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Month: April, 2013

reading night

reading night

dispatch from 02139 (in which we all circle round, and fellows and co-vivantes engage in a nieman rite of spring, one that prompts us to pull from our pockets one choice passage — scribed this year, and picked just for tonight — that, one-by-one, we will read to the gathered masses. it is a nieman literary tradition, and it has one of us shaking in her reading clogs….thus the rosary beads above…)

long ago, in the leafy shade of my writing room back home, i remember sitting at my old pine table typing a promise to all the beloved “chairs.” i promised to bring you along on this year of thinking sumptuously, and i’ve tried mightily to do that.

sometimes, of course, these dispatches have been placeless, as they’ve captured musings i might have mused wherever i was in the world — a mama’s musings, a mama’s heartaches, moments not tied to any ZIP code. sometimes they’ve been particular to the curious case of going back to college when you’re pewter-haired.

i’ve carried you on a field trip to a poet’s farm in new hampshire, and let you peek in at the volumes piled high on my desk. i’ve tiptoed into the monastery, with you right on my shoulder, and i’ve brought you here to the kitchen when i got to stir a cauldron of chili for a boatful of hungry rowers.

this perfect april’s afternoon — with the just-warming breeze whooshing through the screen door, and the merry finches nibbling from the kitchen-window feeder — i am about to bring you along with me to a big moment on the nieman calendar: reading night.

nothing fancy about the name, nothing fancy about the format.

the framework is this: each fellow and co-vivante (a.k.a. the tagalongs who traipse beside their duly-plucked fellows) is encouraged to sign up to step before the crowd and read one written work they’ve created during their time here in niemanland. twenty-one of the pool of 40 (that would be the 24 fellows plus this year’s 16 co-vivantes) have been slotted to read; i am one.

now, you might not know this about me but i turn to wobbles when called upon to stand up and read aloud. perhaps it dates back to some moment in, say, fourth grade, when i was daydreaming out the window, and sister leonora mary called on me to read, but i had no clue where we were, so the giggles around me rose to a roar, and there erupted a flurry of pointing fingers as deskmates right and left tried to foist me back on track — before sister leonora mary’s rubber-tipped stick thwopped me on the knuckles.

and, while i adore my fellow fellows and each and every co-vivante, this is no crowd for shrinking violets. we’ve got editors from the new york times, a pulitzer winner or two, the founder of the daily beast, a writer from the international herald tribune who regales us with her tales of traipsing in and out of tents of taliban poobahs, where she scores globe-gripping stories. and on and on and, oh my goodness, on.

this exercise in verbal undressing — that’s sure as heck how it’ll feel to me, one of a mere three co-vivantes who’ve signed up to read along — commences at seven bells, just as the sun sets in the western massachusetts sky, and that glorious full moon rises to spill its milky glow on all the cobbled lanes.

the piece i’m reading is one i wrote for a class that might have changed my writing life, the longform narrative writing class, in which i discovered once and for all just how darned hard it is to cobble one majestic sentence, let alone one 10,000-word deeply-reported tale.

this particular assignment was one in which we had to narrate a dramatic moment in our life, and exercise the sublime art of dialing back the descriptives so the power of the moment pulsed through, unweighted by a chain of over-wrought modifiers. it’s all about the verb, we learned and learned again.

“verbs act. verbs move. verbs do. verbs strike, soothe, grin, cry, exasperate, decline, fly, hurt, and heal,” writes poet laureate donald hall in his essential text, “writing well” [9th edition, 2007, pearson longman]. “verbs make writing go, and they matter more to our language than any other part of speech.

“verbs give energy, if we use them with energy.”

you’ll see when you read my humble exercise (just below), why it might feel a bit like i’m standing naked before my writerly fellows.

but, in the spirit of clearing my lumpy throat and trying to shake off the shakes, i offer you the trial run of the hastily-titled, “fading.” (it had no title; heck, it was just assignment #9, but the nieman curator insisted i title it, and the first word that popped in my head was “fading,” so fading it is….)

