Attachment Theory

A short story awash with gaslighting, manipulation, and strikingly, a young girl who acts as an oracle of truth and freedom…
by: Carolynn Kingyens
“The root of suffering is attachment.”
—The Buddha 
Andrew Banks spent the majority of his short life observing the lives of others. His preoccupation with observation was due to living too much in his head. Life felt safer in his head than in cruel reality, where he shared a modest, two-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a rundown mansion with his histrionic, hypochondriac, agoraphobic mother Doris.

One could glean that the mansion had once had its heyday with its grand, white pillars, now dull and chipped, and floor-to-ceiling windows peppered with random ornate, cast iron Juliet balconies that no tenant dared to step out onto due to the alarming rust and overall lack of maintenance from the absentee landlord, who inherited the monstrosity from an elderly aunt who’d pass away a decade prior in the Banks’ very own apartment. Her body was found at the bottom of a hoarded-heap of dirty clothes, stuffed animals, occasional trash, and vintage Precious Moments collectables.

By watching the continuous comings and goings of the tenants for close to a decade, Andrew would observe that The Petticoat Mansion Apartments, on 1567 Petticoat Drive, was where the forgotten came to live, a sort of beacon for black sheep and castaways, the isolated and the recovering addicts, who’d burnt every single bridge before getting out of Dodge. The Petticoat Mansion was a real heartbreak hotel.

The Banks moved into their apartment when Andrew was nine, shortly after Doris had filed for divorce from her second husband, a man he despised for his loud, obnoxious chewing and the way his Nordic nose would sometimes whistle. Andrew had a total of four stepfathers by the time he’d reach his nineteenth birthday. The only husband he could stand, out of the four, was Karl Jinkus, husband number three, who everyone called Jinx, a gregarious, overweight, retired FBI agent, who’d take an interest in Andrew’s hypervigilance to the point of administering the quiet, prepubescent boy hardcopy FBI tests that were designed to quiz recruits on their level of observation and memory. Excellent observation was a coveted FBI trait, and Andrew scored a near perfect score, every time.
Impressed, Jinx had a replica of his FBI badge made with Andrew’s full name etched across it as a Christmas gift one year. Andrew kept the shiny, gold-plated faux badge on his bookshelf, right next to his favorite novel, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, a parting gift from Jinx that tells a riveting story of Captain John Yossarian, a military man on a Mediterranean island during World War II who fights to stay alive.

On the day Jinx left Doris, he’d reach down and whisper in young Andrew’s ear out of earshot of his mother, who was in the middle of one of her one-sided rants, where her bruised ego would find comfort in the kitchen, slamming cupboard doors at random. 

“Remember kid,” Jinx would say in his Bostonian, Southie accent over Doris’ banshee-like screaming, “You’re a contender, a real contender. You got promise.”

Jinx’s fatherly talk, albeit brief, would echo to Andrew on his bleakest days, giving him hope of a future. In the meantime, he worked the night shift at Walmart where he would stock shelves and take inventory from 10pm to 7am. The only bright spot during the tedious graveyard shift was when he got to work with Hannah Grossman, a high school friend of a friend, whom he knew from afar; someone between a stranger and an acquaintance.

Andrew admired Hannah’s unique style, and how she once paired black combat boots with a pink ballet tutu to go to their senior prom. He liked how totally free she was. When he’d see her across the aisle from him, in the middle of restocking rows of lipstick, he’d see absolute freedom. Andrew thought of a Charles Bukowski quote that seemed to sum up Hannah Grossman perfectly: “The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it. Basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near, or with them.”

“Hey Banks, a few of us are going to walk over to Denny’s after our shift. Interested in going?

Hannah had a habit of calling everyone by their last name: Lopez, Goodman, Esposito, Jones, Russo.
“Yeah,” replied Andrew, nodding his head. Normally, he’d be going grocery shopping, or running some errands for Doris after his shift. Hannah could have asked him to walk over hot coals in his bare feet, or enter a hot dog eating contest, even though he was a vegetarian, and his answer would still be “Yeah.”

