By now, Enthalpy Mama is fully immersed in "Mommy Camp," a well-deserved respite for an amazing woman.
In her temporary absence, I offer a memory . . . both in light of the new school year, and in honor of Grandparents' Day.
. . . . . .
I lay down on the floor next to my son's bed last night, just for a while. The great majority of praenting experts say children should learn to fall asleep on their own, but we've always had our best conversations this way. Raw feelings, suppressed so carefully throughout the day, seep out in the stillness of night.
"Is first grade a lot longer than half-day Kindergarten?" He blurts it out into the silence. "Is it . . . the whole day, every part of it?" He can't hide the quiver in his voice, and turns to face the wall, in case of tears.
"No, honey, not every part, absolutely not every part. But longer than Kindergarten, quite a bit longer, partly because you'll have recess every day, not just once a week, and you get to eat lunch there with your friends. And you get to learn more, so much more about the world, Tony. It'll be awesome. You'll see." I stay steady, focus on hiding the apprehension in my own thoughts.
He's facing me again, smiling this time. "It's cool I'll have my own desk," he says finally, closing his eyes and settling into the pillow. I lie my head down too, on the soft carpet fibers, let myself drift into an almost half-sleep. Let go just enough, so I'll still hear the baby, if she awakens.
How much time passed, I'm not sure. But that's when I saw you. You came into crisp and sudden focus. Not you really, but your sandwiches. Little cream-cheese-and-olive squares. You'd serve them to us on the shady front porch, at a picnic table drapped in checkered cloth. Everything from your kitchen was soothing. I should send Tony to First Grade with cream cheese and olive sandwiches! The though makes me laugh. He barely eats conventional food, like turkey on white bread (the kind with few redeeming qualities).
Why did you save all those glass bottles, Nana? The ones lining the French windows along an entire side of your house? What did they mean? Sometimes you would tell me where this or that one came from, but I barely remember the stories. You were holding onto something, I think, artifacts of where you'd been -- the way I hang pictures of Tony and Eva throughout my house, far too many of them. Snapshots of different stages. I wish I could hold just one of your bottles right now, hold it up to the Cleveland sunlight, absorb the reflection of your life into my skin.
You held Tony once, just once, after so many strokes had wrought havoc on your body, reduced you so I wasn't sure how much of you was left -- Tony six months into life, you two months from death. He doesn't remember, of course, but I write poems about you, so he'll know . . .
Roomates, she and I
Her old storage room
converted to my bedroom
-- rows of tattered books, metaphysical meanderings
(Edgar Casey, Numerology, Dr. Seuss)
all standing silently above me as I slept.
Crickets and frogs calling softly from the pond
outside my window,
canyon breezes floating over an old, spongy mattress.
In the 18 years since, I have never slept so peacefully
as I did amidst the noise
of Topanga night.
Safeway, a grocery store produce section.
I rush quickly, anxious to catch up to the others.
The pungent scent of dark, ripened plums catches me off guard,
embracing me in the sweet perfume of her presence,
my eyes filling suddently with tears.
Has it really been three years since you left?
Staring at you across the white, laced tablecloth
darkened by newspaper print from stacks of the LA Times.
Staring, afraid I'd offend you with my prying,
hesitant to open a 20-year wound
in a 70-year-old heart . . .
yet I needed to know.
My words came out softly:
"Did Grandpa beat you?"
Her eyes steady,
her face frozen in neutral expression
. . . her deliberate, single nod.
This conversation ended, forever.
I spoke my darkest secrets,
the thorny journey of my 20s.
You smiled knowingly,
made me Quiche Lorraine,
moist lemon cake,
love myself again.