It has been a season of false starts. The heat comes too early. It cannot last, but it forces the trees into bloom and they are left vulnerable, unprotected when the frost returns. Frost on the forsythia blossoms. Frost on the hyacinth, the daffodils. On the foliage of the columbines. Visible even on the slender fronds of lavender. On the tight buds of rose bushes.
I worry that they are too tender. That the return to cold after so much heat will now be too much to bear.
I wake early. Linger in the dark cocoon of my bed. Listen for the familiar sounds of morning. The hum of highway traffic. The distant warnings of trucks as they back into place at the construction site. Birdsong. M.’s breathing – deep and rhythmic.
I hear him rise. Still, I remain in the tangle of bedsheets with my eyes shut tight. The door opens, then closes again.
One night, as a child, I brought a toy into bed with me – a diecast yellow school bus that fit in my hand. My mother came in to say goodnight. Before she turned out the light, she lifted the blanket to fluff it, and I lay perfectly still as it fluttered back down on me, one arm stiffly at my side, my sweaty hand clutching the bus. It was not something she would have been angry at, really, but she may have taken it from me, put it on the shelf or in the plastic bucket that held the other cars and trucks. And I wanted to hold on to it, to have it with me through the night.
After she left, I brought my arm from beneath the covers, held the bus up to look at in the now dark room. The warm metal smell of my palm, my fingers.
In the morning, there is a brief concert at the school. We arrive late, and my son is ushered in to sit on the floor in front of the auditorium just as the song that his class is to sing begins. I stand in the doorway, crowded alongside the other parents who have arrived too late to sit on the benches and chairs set up in the back. They sing about recycling. First in English, then in Spanish. We take photos and videos on our phones. We applaud loudly when they are done.
The students file out and I stay behind to wave to my son. To make sure that he sees me before I leave. I catch his eye. I wave. He stands still to wave back as the other children jostle around him. He blows me a kiss with his small hand.
In the hallway, by the exit, there is a black office chair on wheels. A handwritten sign taped to it: “Do Not Sit.”
It is more difficult than I anticipated to leave this place. The things that I have built over these last months and years. To remember sleepless nights and anxious mornings, poring over file folders, rows of numbers. But I am trying to resist sentimentality. To resist romanticizing what is, in the end, work, that will continue long after I am gone.
Isn’t there a danger, really, in thinking yourself irreplaceable? The boundaries of self – blurring, merging. This thing – this work – takes on a life of its own. And can’t it grow larger and more entangled than you may have imagined?
Be vigilant, I tell myself, have told myself over the years. Pay attention. You are not only your work. You are this but you are more than this.
I walk the perimeter of the garden to survey the damage of last year’s neglect and this year’s premature warmth, but I am distracted – angry, unsettled – for reasons I cannot quite identify. Some of the metal stakes for the peonies have bent and I kick at one with my boot to loosen it from the hard ground.
The climbing rose has grown wild, has taken over the brick path between the back door and the patio and before I can make it to the back corner along the fence, to inspect the lilac and the butterfly bush, I grow weary, head inside. All of it will have to wait.
This time last year, I had a short trip out of town for work. I stayed in a hotel that was attached to a mall, attached to a metro station hub, which itself was attached to other hotels, and to other malls – a webwork of subterranean destinations. One could travel for days – eat, shop, sleep – and never emerge from underground.
I was in something of a letter-writing phase then, and I spent the non-working hours on the wide hotel bed, composing long, meandering missives to people far away - the pen-pal letters of childhood replaced with typewritten words on a glowing screen.
Last night, J. calls me while I am pacing my kitchen, opening and closing pantry doors, vacillating. We talk about her job, the new frustrations of it. About her online dating profile.
“I’m only doing it so that people will stop telling me to,” she says.
“Who is telling you to do it?” I ask.
“Oh, you know – people who have been in relationships for years. Who have never had to do it themselves. Who are all like: I know so-and-so who met blah-blah-blah online. You should try it.”
“I hate it,” she says. “It totally sucks. I’m never going to have a baby this way.”
The season, it seems, mirrors my own transitional state. Not fully one thing, nor another, but divided. Hovering in uncertainty. Waiting.
I think of Stephen Dedalus, as I often do – brought back, as I often am, to adolescence, itself the very definition of waiting: falling, falling, but not yet fallen, still unfallen, but about to fall.
We grow fond of our routines, don’t we? Become accustomed to our attachments so that they are rendered barely visible. Until something shifts: A point of inflection, a moment of action.
And then slowly, you are compelled to let go of what is no longer yours. Perhaps to understand, in fact, that it never really was.