“Cool,” she said, adding a wink and pop of her gum.

After Hannah turned and walked away, Andrew, by almost instinct, would reach down into his pocket to feel for Doris’ grocery list as if her list of wants was some kind of religious relic that he must carry around with him at all times. The side of his index finger would eclipse the sharp edge of the paper, causing a slight paper cut near the base of his knuckle. Ignoring the unpleasant sting, Andrew continued restocking bottles of antiperspirant and body wash during the last forty-five minutes of his shift. His thoughts would linger back to Hannah while lining up bottles of Old Spice body spray, sneaking a few sprays in for himself while no one was looking. He kept telling himself to play it cool, to be nonchalant. But in between his internal pep talks, Doris’ disappointed face would randomly appear in his mind like an apparition. He’d find that whenever he squinted his eyes really hard, he could make her disappear, picking up the annoying facial tic over time. He was doing just that when he heard a feminine voice shout his name from the bedding department. “Banks!”
Andrew turned to the voice. 
“Can I walk over to Denny’s with you?” asked Hannah as she brushed away a wisp of faded pink-colored bangs from her eyes. 
“Yeah,” replied Andrew as he held onto his hoodie. The two of them walked out of the big-box-store entrance and into the stark morning sunlight like a pair of starving vampires, squinting at first as their eyes adjusted from fluorescent to natural lighting. 
“So is the gang meeting us there?” asked Andrew as they walked the short distance to the restaurant, sharing the same parking lot as Walmart.
“No,” Hannah said, “I’m afraid it’s going to be just us this morning.”
“Oh,” said Andrew, sounding surprised. 
“Okay, I lied,” Hannah confessed. “I just said the others were coming so it didn’t seem too weird when I asked you.”  
There was an awkward pause.
“Do you think it’s weird?” she asked in an innocent way as she tucked a piece of layered hair behind her ear.
“After you,” replied Andrew as he held the door open for Hannah. Upon walking into the seventy-one-year-old establishment, a twenty-four hour restaurant founded in 1953, they were greeted by a tired-looking waitress with a name tag that read Liz who sat them in a booth next to a window facing the garden entrance of Walmart. 
“Can I start you two off with some coffee?” she asked. 
“Sure,” replied Andrew as Hannah nodded a definitive, “Yes.”
Hannah looked down before meeting Andrew’s bright, blue eyes.
“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Jake Gyllenhaal?” 
Andrew laughed, shaking his head. 
“You really do. It was the first thing I noticed about you back in high school. I said to myself, “Hey, that kid looks like Donnie Darko.” 
Hannah continued, “You always had your head in some book. I wanted to know what you were reading, and why you were reading it.” 
Just then, Liz arrived with two hot coffees and a small bowl full of individual-sized coffee creamers. 
“Sugar and sweetner packets are on the table. Now what can I get the two of you to eat?”  
“I’ll have blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon,” replied Hannah.
“And I’ll have the same but hold the bacon,” replied Andrew before adding, “I’m a vegetarian.” 
After Liz left their table, Hannah picked up her coffee, almost cradling the cup in her hands, enjoying its warmth.
“Okay, Banks, what’s your story? Everyone has a story.” 
Andrew sat all the way back in the booth in awe of Hannah’s quick conversation style.
“I plan to take some criminal justice classes at community college in the Fall, and later join the police academy. Maybe work my way up to detective before moving over to the FBI like my stepfather Jinx.” 
“Why FBI?” asked Hannah, sounding curious of his intention.
“Jinx used to test me from time-to-time back when I was a kid, using these old FBI handouts that he still had in his possession. He said I had great observation and memory skills, a must-have for a solid FBI agent.”
“What about you? What’s your story?” pivoted Andrew.
“I’ve applied to a fashion design school in New York, and should find out any day now if I got accepted. So I’m working this crappy job in the meantime to save some money for school expenses. My father wants me to become a psychotherapist, like himself, saying I’m a natural because I innately understand how people tick. But listening to people’s problems day in and day out would wear on me with time.”
