In my writing group last night, the prompt was, “You’re full of shit.” This is what came out of it. The disclaimer here is that this is not memoir. But it’s not fiction either. This particular scenario never happened, but many similar ones did.

“You’re full of shit,” he said, not fully understanding what the phrase even meant, but having heard it enough times to repeat it in a way that felt authentic.

“And you’re grounded,” she replied, not fully understanding the implication.

“You’re a piece of shit!” he hurled back, his face crumpling into a sadness born of humiliation and regret. He immediately thought of saying, “I didn’t mean it,” but there wasn’t time. He saw something behind her eyes change, a snarl grew on her lip, and he turned and took the steps two at a time, slamming the door to his bedroom when he got there.

She fumed. Breathed. Seethed. Slammed the cover of her laptop down and dropped her head into her hands. “That piece of shit,” she said under her breath and wondered where he had even heard the words before. She uncrossed her legs, put her feet flat on the floor, and tried to remember what he had told her. “Try counting to ten,” he had suggested, as if it were the most novel idea in the world. Breathe in and out a ten count. She tried it. One. Breathe. In. Out. Two. Breathe. In. Out. She heard stomping upstairs and then what sounded like books being thrown from a bookshelf. “That motherfucker,” she seethed. Three. Breathe. In. Out. Four. Five. When she got to six, she felt something relax in her back. The heat in her cheeks started to fade. Seven. Eight. By the time she got to nine, she was nearly blaming herself and then she heard his feet on the stairs.

“Mama?” His voice was small and choked. She didn’t even need ten.

“C’mere baby,” she practically cooed and he came to her. Leaned his surprisingly heavy body into hers, all elbows and knees, his sharp chin buried in her neck.

“I’m sorry.” He said it first. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. But maybe he was a better student than she was a teacher.

“I am too,” she said. “I didn’t mean to yell like that.”

They stayed like that for a long time, their breath falling into rhythm until eventually he pulled himself away and settled heavily into the couch next to her, lightly turning the drawstring of her hoodie in his fingers.

After a long while, he sighed. She looked down at him. “You are full of shit a little, though,” he said, a smile playing on his lips.

Fair, she thought. But said nothing.