drifts to where it deflates and deflates him, bringing him back to the right size.

I don’t have the heart to punish Bryson because he has the mother he has, but I do want him to be ashamed of her. Maybe he is already, way down in his subconscious where he won’t even look at it. Maybe if he’s ignored long enough, that lack of attention and lack of energy to feed his shticks will allow room for a flicker. A quick projection of this shame in the form of sick memory.

I’m glad you got to talk to your mom while I learned all of this, because you have a good mom. And we can’t let Bryson spoil the feeling of that.

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