“What about your mother?” asked Hannah.
Andrew squinted his eyes again at the mere mention of her name. 
“Doris could probably use a good psychotherapist like your father. She has a panic attack disorder that prevents her from leaving the house for long stretches of time so I do all her shopping in between her QVC and Amazon deliveries. I’ve had four stepfathers by the time I turned nineteen. She’s also super controlling and…”
“Manipulative,” finished Hannah. 
Andrew took a sip of his coffee.
“It sounds like your mother may have a Cluster B personality disorder, which falls under narcissism, antisocial, histrionic, and borderline. You know, the more toxic and dramatic of personalities. They rarely seek help because they never see themselves as a problem.The people who come to see my dad are usually their victims. I can give you some of my dad’s books to read, if you’d like,” offered Hannah. 
Just then, Liz arrived with two plates of blueberry pancakes and a side of bacon for Hannah. They both thanked her before they continued on with their conversation.
“Jinx left a few of his books behind on criminal psychology that covers personality disorders, primarily psychopathy. I thought only criminals had personality disorders. You know, the Ted Bundies and the Jeffrey Dahmers of the world. But never mothers, especially my mother.”
“How does she feel about your plans?” asked Hannah as she cut into her warm stack of blueberry pancakes. 
“I don’t know. My mother never talks about the future. I think on some level, she believes I will never leave her. I mean how could I if she has a disability.” 
“Is that a question, or a statement?” 
Hannah paused before clarifying. 
“I mean does she really have a disability? Has she ever been properly diagnosed? Sounds to me like she may have Munchausen Syndrome, now recognised by the DSM as Factitious Disorder.”
Andrew turned his head to look out the window, where he spotted a small boy walking between his adoring parents, the three of them hand-in-hand-in-hand. Every few feet, the mother and father would stop to swing their laughing, blonde-haired boy up in the air before coming back down again, landing solid on two small feet. Lucky kid, he thought to himself before turning his attention back to Hannah. 
“My mother is secretive about everything so there’s really no way of knowing what she has for sure. I know she got on disability for a severe panic disorder when I was a kid. Growing up, she never once came to a parent-teacher conference, or even attended my high school graduation. I thought her drama and chaos was normal until I met the mothers of my friends.”
“Attachment Theory,” quipped Hannah.
“Huh,” muttered Andrew as he took a generous bite of pancake. 
“Attachment Theory is a psychological theory concerning bonds between humans, primarily young children in relationship with at least one primary caregiver. The theory was developed by psychiatrist John Bowlby.”
Andrew began to squint his eyes again, envisioning Doris in one of her bitter rages.
“I think your dad is right, you should be a psychologist. I mean you sound like one anyway.” 
Hannah laughed, and then touched Andrew’s arm before pulling her hand back into her lap. 
When the check came, Andrew tried to pick up the tab before Hannah insisted that she pay since she was the one who invited him out to breakfast. Liz stared blankly at the young couple going back and forth in conversation, until Hannah dropped a wad of cash atop the check, ending the debate. 
“Keep the change,” said Hannah to Liz. 
“Thank you Hannah,” said Andrew as he stood up to stretch his long legs before reaching across the booth to grab his hoodie. Once they were back standing in the parking lot, between Denny’s and Walmart, Hannah would reach up to give Andrew a sweet kiss on the cheek. Before he could react, a patrol car drove up alongside them. He then heard the officer say, “I found him” into a small Walkie-Talkie-like device that was attached to the top of his shoulder. Andrew’s initial thought was that he’d gotten caught on surveillance video sneaking in a few sprays of Old Spice body spray. 
“Are you Andrew Banks?” asked the burly cop with the buzz cut.
“Yeah,” he replied in a tentative manner. 
“Your mother called the police to request that we do a welfare check at your place of employment since you haven’t returned home from your shift. She is worried about you.”
Hannah rolled her eyes as Andrew stood there in shock. 
“Sir, my mother doesn’t wake up until three in the afternoon. She’s nocturnal, just like a cat. She stays up all night and sleeps all day. That’s why I work the night shift so I can get a break from her.”
