“I can’t live with a man who supports Donald Trump,” my mother said.
I held open the front door and took her suitcase from her as she stepped into my kitchen. It was 11 months after the presidential election and she was a youthful 73 in jeans and a sweatshirt, but there were dark circles under her eyes. I could tell she hadn’t slept.
“Dad does sound ignorant when he talks politics,” I admitted.
“That’s because he’s a moron,” she said.
I was a 45-year-old bachelor living in a first-floor apartment of a two-story brick building in New Jersey, 10 minutes from the house where I’d grown up. I’d relocated from Manhattan two years ago after I was laid off. Now, I was working for my father, an engineer who’d patented a green product.
“I’m going to stay with you until I find another place to live,” my mother said.
“Stay as long as you want,” I responded.
I felt awful. Married 50 years, she and my dad bickered like an old married couple in a 1950s sitcom. Mom was a former school business administrator who read the New York Times. Dad, 77, was a gifted inventor with no political acumen whatsoever. They raised my younger sister and me, shared a passion for opera and jazz, and traveled the world after retirement.
Trump’s victory ambushed their relationship. Dad had become strongly anti-government in the last 10 years. He backed the GOP unconditionally. Mom, a Hillary supporter, grew more frustrated with my father as the president trolled on. At weekly family meals, I was like a kid, eating home-cooked chicken while they sniped.
“The idiot linked to a white supremacist website in a tweet today,” she said.
“Maybe some politician will lower my ridiculous property taxes,” he said.
I prayed for a new job and affordable housing across the Hudson.
Now, Mom was pulling away. I sympathized. Hunterdon County was one of the Trumpiest places in New Jersey. In New York, I’d started mornings at Starbucks, surrounded by liberals kibitzing about Hillary and Bernie. Here, I sipped coffee at a bakery while locals praised the Tweeter in Chief. With many of her friends relocated or passed on, Mom had no one to vent to.
I helped her unfold the pull-out sofa in the living room. The sunny space was twice as large as the dingy, 300-square-foot urban cell I’d inhabited on First Avenue and 80th Street in Manhattan. A picture window revealed a verdant lawn that would have been perfect for kids, if I’d had any.
“I’m going grocery shopping. I might even buy a dresser and some shelves,” she said. “You need to start living like a human being.”
I understood her criticism. This 1,200-square-foot, four-room dwelling was half the rent of my former apartment, and the most comfortable place in which I’d resided. No one complained when I played my keyboard. The kitchen counters were large enough to lay out three recipes at once.
Still, I’d never settled in. There was a desk in my study, a bed and dresser in my bedroom, and a kitchen table. The off-white walls were bare. Blue drapes added color.
I wanted to get back to my life on the Upper East Side. I missed Sojourn, my favorite restaurant in the neighborhood. I thought about my ex-girlfriend, who’d lived a block away in the city and was stricken with breast cancer after I lost my job. I’d hoped to relocate to the suburbs as a husband. She dumped me instead, and I returned broke and single.
“Where’s your television?” my mom said.
“I never set it up,” I said, embarrassed.
“I’ll want to watch my Law and Order,” she said.
I opened the closet where I’d stashed my things. With my mother determined to make this place comfortable, my unwillingness to adapt seemed silly. I was forcing myself to wallow in the past.
“We’ll need to put it on something,” I said.
I found a used oak dresser, bookcase, and night tables on Craigslist. Driving the stuff to my house in my mother’s van, I realized how fortunate I was. I hated being a bachelor in the boonies, but I also had an opportunity to rebuild my life.
My mother and I filled my refrigerator and cooked sausage and peppers for dinner. She talked about her marriage, how she’d been with my father since she was 20. Over the years, they’d grown apart ideologically. They still loved each other, but she wanted to explore her own interests, maybe go on vacation once a year with her girlfriends.
I thought about my own stalled love life. I’d stopped dating after the breakup.
“You think I could meet someone out here?” I said, like a teen asking for reassurance.
“David,” she said. “New Hope and Philadelphia are right here. Don’t be a moron.”
“Well, a 45-year-old bachelor living with his mother isn’t exactly a catch,” I joked.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I have no intention of staying with you forever.”
I visited my dad at his office the next day. A short man with Popeye-like biceps, he was haggard and unshaven, watching slideshows of the family on his computer.
I didn’t want to be a mediator between him and Mom, but couldn’t help myself.
“She bites my head off whenever I talk about Trump,” he said.
“So don’t mention him,” I said. “Why do you like the guy, anyway? He’s a bigot and he gropes women.”
“He’s a schmuck,” Dad said. “But the GOP are capitalists, and I don’t believe in handouts.”
I looked at the assembly line he’d put together. Building it required stubbornness and an unfailing belief in himself. It was his best answer.
That night I stood in my kitchen and cooked dinner. This was the first meal I’d made in months. My father opened the door and stepped inside.
“Is she okay?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said, nervous.
He went into the living room.
“What are you doing here?” I heard my mother say.
“I’m sorry,” my father said. “This is so ridiculous.”
I walked in. She was in bed, watching TV.
“You two can’t argue in my house,” I said.
Dad sat on the sofa chair. He closed his eyes and rested his head.
My mom looked at me.
“We won’t,” she said.
I stepped outside. I didn’t want to hear their conversation. When I returned, Dad was asleep in his clothes, tucked against my mom as she read from her Kindle. She looked at me over her glasses and rolled her eyes. He went home that night and came to visit every day.
Mom stayed with me for a week. Then, she moved back in with my dad. They are going to Mexico on vacation in the new year. She plans to leave the trip early so she can meet friends in the Galapagos.
I got on Bumble and started dating. The women I’ve met are successful single moms who think I’m better off not married, but I still want to walk down the aisle. At least my place no longer looks like a vacant man cave. I’ve even put pictures up.
David Sobel is a writer living in Flemington, New Jersey.