Is it Enough?
Short fiction (Guest Author Series)
Today, I am pleased to introduce Laura Simon, who skillfully weaves a narrative that delves deep into the complexities of familial bonds and the profound impact they have on shaping one's identity.
The soft curvature of the water left an arc imprinted momentarily on the sand. Another wave erased it moments later, leaving its own arc, as if saying "look at me". He watched the imprints overtaking themselves repeatedly. It was calming, quiet except for the gentle bubbling and fizz that died out as the waves receded.
A cold, small hand appeared on his knee. He looked at a boy whose face was as calm as the sea. The gentle waves also mesmerized the boy. “What do you see?” he asked the boy.
“Um, bubbles and holes in the sand.”
“Yes, but is it enough? Is that all there is?” the man asked.
After a long pause, the boy said thoughtfully, “For now, yes.”
The father nodded and held his son’s hand. They watched the slow, undulating waves for a few minutes before heading back to their car.
As they drove down the lonely road to town, the father considered the ever changing wave imprints he had seen. Were they enough? For now, he reasoned. For now.
Charlie had a Nintendo. Sam had a Gameboy. For his 10th birthday, Ben’s parents gave him a battery operated Tetris game with a 2-inch screen—a sickly one-color against a black background. This, they thought, was innovative. Modern. He thanked them politely but hid it when his friends came over. Embarrassed.
Ben’s parents were older than his friends’ parents. He was their miracle baby; they had said. His father studied Political Science at the University of Wisconsin and embraced the anti-establishment sentiments of the 60s. His aim was to teach others to resist government influence on their lives. He ended up in Hawaii teaching at the University there and eventually meeting Ben’s mother. She was 5 years younger than Ben’s father and felt disconnected from her Korean family, who had difficulty embracing American capitalism and was resentful.
They raised him by drilling into him that capitalism had its evils and it was better to live simply with social values being paramount. It was easy to live with that philosophy in Hawaii. With the high cost of living, many found it easier to live without. Besides, who didn’t love the beauty that the natural landscape gave so freely? Breath-taking scenery. Pristine beach landscapes. Whales and dolphins waving offshore daily. It was paradise.
But he still wouldn’t have minded a Gameboy.
The town had grown—going from sleepy to urban. A Walmart on the outskirts. New construction near it with a big sign promising a Sam’s Club. Main Street used to only have a 4-way stop sign. Now round-abouts dotted the roads, confusing tourists and aggravating locals. Ben knew when to take side roads to avoid bottlenecks. He pulled up to the newly renovated townhouse and gently pulled young Joey from his car seat. The sleeping 3-year-old was heavy against his shoulder as he climbed the stairs to his room.
The window in Joey’s room looked out onto where the various hard plastic climbing sets dotted the backyard. Tricycles and smaller toys scattered about. Ben sighed. Was it enough? It was for now.
College was a blur. For all the protestations his parents had about capitalism, school was a necessity. They encouraged him to go to the small, private, liberal arts college that he chose in Oregon and didn’t balk at the $40k+ yearly tuition. His parents appreciated the fact that the college was near some of his mother's estranged family in Portland. They would be there for emergencies, they reasoned.
He was an average student and floated around before picking a major. Finally, he settled on philosophy. It wouldn’t get him a career, but he could figure that out later, he argued.
After graduating, he stayed in Portland. He had become close to his mother’s relatives and liked the lifestyle there. He met a woman who was older than him. She had a steady job, and he moved in with her and her mother. They adopted a dog together.
His parents would visit occasionally and pressure him to find work. At one point, he worked for a bank and asked his parents for some money for a used car, so he didn’t have to rely on his girlfriend for rides. His mother said they would give him more than he asked for to ensure he had a reliable vehicle. He never bought the car.
A friend had told him about day trading: quick turnaround on investments with high risks. It was addicting. It easily consumed his modest bank salary. The loan from his parents vanished.
He never told them. They never asked.
His phone pulsated in his pocket. The muted ring tone was for an unknown caller. He glanced at it and then let it go to voicemail. He had his suspicions, but he just wasn’t up for it.
Danielle was in the third bedroom, next to Joey’s room. It was a makeshift office for now. Hopefully, another baby would fill the space in the future. But for now, Joey was enough. Enough for now.
“Joey’s asleep,” Ben said.
“Uh huh”, Danielle grunted without looking up from her keyboard.
Ben turned to leave the room. “Hey, don’t you have that seminar this afternoon?” she asked.
“Oh yeah. I forgot.” Ben rushed down the stairs and grabbed his backpack by the door.
They had reconnected online. Part of a virtual reunion of his high school alumni. They had lost touch when Danielle had gone to the East Coast for undergrad. She had returned to Hawaii after graduating and worked with her father in his law office while she got her JD. Now she ran her own business of investing and property management. Ben found her ambition and acumen for business attractive. She had a drive he never found in himself. They decided he should end his current relationship in Oregon, leave his living situation, and move back to Hawaii. They would attempt to make it work.
A year later, they were married. He worked as a property manager and lived just a few miles away from his parents, yet barely spoke to them.
His values had changed, they said. He disagreed.
They felt Danielle symbolized the things in capitalism that they hated. He said that they weren’t being fair to her.
Danielle grew distant and angry with them and told him how it hurt her when they said these things. Ben sided with his wife.
His mother, never known for her tact, said some particularly nasty things to Danielle. She stopped visiting them. Ben would meet his father occasionally for a pickup basketball game or a quick swim, but he shut out his mother.
One day, his father told him they had left their estate to charities. It blindsided Ben. It was like a slap, even though he hadn’t needed their money for years or knew of anything worth inheriting. He felt like they were saying, “If you are cutting us out of your life, then we will cut you out of our death”.
They did not explain their decision. Ben didn’t ask.
He saw his father even less after that.
Joey was born the next year. Despite her hurt and caution, Danielle recognized Ben's parents' desire to see their only grandchild. She encouraged Ben to let them see Joey. They visited twice.
Ben’s father got sick a few months later. His mother had been insisting that there were signs. She hadn’t asked Ben for help. Only telling him through a relative after his father was gone that Ben should have known. Ben focused on his job, getting his MBA, his marriage, and a young child. How could he have known? He reasoned.
Ben’s phone rang again as he got into his car. He answered, even though it was the same unfamiliar number.
“Ben…” his mother said.
Ben was silent. Even though he had attended the funeral and played the dutiful son, his mother’s voice was coated with emotions that he wasn’t ready to acknowledge.
“Is it enough, Ben? That’s all I want to know,” she asked.
After a moment, he said, “It is for now, Mom. It is for now.”
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