“But you could have called or texted her to let her know your plans after work, or at the very least, let her know you’re OK.” 
“I didn’t want to wake her,” replied Andrew. 
“Say goodbye to your friend. I’ll take you home to your mother now,” said the cop with the conviction of a stern father.
Hannah grabbed Andrew’s hand to write her phone number down on his palm, adding a tiny heart. She then whispered in his ear “Google gaslighting.” 
Andrew nodded at Hannah right before getting into the back of the police cruiser as he was told. During the drive back to the dive he called home, he would try to focus on Hannah’s face, how the light from the window caught the light of her hazel-green eyes causing them to sparkle even more. He loved how she smiled from her eyes instead of from her mouth the way his mother smiled. Anger towards Doris was building. He started squinting his eyes more and more the closer he got to Petticoat Drive.
“What’s up with your eyes,” the officer inquired while staring at Andrew through his rearview mirror. “Do you have a headache or something?” 
“No. It’s just a nervous tic, I think.”
“Well you should get that checked out. You look like you’re in immense pain.” 
“I am,” said Andrew under his breath.
“What’s that?” asked the officer.
“Nothing,” he replied. 
Doris was waiting at the front door when the officer drove into the parking lot of The Petticoat Mansion Apartments. The officer stopped to put his car into park before turning all the way around to speak to Andrew:
“Before I let you go, young man, I want you to remember that you only have one mother.” 
Andrew suppressed the instinct to roll his eyes at the officer, and instead respectfully nodded, grabbing his hoodie on the way out of the car. 
He could hear Doris yelling from the door:
“Where were you?!” 
“I’m sorry, Mom. A co-worker and I grabbed breakfast right after our shift. I would have texted you, but thought you were sleeping.” 
“Well I thought you got murdered,” she replied. 
“You always think I’ll get murdered. Don’t you find that creepy,” he shot back at Doris. 
“Do you ever watch the news, Son? Do you know what people are capable of?” 
Andrew rested his hands on the back of the kitchen chair to brace himself for what he was about to say next.
“Do you know what my friends called us? They called me Norman and you Norma Bates. You know, the insane mother-son duo from the movie Psycho. And do you want to know why? Because you would pull this same shit back then, calling the police whenever I attended a sleepover party. Their mothers thought you were crazy. I could tell that they felt bad for me when the police would show up at their front door in the middle of the night, shooting over this look of pity while I just wanted to die from embarrassment.”
“But I’m your mother. I love you so much, Andrew. Why are you being so mean to me?” 
In frustration, Andrew began to run his fingers through his wavy, brown hair. 
“Look, I’m tired and need to get some sleep. Next time, I’ll text you. Alright.” 
Doris stopped Andrew as he tried to walk to his bedroom.
“Can I at least get a hug from my son?” 
Andrew gave Doris more of a lean than a hug. He could feel the heavy weight of her stare on his back as he walked the long hallway to his bedroom door. Once inside, he pulled the window shade all the way down until his room was almost dark. He draped his jeans over his chair, and grabbed a pair of folded cotton shorts from his laundry basket on the floor. Right before he was about to jump into bed, he heard a familiar voice echo from the large vent in his room. He bent down to talk.
“Tommy, is that you?” 
“Hi Andrew, it’s me,” said the familiar voice.
“Where’s your mommy right now?” asked Andrew. 
“She’s out doing errands,” replied Tommy. 
“Are you OK?” he asked the boy.
“I’m good, just bored.”
“Can you draw me a picture of your favorite Marvel character? asked Andrew.
“When you’re done, just fold it over and slide it through the slit in the vent? I’ll fish it out tonight while you’re sleeping.”
“Do we have a deal?”
“Roger that.”
“OK, my man. I have to get some sleep now.”
“Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” Tommy added before Andrew’s room fell silent. 
He smiled before grabbing his phone to Google gaslighting per Hannah’s suggestion. According to Psychology Today: Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity. Over time, a gaslighter’s manipulations can grow more complex and potent, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to see the truth.
