A grey sky has hovered over Kansas City for two days. Yesterday's snow flurries had no impact on the banks of snow piled alongside every sidewalk and street, neither to increase the mountains nor liven the grime. Winter grips us. No one in the Midwest ever expects to be snowbound, yet this week, many were. I shiver as my feet hit the kitchen floor, and shy away from the gap at the bottom of the backdoor, through which icy tendrils of air seep.
The crystal stillness of a snow-crusted darkness lulled me to sleep last night. Each weary muscle settled against the mattress as I drew deep, gratifying breaths, feeling the warmth of the air, letting the tiredness drain from me. Life marched to these times, tramping over green fields, and piles of rubble, scaling mountains and skittering around curves. Life brought me here, to this place, where I stand for hours greeting visitors in a beautifully lit professional suite of offices which I share with my husband and three people whose diverse life philosophies nonetheless seem to mesh so well with mine. I look around that suite, and see fabulous works of breath-takingly honest art, month after month, art that has been brought to me by my soul-sister whose vision propels me so much farther than I could have ever dreamed.
Just before sleeping, just before I sink into the long refreshing time of unawareness, an image returns to me: that same soul-sister, her silver hair then a rich brown, but fringing the same radiant smile.
I stand at her front door, a bag of groceries awkwardly bunched against my coat. Heaps of snow spill from the sidewalks and driveways of her subdivision. Penny swings the heavy storm door towards me just enough to let me slide through, then bangs both doors closed, shushing the dogs who frantically strain to get out, get at the visitor, get her attention. I surrender my burden and shrug from my winter things, and look beyond the entryway, past the kitchen, to the lower-level family room where a boy intently studies a drawing pad.
He glances my way only briefly. Hi, Mom, I can't talk to you right now, we're having drawing class, he informs me, a little reproachfully. I glance back at his aunt Penny and arch one eyebrow. Indeed, indeed, I cluck. Don't let me interrupt. Penny returns to her pupil and I help myself to coffee, sitting at the small table overlooking my studious child and his beloved teacher. His short hair spans the tender contours of his skull. I know the curve of that head; I know the line of scar where that head smacked a marble window sill on his fifth birthday, and the smooth surface of the forehead which swelled the time he fell in Tower Grove Park, on Easter, two years before that. I sip my coffee and gaze on his furrowed brow, at the terse set of his lips, the focus of his gaze. I drink my coffee. I have time enough to wait.
When the artists relinquish their sketch pads, we make a little lunch with the provisions I have brought. We sit as strangers might, at the table. I get the idea that when I am not there, lunch takes on a rather more festive air and happens on the coffee table. With me present, lunch has matching dishes, and square-cut sandwiches, place mats, and good manners.
After lunch, we have a shopping trip. My son, who lives with his aunt Penny during August, when his school is closed, and on long holidays, because his mother works and does not yet feel he should spend long stretches of time without an adult, needs a few things: socks, and T-shirts, and chapter books, mostly. We assemble what meets his seven-year-old sensibilities in a cart at Wal-Mart. He rejects one or two items that he says cost too much. Always looking for a bargain, my boy. Afterwards, we stop for treats. I can't remember now, all these years later, whether we had ice cream or soda. I picture him across a Formica table-top, intent on eating without getting anything on his shirt. What overwhelmed me then, rises again within me now. Is it love, or gratitude?
I take him back to his aunt Penny slightly wired on sugar. I hug them both, and then the visit ends. My last sight of him almost drew me back: as the door closed, I just barely saw his head peaking from beneath a cover on the couch, his heavy-lidded eyes almost shut, his last words before sleeping barely audible: Bye Mom, I love you.
Over the years, my son grew taller. He went through a long-haired phase which ended with a symbolic buzz, which he wore with defiance of his past for several high school years. On a trip to Mexico he let his hair grow again, and it came back in dark, heavy curls. I did not recognize him at the airport. More years passed, and he abandoned drawing for guitar, which he played with his usual unrelenting intentness. Slowly, gradually, words came to him, and now my electronic mailbox sizzles when he sends me something that he wants me to read.
The light outside my dining room window shines through frozen streaks. Our dog gazes at me, a silent question echoing her hunger, the need for her medicine. I see that time has continued its onward trudge, while my muscles tensed, slightly hunched as I am over this old computer. In a little while, I will try to rustle up a coffee date with my son's aunt Penny, and later, I'll visit my mother-in-law at the hospital, and bring her flowers or a little trinket. And after a while, I will call my son, and unless the Google-subscriber lady tells me he is unavailable, I will share with him, my memories of long-ago, when he was young, and I had visitation with him on Saturdays, while he bloomed under sweet, prescient gaze of his other mother.
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