By Jessica Wolf
My son wanted to have some friends over and I’d set a limit on the number he could invite. Noah was a newly minted teenager and teenage boys scared me. They traveled in packs and acted with caprice. Even as a grown-up, I’d cross the street to avoid them. And now my own first-born was becoming one of them.
My own adolescence felt like a free-for-all, full of thugs doing drugs. Despite living in a nice, suburban town, I was forever afraid I’d one day be pulled into a school bathroom and shot up with heroin. Although none of my fantasies ever came to pass, they may as well have—because I entered adulthood with a distrust of teen boys that I’m still surprised to discover is not the norm.
Once Noah and his friends turned into teenagers, I thought I might calm down, but I didn’t. In fact, I may have gotten worse. They seemed to develop hard-shelled exteriors that felt dangerous. Their man-sized sneakers inside my front door forever startled me.
I thought that limiting the number of teenage boys in my house was the right thing to do. The way to be a good mother. The way to keep things safe.
My son said, “Please. Just two more?”
I said, “No.”
I didn’t know the boys would get mad. I didn’t know they would throw eggs. I didn’t know that, as my home was coated in yolk, my heart would feel broken.
Even as Noah and I cleaned the egg off the wood siding on that cool summer night, I didn’t know who threw. I suspected one boy who was known to be trouble. My son said, “No, no, he wouldn’t do that.”
I said, “Hmmm.” But I what I meant was: As sure as I’m standing here, I know it was him. What I didn’t know then was that Trouble hadn’t acted alone.
“Ask around,” I told my son. “Find out what happened.”
He said nobody was talking.
I believed him. But I wondered too if he might be protecting someone.
I hounded him for a few days. Then, I ruminated quietly. I imagined Trouble showing up at my doorstep and asking him how he could have done a thing like that. Not rhetorically. I’d say, “I’ve given you juice boxes. I’ve fed you chicken nuggets. How could you egg my house?”
I replayed this fantasy much the same way I did when I had schoolgirl crushes on mop-haired boys. There would be heartfelt notes and late-night talks and ultimately they would come to their senses and love me. Unfortunately, these relationships never existed anywhere except in my mind.
Weeks later, I found an actual note in my mailbox. It was handwritten in black ink on a small piece of lined notepaper, addressed to me and my husband, and signed not by Trouble, but by a different boy. I’d met this boy before. He was handsome, polite, and a star baseball player. He wrote: “I am sorry for throwing eggs. It was a bad decision and I feel very bad.”
As soon as I read the note, I had to sit down. It was one of those situations where you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for until you find it. I read the note to my husband and then showed it to my kids. “This is a great note!” I told them. I treasured it as if it were a galley proof of Catcher in the Rye.
However, soon my agitation returned. “Teen boys don’t just apologize, not if they haven’t been caught.” I said to my son. “Find out if that boy’s parents made him write that note.”
Noah would ask no such questions.
“You’re not meant to know,” my husband told me. “Just accept the apology and move on.”
Oh, if only I were built to move on.
Could the boy have felt badly enough to actually write that note on his own? I still wanted answers, and by the summer’s end I’d gotten none.
As my son entered the high school that fall, I started volunteering there in English classes, helping kids with their writing assignments. I had done this work with middle school kids for years, but I’d been asked this year to move schools and work with older kids.
On my first day at the high school, the air was cold. I kept my jacket on in the classroom. I sat with two or three kids, working on their stories and, right before the bell rang, started gathering up my notebooks. One last boy raised his hand.
It was the boy who’d written the note—the boy who’d egged my house.
“Do you need something?” I asked him.
“Would you read my story?” he said.
“There are only a few minutes left,” I told him. It was the last period of the day. Another writing coach had just sat with him. Why isn’t this kid packing his things away? I thought.
“Would you mind reading it anyway?” he said.
I started his story amid the bustle of kids getting ready for dismissal. It was long and I don’t even remember what it was about. I forced myself to keep my attention on the page even though all I could think about were the eggs. I felt hot in my coat all of a sudden, and my head started to ache. When I was through, I spoke some words about his story that I prayed were making sense.
The bell rang and the class cleared out. I was alone with the boy, and finally I had the opportunity to ask him all the questions that had been burning in my mind for months.
But instead, I said, “You know that note you wrote? I really appreciated it.”
He looked down at his desk. “I’m really sorry,” he said.
I could barely breathe.
“I know,” I said.
I’m pretty sure that handsome teenage boy, with the careless, loopy handwriting and a strong throwing arm, did not cry that day. I’m pretty sure that I was the only one who walked out the door into the sharp autumn air, into a wind that stung tear-streaked cheeks.
This isn’t really a story about eggs, but about grace. Because I don’t really understand grace: the way it protects what is fragile in ways we miss on our own. The way it somehow provides for everyone exactly what they need.
JESSICA WOLF’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Istanbul Literary Review. She is a writer, editor and recovering Eeyore. www.wolfwebb.com