Jason and Sam

Jason was his father’s son.  He loved his mother, Margaret, but always said she played no role in his formation.  That’s what Jason needed to believe.  Jason explained to me, before I met his parents, that his mom had married a Laotian man, a guy he believed she felt nothing for, nothing except a need for his money.  Jason had calculated the marriage occurred about the same time as the child support payments were supposed to stop.  It wasn’t genius, just pure practicality. 

“I called him Sam, when I lived with them my last two years in high school” Jason said, “but his name was actually something long and Asian.” 

I asked him to tell me more about how his mom ended up remarrying a Laotian man.  Not that there was anything wrong with her marrying a Laotian, but if his mom was both traditional and southern, her marrying a West Texas Laotian farmer suggested there might be something more. 

Both Jason and his mom were fair skinned types, bright blonde and blue eyed, the kind of beauty that both time and the sun love to fade fast.  His Laotian father, on the other hand, looked like he might still be closer to Jason’s age, instead of nearing sixty.  He was a wiry man, with a sinewy strength, which remained clear by the way threw equipment in and out of the back of his truck.

When we met Jason’s parents, his mom immediately began bringing out food, fried grits balls, deer jerky, and hot green tea.  Sam wandered through the background, muttering a greeting of sorts, while ignoring Jason and me.  It wasn’t until we were ready to leave for dinner that Sam came out to join us.  Again saying nothing, except to his wife, to confirm that we were going out for Italian, Olive Garden, just down the street.

During dinner, I sat next to Sam.  The entire time, it was just Sam and me, as if we were intruding on a date between Jason and his mom.  Margaret seemed so excited to have her boy home, now sitting in front of her, even if it was only for an hour she paid for with the price of dinner for him and his date.  They seemed lost together in the niceties of conversation.   “How work going these days?  It always gets busy around the holidays,” Margaret said.  “I made some food for you to take home later.  We can have Sam fix up a cooler.  Maybe that will save you a little money this month.  A dollar here and there.” It didn’t seem they could say much more than that.  Needless to say, no one paid attention to Sam and me in the corner. 

After about five minutes of staring at the menu, Sam asked me if I knew much about Native American arrowheads. “Jason told me your dad was part Cherokee,” Sam said. “I’ve been picking them up, along with some spear tips, off of my land the last ten years.  After the fires out there last August, they just started popping up, like the fire had brought them to life again.”

I told Sam I didn’t know too much about them, but that I would enjoy seeing his collection.  Sam smiled at this.  The corners of his mouth turned slightly, but the warmth was something you caught in his eyes.  I figured there was something in that slight change that had first attracted Margaret to him. 

I asked Sam where his interest in Native American artifacts came from, and he said it originated from home.  Sam had grown up in a village outside of Luang Prabang, Laos, and was a member of the Hmong tribe.  During Vietnam, he’d helped the American Army fight the Viet Cong, and had escaped to the United States, following the US withdrawal. He hadn’t been home since, so Sam had developed a fondness for Native cultures here.

In watching them all together, there was something more, something missing, something lost, at least between Jason and his mom.  I wasn’t sure where the guilt originated, just that it spun itself thick, wrapped itself around them, eliminating me and Sam from their world completely.  There was something apologetic in the way she asked him about his life.  It was as if, perhaps, she hadn’t been a part of it for so long that she no longer knew how to approach him as being a part of her own. 

Even though he continued to refuse her offers, Margaret kept passing along small portions of her food onto Jason’s plate.  She also fed Sam, who also refused, though there was no exchange of words between the two.  I offered them both some of my linguini in vodka sauce, but no one wanted anything from me.  As I watched what would probably pass for a happy enough family from across the room, I wondered if what passed as love between Margaret and Sam originated from some deeper form of acceptance.  It’s the kind that can come only after a long string of rejections, an acceptance that remains open so long as you remain open to it.  It’s what I’ve seen in some second marriages, and is what I glimpsed between those two.  Sam offered no words, no touch of the hand, in that same way he wouldn’t need to speak to or touch his own hand.  The sentiment of affection was clear.

Jason said later that his father had left his mom when he was at an age too young to remember, and that Margaret had found Sam at an age when he was too old to care.   What worried me that night wasn’t anything having to do with Jason, nor his mom, nor Sam.  Rather, it was the attitude he’d adopted, a reflection of his father’s, which trained him how reject his mom in the same manner.  I’d met Jason’s dad weeks before, and realized he’d become his father’s son, in ways I’m not really sure he knew.  It made me wonder when he’d begin treating me the same way they both treated his mom.

Jason had never brought up marriage, but all of our friends had already begun to walk down the aisle.  It made me wonder sometimes how close or far away we are as a couple from taking this final step, or whether I’m just wasting my time.  If you really think about it, marriage is like a second chance, psychologically speaking.  It’s the only opportunity we have to finally get the needs met that our parents couldn’t satisfy.  I wondered if Jason had given up on his needs.  Or whether they were so great that no one woman would be able to reach him completely.  While I’d never wondered specifically about this problem until tonight, it wasn’t something I’d missed completely.

I’d wondered if what Jason used with me was an adaptive face, a mask, something he’d created to hide the way he really thought about women.  An adaptive mask is a stupid term, but I still remember it from Psych 101.  It’s basically what people do in any given situation, wearing a mask of their idealized version, portraying how they’ve found it easiest to cope within their own life and subsequent relationships.  Hence, I wondered if Jason’s mask with me was one we’d developed together; each reflecting our ideal selves to the other.  Much like any image, though, time fades all things.  So I wondered whether enough time, the mask would crumble back into his former patterns, regarding me with the same cold contempt in which I’d watched him hold his mother tonight.

While Jason was warm and funny back home, transforming back into the Jason I knew, maybe this was his way of avoiding what he really thought, showing how he really felt.  An easy comparison is what some women tend to do around men, particularly when they’re still young.  In order to avoid rejection, women sometimes pretend that their relationships mean nothing, and eventually begin to believe it.   Was Jason doing the opposite?