– Story by Kristin Buehner
– Images by Dylan Smith
– Edited by Adam Strong

February 29th, 2012




My hands cold on the sides of the porcelain sink. I lean in trying to get a good look. It came down to the question of whether or not I really wanted to know myself. Do I really want to wither away? Can I handle my own eyes looking back at me, sunlight extinguished within them?

I splash water on my face, abandon the mirror, and walk out into the hallway. Our house is big. It has the luxury of being spacious, which also means that it feels empty, another place to not fit into.
The only light available in the entire house is a flickering light from the television screen in the living room. All day and all night that screen is on and it’s the only welcome company for my son.
I sit with him, like I do every day.

Ever since Sammi was a baby, TV static was the only way we could ever get him to calm down. He’d go into these states, an anger that swelled and swarmed up, angry bees inside him, tensing up every muscle in his body.
But now, the two of us alone, the sunlight that had filled him is no more. In his eyes, all I see is the flickering of the TV light.
Each time I tried to pull him away from the TV, the same thing happened: His face turned purple, he held his breath, and the bees would explode all of the energy balled up inside of him. He went beyond angry to static, a place where nothing could get to him.

With his fits came damage, injuries to classmates, destruction of property. He became a liability. He became an outcast.

At first there were causes. It was bath time one evening and soap got into his eye, setting him off. I put a towel around him, took him to the TV room and set his rigid body in front of the television tuning in to the fuzz.

After awhile, he just became angry for no other reason than to be angry. He was an unpredictable, uncontainable force. Angry bees balled up inside his body.

“But now, the two of us alone, the sunlight that had filled him is no more.
In his eyes, all I see is the flickering of the TV light.”

The room around him was bare except for a couch and the TV and the handmade throw rug Mama made.
Sammi’s arms are wrapped around his curled knees. I rub circles into his back. It was something Mama did when I was sick or upset. Back then I used to feel his little back muscles slacken. Now when I do it, it’s like rubbing a stiff board.

He used to feel warm back in those days. The “sunlighted days”, as I’d come to call them. Everything was golden about Sammi back then.

In those sunlighted days, things were great. Jim was an excellent provider, a real family man, and loved his son very much. We were the happy-go-lucky couple, married in Vegas five years before Sammi came along, and we traveled and laughed so much back then. He was so full of life. We all were.
Jim came to be very serious as he took on more of the role of a family man: Serious about his job, serious about his Christian beliefs, and dead serious about his family. He was the true head-of-the-household kind of guy. He always had to have the last word. Jim liked his things in their proper place, clean, and without flaws.

Over time, the dark hair of his, once tousled all care-free, became cut and controlled. His eyes, once a lively green, became cold and flat. And then one day he was gone.

It was one of those sunlit afternoons, when Mama came over, held Sammi up and his little eyeballs filled up his face.

“Look at you, Samuel James,” she cooed, using his proper baptismal name.

“Gotta soak up everything through them peepers of yours?” Mama said. Her fingers clamped onto Sammi’s middle.

“Children are like sponges.” Laughter leaked out of the sides of her mouth. She set Sammi down in her lap and bounced him on her knees. He had this look of awe on his face. He didn’t know what was going on. He looked around the room, mouth open, curling and uncurling his fingers, trying to feel the air, feel things that weren’t in front of him.

The day after Jim left, Mama was looking after Sammi. “Come to the TV now, Samuel,” she said. “Follow Nana! No need to fuss, dear.” I was downstairs, useless in bed. I heard her fear. It was already too late.

“Samuel James!” she cried.

I reached the top of the stairs and Sammi was getting Angry Bees rough. Mama, with all of her proper child-rearing lectures, didn’t pay attention to me when I told her about the warning signs, the rubbing of his back, the static fuzz.

Mama’s scream, the sound of toppling furniture, then nothing, just the sound of the front door slamming shut—the same sound it made when Jim left. He didn’t pack, didn’t prepare a suitcase, he shut the door and left with no goodbye.

“You got to watch what kind of auras you put around him,” Mama said. “They’ll soak the dirty water with the clean just the same.”


“Ma-ma,” he whispers. He squeezes my hand in time with each syllable. “I, love, you.” 

We were alright, of course. We managed our own way, survived without anyone around us. We made a good life. I made us a good life. I was a good mother.

At the end it was just the two of us. Just as it had been when I was pregnant with him, Mother and child together.

I was the only one that hadn’t given up. I would say to myself when everyone questioned what I was doing. I was being a good mother.

At least in Sammi’s home, he had a chance of having a soul instead of it being dissolved out with isolation. At least at home, he had a mother who could hold him, hold his teenage hand, and squeeze it three times like Granpapa did, to both of us.

Each squeeze was an unspoken word.

There was a night that I come home from work, exhausted after a double shift. The house already felt empty. I lay down on the couch, fading into sleep. Sammi crawled up and curled himself right underneath one of my arms.

There was a time when he was still a young boy. The sunlight hadn’t completely left him. We were all there, camping. I curled Sammi into a cuddle. I smelled his hair. I smelled the sun, the happy laughter and campfire when Jim had brought his guitar to the fire pit and we sang songs together all night. Those big-baby eyes darn near filled up Sammi’s face, the sunlight turned his irises to a lighter color, almost gold. And right then, he wasn’t a trapped monster filled with Angry Bees, nor a cold and unfeeling whisper of himself. He was my Sammi again.

But now, the two of us alone, the sunlight that had filled him is no more. In his eyes, all I see is the flickering of the TV light.

“Ma-ma,” he whispers. He squeezes my hand in time with each syllable. “I, love, you.”
I’ll continue to promise him that. I’ll do it all day. It’ll be a mantra, a pulse that one day will end.
There is more than one type of death.

It takes awhile before I realize that I am watching the fizzling TV screen. My hand, like Sammi’s, is cold.


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