After reading up on gaslighting, he’d look down at his opened palm so that he could retrieve Hannah’s phone number in order to text her. Andrew smiled when he noticed the tiny heart.
Thanks again for breakfast this morning. I had a great time. I’m sorry about my crazy mother. Looked up gaslighting. You might be onto something, Dr. Hannah Grossman.
Andrew opened his eyes to see Doris’ face peering down at him. Her long, gray hair had been tickling his cheeks, stirring him out of a deep sleep. He jumped out of bed in response.
“What the hell, Mom?!”
“I was just checking to see if you were breathing. I have supper ready for you,” said Doris. 
“Can you give me a few minutes?” he asked her. 
“OK dear,” she replied, before closing the door behind her. 
Andrew’s heart was still racing when he reached for his iPhone atop his nightstand to see if Hannah had replied to his message. He was surprised that she didn’t respond at all. Not even an LOL emoji— nothing. He thought they had hit it off at breakfast. 
Andrew then remembered his promise to Tommy regarding his Marvel drawing. He bent down to remove the large, decorative grille as quietly as he could, using a butter knife that he had hidden underneath his mattress, the flat knife filling in as a makeshift screwdriver. In the middle of the long aluminum vent that separated his bedroom from Tommy’s was the drawing folded just as Andrew had directed. He fished it out by using a weighted string attached to a yardstick. When he opened the paper, he saw an impressive drawing of Captain America, Tommy’s favorite Marvel character. He took note of the muscle definition in Captain America’s chest, arms, and legs, including shading for dimension. Andrew smiled at the boy’s raw talent before folding the drawing over and placing it in the middle of The World According to Garp, a 609 page novel published by John Irving in 1978.
Andrew didn’t know Hannah’s work schedule, but hoped they’d be working the same shift again. Tonight, he was restocking the toy shelves including LEGO themes — Harry PotterStar Wars, Disney, Jurassic World, and Batman. While his back was turned, he felt someone wrap their arms around his chest.
“Did you get my text?” she asked. 
“No. I didn’t. I mean I looked, but there was no response.” 
He then remembered Doris was in his bedroom.
“What was your text about?” he asked. 
“I didn’t want you to feel embarrassed about the cop showing up at the parking lot. We all have that one insane family member hiding in our gene pool. Yours just happens to be your mother.” 
“And I also shared that I heard back from FIT, and I got in for next semester. I’m going to New York, Banks!”  
Andrew was a bit sad to hear that she was leaving so soon after they’d finally become acquainted. He felt like things between them were moving in the right direction, and at a steady pace. 
“That’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you,” lied Andrew. 
“I know this sounds ludicrous, but would you be interested in moving to New York with me? I need a roommate, and it seems like you could use a break from your mom.” 
Andrew didn’t know what to say. He wanted to scream Hell Yes! but he had a mother with a disability to think of. Who would do her grocery shopping? Who would run her errands? 
“Maybe this will change your mind,” said Hannah. 
She moved in closer, standing between his legs, pressing him hard against the shelf of toys before leaning in to give him a long, passionate kiss, slipping her tongue in at perfect intervals. Her breath smelled like dewy orange blossoms. He cupped her heart-shaped face in the open palms of his hands. There was no question that Grossman and Banks had sexual chemistry. 
“Wow,” said Andrew after Hannah pulled back. His whole body felt hot to the touch, almost electric. 
“My dad’s going to cover the rent, but the deal is I have to keep my grades up, which shouldn’t be a problem. I thought you could enroll in John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. I can help you with the application process. What do you think?” 
Andrew didn’t respond at first. 
“I can talk to you mother, if you’d like.” 
“Let me handle it,” replied Andrew. Do I want to go with you? The answer, Hannah, is an absolute yes. But you know it’s complicated.” 
Hannah leaned in for another hot and heavy kiss before leaving Andrew standing all alone in the middle of the toy aisle.
“I gotta report to the stationary department. See you later Banks.”
Andrew reached for one of those wind-up Woody dolls, thinking maybe the Toy Story toy had the perfect answer for his current predicament. 
