Sunday, February 6, 2011
Wednesday night I took a bath. "What are you doing?" asked L. Who was supposed to be packaged in bed under three blankets, asleep or at least drawing in the dim light, humming hushedly to himself. "Having a tubby," I told him. "No, I mean, what are you...doing?" Oh. He was referring to the bar of soap, the razor, my leg perched awkwardly on the faucet. "Shaving my legs." And then, of course, he asked: "Why?" And I thought briefly that thirty or so years from now L's choice of life partner may be influenced by the echo of this sight of me, his mother, sitting in a tub of tepid water shaving her legs. "I'm going to see my midwife tomorrow and shaving feels like the polite thing to do," I answered. "Now. To bed." And he bounced away. And I finished my moment of personal hygiene. And thought maybe it was strange to shave one's legs for one's annual appointment with the midwife. And, as the water grew yet colder, thought more about my midwife and how I was worried about her because the receptionist had muttered something about medical leave two months ago when I tried to get an appointment. But she was still seeing patients; it must have been a temporary thing. My midwife has girls, two of them, whom I know through scribbled drawings on the office walls. 'I love you Mommy.' 'Mommy I missed you today.' Crayoned pictures of rainbows and happy families.
The next day, my legs gleaming smooth under my jeans and long underwear, I hugged my midwife and told her all in a rush how good I was. We talked about my boys and her girls. We shared happy notes on husbands. Toward the end of the visit I asked, "And how about you? I heard something about medical leave?" She didn't quite look up from the note she was writing in my chart while she explained about surgery, a port in her abdomen, chemotherapy that started in four days. She held my hand to a flat disk under the skin in her belly where the treatment would enter. I don't remember her words, but with typical elegance and grace she let me know that five years is an optimistic chunk of time.
Her daughters are now much older than those notes they once wrote for their mother. College age. Not so old that the absence of a mother won't be unusual and tragic. Maybe it is at any age. My boys are only three among the thousands of babies my midwife caught during her career, but she is the only midwife to catch any of my babies, and my experience of those births is gratefully tangled up with my memories of her calming presence, her soothing intensity, her sharing of our joy, her sharing of her tea cup.
You think life is like a chess game, that if you can just keep your focus three or four moves out you'll be able to defend your most important pieces. That with a touch of luck and concentration your queen and your king will survive until the end of the game. I know, of course I know, that life is nothing so obvious. And I'm crap at chess anyway; my almost-nine-year-old boy has no problem beating me. I've been hugging my men extra these past few days. I've been repeating I love yous until they look at me funny. When they ask for a chess game I say yes instead of later. It's all I can do.
One summer when I was in Junior High I went with my best friend and her family to visit their relatives in Ohio. It must have been a large car--big enough to accommodate seven kids, two parents and our stuff--but I don't really remember. What sticks in my mind the most is meeting the cousins. There were three boys and two girls. The youngest boy was just my age, everyone else was older. That first night all of the little kids (my friend's brothers and sisters) found a place to sleep upstairs in the bedrooms, while the rest of us each claimed a space downstairs in the livingroom. The floor was soon covered in pillows, blankets and sleeping bags. Eventually everyone must have dozed off, but I stayed up talking to P , the next-to-youngest boy. I remember laying there, our bodies in opposite directions while our pillows and heads nearly touched, talking about anything and everything. We compared notes about music, movies and books and when we exhausted a topic we moved on to another. At one point we must have noticed the light filtering in as the sun came up; somehow we had stayed up all night. I don't think I was even tired the next day, I was still so giddy with excitement over meeting someone so similar. I had never stayed up all night before, and not many times since. Each one, though is a special memory.
I don't remember what it was like to leave their house after our vacation was over, though I must have been sad. P and I corresponded for quite awhile afterwards, and discovering a letter in the mail from him was cause for celebration. I hadn't ever met someone who I connected with so fully. It amazed me that I could be so close with a boy. Until then I had had several crushes from afar, but nothing that ever became anything more than me constantly thinking about that boy and wondering what it would be like for him to notice me. Growing up I never had brothers and only one boy cousin. I had several uncles, one who was an avid storyteller and a great babysitter. Back then boys were a foreign species, I knew they were different but I could never understand what made them tick.
There are times now when I pull out the memory of my nightlong never-ending conversation with P. I hold it gently as I consider it and admire its loveliness. With today's technology I could probably discover where the grown-up P has settled, but I prefer to keep our time together perfectly preserved in my amber tinted mind. Over the years it's grown softer around the edges, more from its age or my holding it close, I don't honestly know. Yet I hope I'm not the only one who remembers. Perhaps there's a boy out there who thinks about a certain girl and the night they spent together talking and laughing while the sun made its way into the sky.