in all the liminal spaces

My friend comes over for dinner and while the ragu simmers, I pour the wine and she reorganizes the contents of my pantry.

“We do not do conflict well,” she says, as she stacks the canned tomatoes. She is talking about the man she is living with. “We had a fight about a sweet potato.”

My son runs in, breathless, to report something that he has seen on television. “Do you know what?” he says. “The whole planet just exploded,” he shouts and runs out again.

We were at the grocery store, she says, and I wanted to get sweet potatoes and he didn’t want them, but I bought one anyway. Later, when I made it – for myself – I asked him if he wanted to try it.

"I’ve already told you I don’t want it,” he says. “How many more times are you going to ask?”

“He was kind of yelling at me. There was no reason to get so upset,” she says. “I just wanted him to try it.”

I nod. I fill a pot with water, put it on the stove to boil. “And then he hardly talked to me the rest of the night.”

I read a book about a woman whose husband disappears for long weeks and months at a time. Their children are small. She learns to raise them on her own.

After a long separation, he returns. And a few days later, the young daughter finds her mother crying, asks her why she is sad. She uses the word, “heartache.”

She says: “Things are never the way you’d imagined them. Sometimes waiting for an event is so overwhelming that when it happens you have no strength left for it.”

“You’ll see,” her mother tells her, “it’s late. You’ve got to sleep. You’ll see.”

Years later, the daughter remembers this scene as her mother’s life nears its end. “He’d come back,” she says. “He’d performed no miracle.”

She goes on: “What I’d see later is something you never dared teach me, because life means we each are left to our own fate: that heartaches are solitary and, like us, live out their lives to the end.”

It is late. I am lying in bed and I remember that earlier, my son had wanted to show me something. He had set up some sort of tableau with his toys that he wanted me to see. Not now, I kept telling him. Later. First there was dinner to make and then dishes to clear and then back in the car to pick up my daughter. While we waited in the parking lot for her, he read with a flashlight. And on our way home, he fell asleep.

I carried him upstairs in his coat and shoes. I put him in bed, took off his shoes, unzipped the coat, slipped his arms out and pulled it from under him. He slept. I brought the blanket up to his chin. When I leaned down to kiss him, his cheek was so warm.

My doctor is running late, so in the waiting room, I try to read. When I am finally called, I am ushered into a small exam room where I undress as instructed, wrap the thin cotton robe around me. More waiting.

She is apologetic. She taps at her keyboard. Runs through her list of questions. Any hospitalizations, any surgeries, any medications. I shake my head. She looks up. I say aloud, “no, no no.”

She asks about my children and I tell her they are fine. That we are starting to look at colleges. “That’s exciting,” she says. I nod.

And you are eating well? Exercising? Sleeping? I nod. Tell her “pretty much.” And it is true. She is not asking after all about my dreams of water. Or about my waking in the night to stare at the blades of the ceiling fan.

She listens to my heart. She presses her hands into my stomach. She writes a few things down on a green form, hands it to me. “It all looks great,” she says as she stands up to leave. “If you need anything at all,” she says, “just give a call.”

She leaves me to dress. On the wall, there is a poster about a balanced diet. Across the bottom, cartoon drawings of fruit with faces and stick arms and legs. They are holding hands. A chorus line of sorts. One apple, one pear, one orange, one banana. Perhaps it goes without saying: This does not make me want to eat fruit.

From time to time, when I meet someone new and I tell them, for one reason or another that I am adopted, one of the first questions they will ask is: Have you done a search?

I have and I haven’t. Every few years, I will send an email or two, make a few inquiries. I will copy down the number to my case file, the only identifying information that I have, paste it into online forms, wait.

Then I will reach a stumbling block: No, there is no file for you here. No, your parents did not leave anything here for you, and I will stop.

I like to think sometimes of the reunion. Imagine it:

An airport. A hotel lobby. A train station terminal. Somewhere people do not stay for long. Liminal space. The anticipation. The excitement. Her hands on my hands. We scan each other’s faces for things we recognize.

And for the time we are there, we say the things we can say; we cry. We hold each other. We touch each other on the face and arms.

And the time passes that way – an hour, maybe two. And then it is done. We will have found each other, but no miracle will have been performed.

Then someone might ask: Will you keep searching? Do you want to? And sometimes, I will leave it open-ended. I might, I will say. Some day.

But I don’t think that I will. I don’t know really, that I’d have the strength for such a thing. After forty years of waiting, how could a reunion bear all the weight of anticipation? I have imagined it and in time, won’t that imagining take on the shape and contours of memory?

And as I live out my own solitary heartache to its end, won’t that imagined memory – steeped as it is in fantasy, in childish anticipation – bring its own kind of comfort?

My friend is in a performance and her mother is visiting from out of town. She asks me will I spend some time with her, pick her up, take her to the show. So I drive to her house and call her mother as I approach. She meets me by front door. We chat amiably on the ride over. We park and walk to the theatre. Conversation is easy, cheerful.

We wait in the lobby. She asks about my children. I tell her how I feel like I am always running. Working, running errands, dropping them off and picking them up.

I was always so busy, my friend’s mother says, when she was little. Now, I have more time. Now, she is the one who is always busy. And now I have all this time to take care of her.