He pulled on Woody’s white string.
“This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.” 
Interesting, thought Andrew. He pulled on the white string again.
“Reach for the Sky!”
Okay, third time’s the charm.
“Yee-hah! We’ve gotta get this wagon train a-movin!”
Unbelievable, thought Andrew, putting Woody back on the shelf where he found it. 
Andrew felt like he was floating atop of a dreamy, rainbow-colored cloud for the rest of his vampire shift. And he didn’t feel the urgency to squint his eyes. Not one time. 
Hannah drove Andrew home after work since he didn’t own a car. He was saving money for a used one, and was about a thousand dollars short from his financial goal.
“So this is where you live, Banks.” 
“I’m afraid so.”
“I would love to see your apartment, and meet your mom.” 
Andrew fell quiet. 
“Okay. Whatever,” he said, tossing the outcome up to chance.
Hannah slapped his knee before they got out of the car. She held his hand as he unlocked the front door. 
“Would you like a coffee?” he asked upon entering the apartment. 
Hannah sat on the crooked couch in the middle of the living room while Andrew prepared their coffee in the kitchen. She felt like someone was watching her out of the corner of her eye, but when she turned her head to look, no one was there. She looked around and noticed a cluttered house. There were Amazon boxes everywhere, and the apartment looked like it hadn’t been deep cleaned in years. Just then, Hannah felt a light tap on her shoulder. When she turned around to see who touched her, she’d find Doris sitting right beside her on the couch with a blank look on her face.
“Boo,” whispered Doris.
Hannah let out a scream before she jumped off the couch like a Jack in the Box.
She was still clutching her chest, and breathing heavily when Andrew ran into the living room. 
“Mom, you got to stop sneaking up on people like that.” 
“Who’s the girl?” she asked her son as if Hannah couldn’t answer the question for herself.
“This is Hannah Grossman from work. She drove me home today. I was just making us some coffee. Would you like a cup?”
Doris shook her head no. 
“What does she want with you?” 
“Excuse me, Doris, but I’m standing right here. You can speak to me directly.”
Doris turned her head to give Hannah a death stare.
“I want Banks to move to New York with me. You got to let him go so he could reach his full potential. He has dreams, and deserves a future,” said Hannah, trying to appeal to Doris’ maternal side.  
“Who’s Banks?” she asked. 
Now looking at Andrew. “Why is she calling you Banks?”
Hanah watched as Doris went from defensive to manipulative in a nanosecond. 
“I can’t breathe, Son. Please get me a paper bag.” 
Andrew ran around the apartment like a hurried lap dog, fetching Doris a paper bag and a glass of water while Hanah suspected it was all an act on Doris’ part. Hannah had enough, and got up to leave. But before she left, she told Doris the truth.
“You’re a manipulative, evil bitch. You don’t love your son. You only see him as an extension of yourself.” 
Andrew stood there, torn between his disabled mother and the girl of his dreams. Unable to move, a tear fell down his cheek. 
“Don’t bother, I’ll let myself out Andrew,” said Hannah, breaking the awkward silence in the room. It was also the first time she called him by his first name.
Right after Hannah left, he started squinting his eyes again, making that familiar pained expression, resembling Robert De Niro, if Robert De Niro was experiencing the worst headache of his life. This time his eyes were squinting hard every ten seconds, resembling morse code.
“What’s wrong with your eyes?” asked Doris. 
Andrew sought the safety of his bedroom, where he’d collapse onto the bed, falling into a deep, unconscious-like sleep from the stress. When he awoke seven hours later, he’d reach for his iPhone atop the nightstand only to find it come up missing. When he went to open his bedroom door, he quickly realized it would not budge no matter how hard he turned the door handle. Andrew’s next bet was the window, but noticed that his mother had nailed his bedroom window shut while he was at work. Panic started to set in until he spotted the vent. 
“Tommy, you there?” asked Andrew in a hushed tone. 
“Roger, that.” 
“Where’s your mommy right now?” 
“She’s at the pub down the street,” the little boy replied.
