Another week has slipped through my fingers. Its shifting sand falls to the pavement and dances away in the hot summer breeze. I stare with consternation at the accusing calendar. Halfway through July, no more prepared for fall than six weeks ago, when the summer lay outstretched in shimmering promise.
The house has not sorted itself. But I have two days before the dawn of Monday when the prodigal son arrives. I remain hopeful.
Nine years ago he returned from Mexico. I had practically driven him against his will to the airport and stuffed him into the cabin of the plane. He cast bitter looks in my direction. He had changed his mind. He didn’t want to go. But I would not relent. A lot of planning, scheming, and machinations preceded the trip to the airport. He had his passport, his medical records, the entire list of recommended travel items, and a Costco-size pack of Aloe vera. He was ready. He would go.
I left him huddled in a chair behind the stretch of glass between the departing and those left behind. A gate attendant spared a practiced gesture in my direction. She’d seen this so many times. The teenagers off to school or camp. Smaller children bundled to their grandparents or the distant father. She knew what he feared. She understood my need to give him the lesson that I hoped he would learn by going. She smiled and turned toward the next customer, leaving me staring, leaving him miserable. She did not expect either of us to die of what we felt.
My coffee had grown tepid in its insulated mug. Dawn broke over the highway as I traveled south, back to the leafy neighborhood and my airplane bungalow. A plane passed overhead as I parked. I stood in the driveway staring into the sky, watching it move from north to south. That could be Patrick, I told myself. Godspeed. I spoke the words outloud to the empty yard, to the robins twittering in the maple tree, to the butterflies oblivious to the pain of humans.
I climbed the stairs to the porch. The day had not yet grown warm. In the house, I poured another cup of coffee. I unplugged my laptop and took it back outside, settling in my old porch rocker. I opened an e-mail, entered the address of my lawyers’ listserve, and began to write.
For the next month, friend after friend called to see how I fared. Newly separated, childless for the first time in sixteen years, with an empty home and silent rooms — that’s how, I told each one. The other end of the telephone line fell silent. I’ve always felt that honesty would serve me better than idle small talk. I’ve never understood the virtue of glibness. I couldn’t murmur some inane pleasantry. They asked. I answered. Nothing remained for discussion.
The days droned by. I kept track of the weeks by the dawning of each Saturday. I rose, made coffee, and started writing. Saturday Musings, 07 June 2008. Good morning. . . Saturday Musings, 14 June 2008. Good morning. . .
I had spent the prior eight years playing housewife, a role which never suited me. I performed only slightly better as “Mrs. Patrick Corley’s mother”, a name given me by one of my son’s pre-school classmates. I liked best what Patrick had called me in his toddlerhood: “Corinne Corley Mommy”.
But in the summer of 2008, I reverted to my basic self, without a relative status. A single woman, 53 years of age, twice divorced, five pregnancies yielding one child, a lawyer, a haphazard home owner, frizzy-haired and slight of frame. Mary Corinne Teresa Corley, original birth name Bridget Kathleen.
In that guise, I sat on my porch for six straight weeks writing these Musings. I found that I had quite a lot to say. Occasionally, one of the recipients on the Solo and Small Firm Internet Group (SFIG) responded, thanking me for a sweet phrase, a casual insight, the sparkle of a lively description. Between Saturdays, I slugged away at my casework, talked to Patrick via international cell phone, and cleaned his room.
He turned seventeen at his guest home in Mexico. I had sent a present, wrapped in colorful paper and stashed in his suitcase. The family fussed over him with their own traditions. Cumpleanos Feliz, cumpleanos feliz. Happy birth anniversary. In Kansas City, I wept. I had celebrated each of the prior sixteen birthdays with him. I did not begrudge him one year alone, but still, I wept.
His plane home arrived at midnight. I took Patrick’s friend Colin Elving with me to the airport, grateful to Bev and Eric for letting their son be my companion so late in the night. We stood on the far side of that same glass wall, watching the sleeping, wrinkled passengers drift into the hallway. Anxiety overcame me as the final person exited the secure area.
I really thought this was his flight, I told Colin. He glanced at me oddly.
Mrs. Corley, he’s coming towards you right now, he said.
I did not recognize my own son.
He had grown four inches taller. His hair had darkened and formed itself into spongy curls. He wore clothing that I had never seen and certainly did not pack for him. He had his backpack casually slung over one shoulder. Deep brown skin flanked bright blue eyes.
For the first time, I had to reach higher than my shoulders to hug my son. My son! Who was this young man, sent back to replace the child who had damned me for making him take this trip?
He pulled back from me a little. I asked, Did you have a good flight? Did you have fun? How was it?
His smiled broadened. I’m so glad you made me go! Another flash of that unfamiliar grin. The best time ever! And Mom, not only was I not the shortest kid in the group, but I think I was the tallest kid in all of Mexico!
Indeed, he had grown so much that he had had to buy new blue jeans. He wore a casual self-assurance which I did not recognize. I could not stop gaping at him, even when he turned to give his friend a hug and a high-five.
We got his suitcase from the baggage claim and went into the darkness. All the way home, the boys chattered about their summer, Patrick no less interested in what Colin had done than in telling stories of his six weeks as an exchange student. I drove, and listened, and marveled at the wonders of motherhood.
I had sent my child into the wilds of another country, and he had come home as a young man, prepared for the world at large.
There would be times when I despaired of either of us regaining such ease with life. But that night, I felt that we could conquer any obstacle. I had lived alone and found my voice. He had traveled alone and found his footing. What could we not do, with those lessons learned?
Nine years later, another summer, another hot July waiting for my son to come home. But is this home for him? Save the occasional visit and six difficult months after college, he has not lived here since 2009. Now I’m packing to downsize. This will probably be his last week in the house where he spent his childhood.
That should not make much difference to him overall. He orchestrates his life from a one-bedroom apartment in the Illinois town where he got his graduate degree. He has his own furniture, a well-equipped kitchen, and an oft-used recycle box sitting by the little table where he takes his meals.
It’s almost as though my life as a mother has ended. But whatever I was before that life began will no longer serve me. I sit in front of a journal in which the rest of my story is not yet written, daring myself to turn the page to find tomorrow.