As usual, I awakened before my alarm rang, and lay watching the spread of light beyond the trees which rise over the neighbor’s yard. Stillness surrounded me. For once, other humans sleep in my house: My son Patrick and his girlfriend Hope. They tiptoed below me after a night out in Kansas City. They set the alarm and I thought, briefly, before falling back into a dream, That’s a good boy.
We’ve had a pleasant visit. Patrick and I spent nearly four days together before Hope arrived. We moved our conversation from room to room; shelf to shelf; cupboard to cupboard. We culled a few pictures for him to take; some glassware; and the buildings which he made from recycled materials for Box City in the first or second grade. We shed a few tears. He showed me the digital images that he created from what he’s seen this trip. He loads them into a virtual landscape and their popularity determines his rating. He watched the number of downloads rise with satisfaction. I stared at the precise replication of the Kansas City federal building, thinking that I had no idea how intricate his work had become.
Mornings found my boy and me in the stillness and lingering cool on the front deck. Eventually the sun would invade the serenity, but until it did, we sat with our coffee cups and our memories. We gave voice to the happy times. We left the sorrows alone, though now and then the flickering images held tinges of both joy and grief. These we invited to settle in the chair beside us. I do not fear them now, with Patrick here to help me face each grainy countenance.
Do you remember when you struggled to learn to ride a bike. I finally took you on top of a nearby parking garage and you wobbled, unsteady, across its surface until you got it right. . . Your grim little face, with its trickle of sweat. . .Our trip to the Badlands. . . that song you sang to me when I cried, you must have been three and I would sit in the breakfast nook with a fistful of bills. You’d pull the collar of your little t-shirt over the back of your head and stumble around chanting, “I am an old woman. . .”. You didn’t know why tears flowed down your mother’s face, but you yearned to make me laugh. And it worked, every time.
Your make-shift cape, an old brown towel which you tied around your neck, over your Batman pajamas. You’d run through the house shouting, “nanananananananananananananana Batman!” You wore those pajamas for Halloween, with your black cowboy boots. You slept in them. You wouldn’t let me take them for the wash..
A card taped together from newsprint, on the front of which you wrote in huge letters, SORRY. And inside: Sorry for not listening to your nags. I doubt that this is enough to get my G[ame] B[oy] back but what the heck. Pat.
We laugh about the letters of apology which I required from you. I tell Hope, I didn’t believe in punishment. I wanted him to understand the impact of what he had done. I wanted him to make different choices but deliberately, not out of fear, not because I made him. In lower tones, I add: So many people told me that I should do more, do different, do something to curb his spirit.
What I don’t tell them: I wept a thousand scorching tears over every little lesson. I knew life’s cruelty. I wanted to be the one person with whom Patrick could feel safe. When I had to step out of that guise, I sobbed. Secretly, in the bathroom, in my car on the way to the office. I did what I felt necessary to help him learn, but it nearly killed me every time.
Every minute of my son’s child hood, I heard a voice echo in my head, a line spoken by Jason Robards in his stunning portrayal of accidental parenthood in A Thousand Clowns: “I can only hope that he will speak well of me in therapy years from now.”
Bundles stand in one corner of the dining room, waiting to be loaded into Patrick’s car. I don’t know if he’ll come here again. I plan to sell this house in the fall, to downsize. Most of the furnishings of this home will be sold or given away. I’m moving from 1242 square feet to an 8-1/2 by 24, 11-1/2 feet tall rectangle on wheels, with two lofts and no closets. The clock on the mantel; the paintings on the walls; the Legos; the Hotwheels; the Haviland soup cups; the books and the boxes of photographs haunt me. I will touch each. I will release the memories that each contain, letting the images drift before me like the buildings which Patrick creates on his computer. I will keep a few trinkets. The rest will exist only in our minds and hearts; and in some digital world. I will walk its sidewalks from time to time, when the signal pulses strong and steady, crackling through the air, beckoning me to seek refuge among the laughing ghosts and shifting shade of yesteryear.