I told Mother this morning that when I grow up, I want to be a protagonist in my own story. She just laughed as she set a plate down in front of me with two strips of bacon, two slices of toast, and two eggs over easy. “When I was your age, it was every boy wanted to grow up to be a firefighter, or astronaut,” she said. “Now everyone wants to be the protagonist in their own story. If everyone was a protagonist, then who would do the work that makes the world go ‘around, huh?”
She always delivered the guilt trip over things like this. “Can you imagine if Ms. Mott wanted to be a protagonist? Who would be left to teach you about reading and arithmetic? If everyone was a protagonist, there’d be no one left to teach you how to be a protagonist!” Ms. Mott was my second grade teacher. She was beautiful, blonde, and buxom, and she was very understanding and patient when I needed help on my math homework.
Mother sat down at the table across from me in our tiny, cramped kitchenette and looked at the eggs on her plate. She sliced cleanly through one of them with the edge of fork; the yolk didn’t run, meaning she’d left them on the stove for too long. Mother always hated when the yolk was too hard. It reminded her of my father. That was why she was so sensitive about my dream of being my own protagonist — father had left her for the exact same reason. “I’m tired of living my life for the betterment of someone else’s story!” I heard him yelling angrily through the wallpaper of our rent-controlled apartment. “My father worked for the union for 55 years, and all he had to show for it was a boring old pension and some ungrateful kids. He would have been happier if he just had his own story. I’m not going to make the same mistakes as my old man.”
The next morning, my father was gone. By the end of the weekend, Mother had cleared out everything that reminded her of him. Well, except for me. I’d always had his pale blue eyes and moppy brownish hair — and now I had his foolish dreams as well.
“Well…maybe I can be an astronaut, and a protagonist!” I tried telling her before biting into my first slice of bacon. The crunching reverberated all throughout the empty hollow of my young head. I waited for the echo to die down before swallowing; there was still no response from Mother. I looked back down at the food in front of me, the food that she had so lovingly prepared for me, and I tried to appreciate each bite as I forced it down. The only other sound was that of Mother trying to fold the newspaper in order to read it properly — our kitchen table was too small these days to rest the pages on.
As I finished up my breakfast, all she said was, “Hurry up. You don’t want to miss the bus.”