“I’m trapped in my bedroom at the moment. So I’m going to try and escape through our shared vent. I’m going to try and go in feet first so that I can kick in the vent from your side. Don’t be scared, OK,” reassured Andrew.
“I won’t be scared. I promise.”
“I’m going to need you to stand back when I start kicking in the vent, OK?”
“Roger, over.”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said.
Andrew looked down at his watch, and realized that Doris would be waking up soon. He had to move fast. The first thing he did was collect all his favorite things like Jinx’s replica FBI badge and his favorite book, Catch-22, also a gift from Jinx. Next, he collected his stash of money, close to ten thousand dollars, hidden above a movable ceiling tile right over his desk. He took Tommy’s drawing of Captain America out of the Irving novel. The last thing Andrew took was a black and white photograph of his mother, taken right before he was born. In the photo, Doris was smiling from her eyes instead of her mouth. She was a picture of health, hope, and vitality, how he wanted to remember his mother. Andrew looked around his bedroom for the last time, wishing he could take everything with him. He placed the badge, book, cold cash, drawing, and photograph inside of a floral pillowcase before sitting down to write a letter to Doris. 
Dear Mom,
You left me with no other choice but to run. You broke my trust, and overstep my personal boundaries for years. You pushed me away at every turn. Maybe Hannah was right. Maybe you see me only as an extension of yourself. I need time to finally live my life, free from your imposed guilt. I will always love you, Mom. And my hope is that one day we will be able to reconcile. But not now. 
Love, Andrew 
P.S. Please don’t call the police. You will only push me further away. And I know you don’t want that.
Next, he took the weighted string off of the yardstick, his makeshift fishing rod, and wrapped it around the clutch of the pillowcase before wrapping the other end of the string around his ankle. He got the idea from Andy Dufresne, the intelligent protagonist from Shawshank Redemption, one of Jinx’s favorite films. Then he quietly removed the decorative grille from the mouth of the vent, before shimmying his body weight through the generous opening, feet and pillowcase first. Andrew’s body moved like a caterpillar — slow and steady, slow and steady, almost in little waves until the soles of his sneakers touched the interior side of Tommy’s decorative grille.
“OK, Tommy, I’m going to kick now. You need to stand outside of your bedroom, just to be on the safe side.”  
“Got it, Andrew.” 
“I’m going to give you a count of three. 1…2…3.” 
Andrew shimmied and shimmied himself until the back of his head hit Tommy’s bedroom floor hard. The boy ran back to his room, shouting, “It worked! It worked!” 
When Andrew got back on his feet, he would bend down to say goodbye to the sweet, little voice from the other side of the air vent. He was going to miss his daily conversations with Tommy, and wanted to impart something meaningful that he could recall on his bleakest days. 
“Remember Tommy. You’re a contender, a real contender. You got promise.” 
The dark-haired boy with the long, black eyelashes nodded his small head to suggest that he understood what Andrew had said.
“And I can’t leave without a final message from Captain America — I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.”
Andrew reached down into his freed pillowcase to show Tommy that he was bringing his Captain America drawing with him.
“You’re an excellent artist, Tommy. Promise me that you will keep at your art.”
“I promise,” replied Tommy, looking a little sad after realizing that he was saying goodbye to his friend from his bedroom vent.
Andrew gave Tommy a fatherly hug, before he walked out his front door, disappearing into the dense, heavy woods that surrounded The Petticoat Mansion apartment complex, not once looking back at the little boy standing alone inside the shadow of the open doorway. 
Carolynn Kingyens was born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia. She is the author of two poetry collections, Before the Big Bang Makes a Sound (2020) and Coupling (2021), published by Kelsay Books, and available for purchase on Amazon, and a number of large and independent bookstores in New York and Canada. In addition to poetry, Kingyens writes short fiction, essays, book and film reviews. Carolynn is currently working towards the completion of a short fiction manuscript entitled Attachment Theory, which includes, at the moment, thirteen stories based on a myriad of dysfunctional characters who after plot twists and turns, arrive at a resigned truth, learning firsthand that the root of suffering is attachment. 
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