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  • Every Mother Has a Story

  • A Shebooks/Good Housekeeping Anthology
  • Jackie Mercurio
  • The winners of the Shebooks/Good Housekeeping memoir contest offer three slices of life as a mother. In “People Don’t Get Me, Mom,” Jackie Mercurio carries a troubling secret that will change the life of her brilliant, misunderstood boy. Then a family trip to the Butterfly Garden takes them to a place of healing and wonder. In “Coyote Tales,” Jacinta Hart Kehoe recovers from an accident she wasn’t supposed to survive but struggles to help her adopted daughter learn to love and trust again. And in “Pulling Rabbits from a Hat,” Cynthia Leonard tells her fascinating story of growing up in a magical act, with a mother who disappeared and reappeared nightly.


I am staring at a pregnancy test on the bathroom counter when the phone rings.

            Since I have five kids, ages 7 through 14, the e.p.t. stick is no stranger to me; the man calling on the phone, however, is. He says our sons go to school together, that our families bumped into each other at the Bronx Zoo Butterfly Garden some years ago. “You were terrified of a big monarch,” he says.

            I remember the episode well—how I might have embarrassed my kids when I screamed—but I can’t recall this man or his son. He says his name is Kurt, and he has news for me, and I know that it can’t be good news when he begins by saying, “I hate having to phone you about this, but hey, listen, if it were my kid, I’d want to know.”

            He tells me that his son had seen my son slumping his head into his hands, sitting alone at the base of the flagpole in front of the boys’ middle school. His son’s Frisbee had landed near my son, and when he went to retrieve it, my boy had looked up at him and said, “I’m going suicide.” Hence the awkward but responsible phone call to me, in the middle of a day while I’m waiting for the result of a pregnancy test.

            As the man goes on about the incident, I recall last week, when my son Calvin* cried about a classmate who was probably speaking out of honesty rather than meanness when he said, “Dude, why can’t you speak right?” Asperger’s and social conversation do not harmonize well in a world of 13-year-olds. My sweet boy hits a brick wall of awkwardness, a mumbo jumbo of monotone words, his voice deep, his back stiff. At the time, I’d thought this was normal middle school drama magnified by my son’s nature. I’d thought, This is nothing; this will pass. But that evening, he had turned away from me, pulling the covers over his head. “People don’t get me,” he said, his voice muffled through the blanket.

            “I get you,” I said. His three younger sisters, knowing their brother was sad, joined us on the twin bed, each of them putting a hand on their lump of a brother under the quilt. “Look,” I said. “We all get you.”

            But now Calvin has gone outside the family bubble, expressing his sadness to this boy who is nothing more than a face in the hallway, an acquaintance at the zoo. I strangle my hand with the telephone cord. It’s not nothing; it isn’t passing.

            “Hello?” the man says in response to my silence.

            I tell him thank you, and that yes, of course, I will look into this and thank you, thank you. I hang up and hurry to my son’s room, searching the history on his computer browser.
            He has Googled suicide. Horrific images fill the screen, frightening me so much that I cover my eyes and blindly press Escape. How could I have thought this was nothing?

            Moments later, I am wrist-deep in my son’s dresser drawers, churning socks and underwear. I find a small notebook. It is filled with random daily accounts, but one excerpt is about his “middle school hell.” I read every word, sitting on the floor, my back against his bed. The worst part is a detailed description of his own funeral, including what his thoughts would be while lying in his coffin: It’s easier now. I’m better.

            The rest of my day goes by in a blur as I research adolescent depression, forgetting about the pregnancy stick until later, when the kids are home from school and my seven-year-old daughter emerges from the bathroom holding it up to me. “What’s this?” she asks. I tell her it is Mommy’s special pen, and thank you for finding it. When she passes me in the hallway, her little body disappearing into the next room, I look at the stick’s result.

            Positive. Positive.

            The faint blue crucifix means there will be less of me for all of my kids, less of me for this troubled boy, less of me for the newborn. I kneel on the floor and, knowing I cannot be everything to everyone, press my cheek into the carpet and focus on one strand, just one strand. Hundreds of minuscule tangled and twisted fibers make up this one thread of carpet. At any moment the strand can be stepped on, flattened.

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Jackie Mercurio

Jackie Mercurio

Jackie Mercurio lives with her husband, five children, and a black Lab in New York. She is pleased to report that, taking his own advice to “focus on the wings,” her son Calvin is a happy boy today and is collaborating with her on writing a longer version of this story.

Jacinta Hart Kehoe

Jacinta Hart Kehoe began writing as a child by recording her pony’s journal. Her work has appeared in The Examined Life: A Literary Journal of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Rosebud, the Des Moines Register, Parenting with Spirit, Fostering Families, and more. “Coyote Tales” is one of a compilation of reflective essays about relearning to live after an accident that she wasn’t expected to survive. She has relocated from Iowa to Louisiana, where she lives with Phillip, the love of her life, two dogs, and a cat.

Cynthia Leonard

Leonard loves learning, good books, writing, photography, travel, Hellenistic archaeology, and Byzantine art. Her work is in management, and she likes its collaborative give-and-take nature. She cherishes time with her family, including one awesome grandson. This is her first published creative nonfiction work.

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Learn more about Jackie Mercurio and the winners of the Every Mother Has a Story essay contest.

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“How does a mom feel when her brilliant misfit son tells her that people ‘don’t get’ him?  Heartbroken—and determined to find a way to make it all come out right. Jackie Mercurio’s winning memoir will blow you away.”

Jane Francisco, editor-in-chief, Good Housekeeping


"Three powerful women's stories that, at times, took my heart and squeezed hard...I highly recommend this book."

–K.S. Warren

"Such a beautiful way to honor mothers everywhere, and such a varied offering of stories and motherhood, all from perspectives that I never experienced. Just goes to show you that everyone does have an interesting story to tell..."

–Shebooks Reader

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