Thursday, June 29, 2006

traveling in reverse

Sometimes I think I must have agreed to something before I came into this life -- that I'd have to learn how to continually let go. It seems to be a recurrent theme.

The older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize I know nothing at all. It's as if I'm traveling in reverse.

I have a teenage son. Since his fourth birthday his summers have been punctuated by a four-week vacation in July with his father, some of which is usually spent in California. I've come to look on the Fourth as a sobering anniversary of the leavetaking that is to come. When the fireworks go off in the sky after picnics and cheerful conversation, their brilliant rocket explosions seem to herald, to me, not independence but a secret, private sorrow.

I never get used to it when he goes away. It hurts, an almost physical pain that seems to stoop my shoulders and make my tongue heavier so that it's something of a burden to move and talk normally. And I know everyone says it's silly that I take it so hard -- shouldn't you be getting used to it by now? -- but truthfully, I never do get used to it. I don't know how anyone could.

After the initial acrimony of the divorce began to fade -- even the leakage of a dead battery must have a short half-life, a year or so -- the sting of separation from mother and child began to ease when my ex let us visit on his work days. He'd bring our son over to my house and we'd spend the day together until five and then my ex would come back and pick him up and take him home again. It was a buffer. It made the California trip a little easier to bear.

I got a phone call this afternoon from my ex. Though it's meant with no untoward intentions whatsoever, this year's vacation has been planned out a little differently -- which means I won't get to see our son on the in-between days this time. It's going to be a solid month of absence, just like it was right after the divorce.

This has been a week when I've felt a number of sorrows and concerns mounting upon my head. I can take it that the part of the roof is covered with a tarp and people are coming to write down estimates and take pictures. I can take it that I've given up caffeine and I'm swelling up like a zeppelin.

But I'm losing my son all over again and the fact that he's a teenager by now lessens the sorrow not at all. When I think of all the dramas I've envisioned as I hovered over him anxiously, the tragedies that never occured; the one I forgot to prepare for is the one that hits me the hardest.

The one in which I realize my child is growing up.

I made a simple dinner tonight, butterflied chicken roasted with onions and potatoes. It's a straightforward meal; economical and homely, filling the kitchen with direct but friendly aromas of warming onion and buttery breast meat. The teenager wasn't there to eat it; he'd already left to spend the night with his father.

After dinner I took a walk; I stopped at the store to pick up a few odds and ends. It felt odd to walk through the aisles unescorted and unencumbered. It seemed disorienting, uneven. I lacked ballast.

I'm tired of having a blog and writing my heart and soul upon the condensation of a warm window that everyone else can see and read.

It's not just that my son is going away for a month. He always goes away for one month out of the year. And he has a great time, too. It's fun for him. I can't begrudge him that.

It's more that I'm thirty-seven and I feel so disconnected sometimes, like I've struggled and worked and sacrificed and for what? What lasts? No, I mean there's family, but there are just no guarantees in life. One of my classmates died of cancer in February and another one died last week (two weeks ago? see how quickly the time lapses into a nondescript blur?) in a car crash.

When I read it in the paper all I could see, in my mind, was not the woman herself, but the girl she used to be, the one who sat next to me in fifth grade and wore a green Porky Pig shirt with darker green rings around the collar and the sleeves.

Loss, loss! It's not fair, it's not even close to fair.

Sometimes I still have dreams about my friend who died in February. Then I wake up and can't go back to sleep and I sit in the easy chair downstairs watching the streetlights shine through the window art I've put up in the living room. I turn my head this way, and that. The colors are so brilliant. It's almost difficult to imagine, in such a mood, that I was the one who made them.

As I get older I realize the more I am inclined to hold on more tightly, the more it means I have to loosen my grip and let go.

Is that what it is I'm supposed to learn?

When I left the store tonight (one plastic bag dangling from my hand, my long skirt swirling around my ankles because I like wearing long skirts anymore, these days) it seemed to take an unusual amount of determination to keep my posture erect. To think I used to practice walking down the college hallways with a book on my head so as to gain perfect posture.

Which is how my ex-husband met me, come to think of it.

Across the street a young mother held up a very young blond-haired child in the air, aloft, like a prize. She stood there, arms braced, laughing upward into the child's face as the child grinned, and then she swung the child back down again to the pavement. The child was barefoot, wearing only a diaper, and the two of them turned and walked away together, hand in hand.

Watching them uninvited I felt so full of a memory myself -- when my teenager was that small (he was that blond, too), how quickly that baby-time evaporates, as a costly but impermanent perfume that, obviously, you couldn't afford to buy again.

Fourth of July next week, and I just don't have the heart to write for a while. I don't know when I'll be back. I'm just....tired.