I woke up early today. Tiptoed downstairs. Rattled scoops of dry food into pet bowls. Slurped yogurt and crunched toast. After that I headed for the calendar, knowing I shouldn't. I couldn't help it though. The days and weeks seem to possess some crazy gravitational power. In my defense, I did white-knuckle-grip the kitchen table but in the end, the calendar won. I counted the squares -- 27. Collapsed onto a kitchen chair. Pressed a cloth handkerchief to my nose. Lately I've made sure there's one in every room.
In 27 days you, my oldest daughter, will make like John Denver and leave on a jet plane. Fly halfway around the world. For three whole months. To do good things. You'll come back for 30 or 40 days then off you'll go again. For another long, long time.
I feel as if I've been diagnosed with something awful.
"It's bad," the doctor in my mind says. "We're going to have to cut out a third of your heart. The other two thirds are fine. For now. They won't have to come out for, let's see . . . three years and seven, respectively."
After lunch I climbed the stairs. Squinted when I passed your little brother's room. He was flopped on his bed, dressed, a pillow over his face. I went to him, laid my hand on his shin. He peeked out, his eyes small and red.
"What's up, bud?"
"They wouldn't let me play Capture the Flag," he said.
I sat beside him and twirled one of his silver-blonde curls around my finger.
"It's what's supposed to happen," I told him (and me) as I stroked his lightly furred, 10-year old limbs. "Kids grow up. They start hanging out more with friends than family. Then they go away."
He buried his face in my side. I scrunched his hair with my berry-colored fingernails.
"It's normal but that doesn't make it easier, does it?"
I felt his no against my ribs. We lingered there for a minute. Silent. He pillowed his face again. I patted his leg and stood.
Out in the hall my nose burned, then my eyes. It didn't take long for them to give up the tears that seem always ready these days. I know I hurt, but my little guy does too? That feels somehow heavier. My sadness plus his grief equal more.
"When you left for college, your dad got depressed."
I'd smiled when Mom told me that a few years back. "Really?"
That is so sweet. I'd put my hand over my heart. Imagined his light blue eyes. The way they almost disappeared into the nearby crowsfeet when he smiled. He loved me that much? Awww.
Now it’s happening to me. I suppose it's that whole what-goes-around-comes-around thing. I thought about it as I made my latte after lunch. I pressed hard on the tamper. "Apply approximately 30 pounds of pressure," the espresso machine directions said.
“I'd have to apply way more pressure than 30 pounds to tamp down all the stuff inside me right now,” I told the kitchen. “I'd need to practically put my whole weight to it. To hide it.”
See, I don't want you to notice how close to the surface my tears are. My fears are. Thing is, this is your time. This is the biggest, best thing you've ever done. Going south of the equator? To teach English to golden children with glossy, no moon night hair? You're looking as forward to your adventure as I am dreading it. I don't want you to worry about me. To feel guilty that I'm such a wreck.
Sometimes I step into the dining room. Gaze into the mirror over the mantle and smile. Well, I try.
"I toured Europe for a summer when I was 22," I say. "Now it's your turn."
I stand there, mouth hitched up on one side until I think of something else.
"And your cousin, Rachel? She's been a nanny in England and Spain. Spent a year in Buenos Aires too. If she can do it, so can you."
I came up with another one yesterday. "In eight months all your traveling will be done and you'll be home for good." I cupped both sides of my face and grinned. A minute later I had another thought and my shoulders sagged.
"But then you'll be off to college," I said. "At least there you'll only be four hours away instead of half a world."
Half a world away. Where I can't fix you supper, pet your Pantene-scented curls, take care of you if you get sick. What if you get sick, baby?
Then there were tears. Again. I'd dug my fingertips into my wet eyelids and hissed.
"I'm not going to drink any more water. Ever. Then you'll go away. Dry up. Right?"
Tonight after supper, I phoned my best friend from high school. She has a grown up girl of her own. I hadn’t planned on sobbing but I did.
“She'll be fine," my friend said. "She’s a good girl. Super smart. She’ll do fine.”
I sniffed, nodded, hung up. So she wouldn’t hear my crying hiccups. I decided weeping is like Advil when I have the flu. It helps for about four hours then the symptoms -- tears, runny nose, urge to clutch at my heart -- return. When I’m heartsick, the tears are always there, simmering, just below the surface. Threatening to uncurl my eyelashes and wend little creeks through my blush.
Oh, heaven’s. Look at the time. It's after midnight now. You know what that means, don't you? Just 26 more days.
Photo Credit: arenamontanus.
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