Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

Strangers In Strange Fucking Lands

There once was a woman named Nancy Botkin. She’d always wanted to be a writer, but she’d had a son Nick with a deadbeat poet named Frank Beachwood who disappeared ten minutes after he saw his newborn spawn. And for sixteen years, she tried to raise Nick to the best of her ability, making sure he was clothed and safe. She took him to school, to piano lessons, chauffeuring him around as though he were a fucking king. And she tried to love him, but a part of her saw a kind of tyrant, a sort of emotional Pharaoh weighing her down with demands. Love me. Focus all your attention on me. Nick clung to his mother like Superglue, following her day and night. And he criticized her because she wasn’t the sort of tender, weepy mother in the old movies. She grappled day and night with her feelings. She tried to say she loved him, but it was near impossible, especially since he reminded her so much of Frank, with his long nose, his dreamy hazel eyes. So she kept doing things for Nick, trying to fill in those gaps, to express things she couldn’t say.

After sixteen years of motherhood, and Nick’s complaints about her mothering style, she up and left. Nick had complained about how she was too obsessed with writing and how she needed to accept shit. And that had filled her with a sensation, a feeling of both dread and possibility. She saw the painful present, she saw a future calling her like a sultry seductress.

For forty years, she wandered across the country, occasionally writing Nick. She wandered across vast cities with bustling crowds, through small towns, staying in old motels and in shacks along the coast and she felt a sense that something vast was unfurling, as though the world were becoming something new. She was Nancy Botkin. She was a writer. An artist. She was no longer someone’s girlfriend or mother.

But after forty years of bliss, ever the good writer, she felt the inevitable urge to drop back to her old town, to remember the roots from which she came. She was curious about the things that had gone on without her and felt a kind of stirring, something pulling her back toward the vortex of the old world. She was horrified to discover that Nick was now the producer of a successful TV show, “Runaway Moms”, a sitcom about mothers running off, with a very obnoxious laugh track. Nancy wandered into Nick, while he was directing an actress playing a drunk mother, telling her she needed to truly hate the actor playing her son.

The minute Nick saw her, all he had to say was “you need to see a psychiatrist, Nancy. Forty years. Amazing.”

“Why the fuck would I do that?” she said. “You’re the one producing this godawful show.”

“Because you left me.”

“Your father left you too,” Nancy said. “Produce a show called Deadbeat Dad.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t really know him.”

“What you mean is because he’s a man,” she said. “Mothers are different.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I know you, Nick,” she said. “You never asked about your father. You just needed me to be there for everything. That’s my role, no doubt.”

“You were gone for forty years.”

“I needed to get lost.”

“You need to see a psychiatrist,” Nick said.

“You need to see a psychiatrist,” Nancy said. Surprisingly Nick agreed to go see one.

They went to a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Greenlee. He focused entirely on Nancy’s problem. He asked her about the towns she’d been in. When she told him about the lighthouse she’d visited along the coast, he said, “Well then, you truly craved a man all along.”

“What does a lighthouse have to do with men?”

“A lighthouse looks like a penis,” Dr. Greenlee said. “Therefore you subconsciously clamor for a man’s penis.”

“Bullshit.”

“What did you have for dessert last night?”

“Ice cream. Is this relevant?”

“Another penis shaped object,” Dr. Greenlee said. “My advice is forget the wandering, and find a man. Go back to your natural sphere.”

“Things look like penises because men have too much power. Men make objects in their own image,” Nancy said. “What does that have to do with Nick?”

“Semantics,” Dr. Greenlee said. “I’m just saying perhaps you need a family. Perhaps the penis represents a lost lover. And perhaps Nick by extension. Nick has been denied much. We must focus on this poor child.”

“I don’t want to have sex with Nick.”

“I’m just saying he represents a need for male companionship on your part, and a need for female love on his own.”

“He’s fifty-six. He’s my fucking son.”

“Semantics,” Dr. Greenlee repeated. “Don’t make this about you. We need to focus on the truly traumatized Nick here. Only if we dissect Nick like a frog can we learn about you.”

“What about Nick? He produces a show about bad mothers. He hasn’t lost his ability to live.”

“That’s a normal manifestation of grief. It doesn’t mean he hates you. It’s an avenue Nancy,” the doctor said, nodding his bulbous head, stroking his Freud-like beard.

“Fuck it,” Nancy said.

“It’s normal,” Dr. Greenlee said.

“So is my need for escape.”

“We can talk about that later.”

She waited for Nick to say something but he was nodding, hypnotized by Dr. Greenlee, who had begun to laugh maniacally, like a villain, as if amused by all this. In his laughter, she thought of Frank Beachwood for the first time, thought of the ease with which he left. Nancy stepped outside the door, flipped the bird to her son and Dr. Greenlee, and wandered out into the wilderness, to never be heard from again, until one day, a group of actors from “Runaway Moms” found a very recognizable woman in the desert, holding a sign next to their filming location.

The sign read: If you like freedom, ban “Runaway Mothers.” Run away mothers. Runaway mothers unite!

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