The second he comes home, I look for a sign. Auggie, my last child, the boy who once slept with his hand under my shirt, rubbing the cluster of moles above my hip. A cowlick still lifts the shag of bleached hair over his forehead; a bloom of pimples darkens his jaw. He climbs out of my ex-husband’s Tahoe dragging an overstuffed duffel bag behind him, legs spreading over the pocked ice I salted while I waited for them this morning. He squints up at me, no slant in his gaze. And I look. I look.
His father wants to hire a lawyer. Anybody would wonder. Look up the numbers; you’re better off asking how many women it doesn’t happen to. Those tender-cheeked boys, the ones who sit in the front of the lecture hall: You think it’s a joke, at first, how hard they press you down, their eyes on the wall, or anywhere but you. But there’s always another side. At least. I Googled a lot of those accounts after I got the letter from Auggie’s university suspending his room and board until the hearing. #MeToo run rampant, and the like. Boys whose lives have been derailed. Good boys, like Auggie. If you had asked me a month ago, I would have said goodness is no alibi. Now, I feel like an atheist begging to be converted. Go ahead, convince me. Show me a sign.
The letter used the terms alleged and misconduct and first-year female. Auggie won’t tell me her name. He rarely speaks since coming home, though that’s nothing new. Evenings, after I drive him home from class, he sits on his bed in his room with his gaming headphones on, picking up where he left off this summer. The TV screen flashes with blood and zombies. If Auggie notices me parting his door so I can peek in, he doesn’t show it. His face is fixed on a battle that is only silence to me.
I was thirty-seven when Auggie was born, my two daughters already in school, my ex-husband, Ron, two years into an affair I had yet to discover. Eight months pregnant, I visited my dying grandmother. “A boy,” she said to me, disapproval in her red-rimmed eyes. “A boy will grow up and leave, Jude. And what will you do?”
After the delivery, as if to drive home my grandmother’s words, I was alone. Ron had left the hospital to care for the girls. My grandmother had died two days before. The nurse put Auggie into my arms, his raisin face red from howling, and I thought, “Oh, it’s you.” I’d never tell my daughters, but Auggie was the only one I knew before he was born. I can’t explain it. As if I had dreamt him into being, his body like a forgotten language. He didn’t talk until he was three, but I knew what each cry meant, each frustrated grunt. At night, I could walk into his room and know from the thickness of his breath if he would wake up with a fever, or if he had been crying in the moments before he fell asleep.
Growing up, Auggie struggled in school. His sisters were out of the house by the time he was eleven, and he had few friends. He could go days without speaking more than one-word responses, though I could tell how his day had gone from the angle of his shoulders, the heaviness of his boots on the front steps. After the divorce, he developed an atypical stutter. He would repeat the word at the end of a sentence as if stalling for time. I did my homework-work-work. I’m fine-ine-ine. My heart broke for him, and yet I loved him more for it, as you do. Those cracks were how I got inside. How I knew him.
Auggie doesn’t appear distressed. He eats two bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the morning, phone in hand, leaving a trail of brown-flecked milk drips that I wipe up with the dish sponge. He puts off showers, dousing himself instead in sandalwood-pine body spray that wafts through the house. The cat has gone back to sleeping in his tangled comforter during the day. I have gone back to imagining Auggie’s days outside the house, moment by moment, as I did when he was in elementary school. Now he is opening his laptop and wiping the screen with his sleeve; now he is raising his hand. Do whispers follow him from class to class? Does he keep his eyes on the ground?