(the beauty of unspooling it here is you can’t see my wobbly knees, and my fingers aren’t yet ratcheted up into their hummingbird tremble)


by barbara mahany

The gel oozed onto the hard dome of my belly in cold coiled worms. I flinched but not nearly as much as I would have, had I not been distracted by the three-year-old — my doctor’s three-year-old — who’d climbed up beside me to get a better look.

Really, I thought, did she really need to be clambering around like this was some sort of a hospital tot lot? But then again, I reminded myself, it was a Sunday afternoon, and my doctor, already on call, had told me, just 45 minutes before, “Meet me in Labor and Delivery. Let’s see what’s going on in there.”

Click, someone flicked off the lights. The screen blinked, fuzzy at first, like a black-and-white TV, back in the ‘60s, when the thunderbolts in shades of gray squiggled across the screen before settling into, say, the opening credits of “Twilight Zone,” and my dad whispered, “Shh!”

No one whispered a thing in the murky underworld of the ultrasound room. The screen turned white and nobody — not the doctor, not my husband, not the three-year-old — moved. Least of all, me.

I blinked once, twice, then again. Hoping each time that if I squeezed my lids hard enough maybe the black whorl in the middle would come into focus. The black whorl with the fingers like seaweed, swishing open and closed.

Lub-dub-swoosh. Lub-dub-swoosh. It was the song of the embryonic heart, and, for 15 weeks now, it had soothed me.

This time, there was no song. There was no seaweed. Just an empty black hole. And the white, all around, didn’t move.

“I’m sorry,” my doctor said.

My husband, the father of that baby, withered onto me, his curls mopping my cheeks.

And then — maybe to make sure I’d been scraped of all hope, maybe because to a doctor it was just a curious thing — my doctor pointed to the blurred edge of the baby’s outline, at the crown of the head, down at the toes, where the white wasn’t so crisp anymore. Where the white was pocked with gray.

“See right there,” she said, pointing, “Baby died a few days ago. It’s starting to fade.”

That’s why, for the last couple mornings, the coffee didn’t make me wretch quite so much. That’s why, since Tuesday, I’d been holding my breath every time I walked in the bathroom, afraid to pull down my pants, for the streaks, then the splotches, of blood.

I’d been through this before. But never so late in the game. We were past the first trimester. I’d circled the date — September 22 — on the calendar. Drawn a red heart, actually.

But now I just lay there. Absorbing. Staring at the white part that glowed. I memorized the curve of the head, noticed the nose, how much it looked like the baby’s big brother. I tried not to look at the part of my baby that was already fading.

They sent me home, told me to wait. The baby didn’t wait long. Alone in the night, wailing some primal howl, I cupped my hands and caught my rosy-pink stringbean of a baby, that’s how tiny she was, to save her from swirling into the bowl of the toilet.


(this is a not-so-common thursday eve posting, as i’ll be trekking to frederick law olmsted’s stomping ground tomorrow early morn, when i tagalong yet again, this time on a field trip with sweet blair’s “history of landscape architecture” class.)

and, yes, we are all re-catching our breath after the horrors of last week. spring unfolds here in slow time, thanks to chill winds that hover near, and keep the blooms unfurled in suspended animation.

lastly, the rosary beads up above will be in my pocket whilst i read. a sure cure for the shakes, i’ve found over the years.

do you get wobbly when you do certain acts in public? if so, what brings on the wobblies, and what, pray tell, are your tried-and-true cures???

surreal city

surreal globe

dispatch from 02139 (in which, amid a thicket of sirens that bleed through the air, we are on lockdown, after long surreal night….)

surreal manhunt

the phone jangled me from sleep last night at 1:48 a.m.

it is a mother’s first instinct, it is my first instinct, to read the clock when i hear phones ringing in the depth of darkness. it is my initial register that something’s wrong.

i stumbled toward the phone, and by the time i got there, i jammed my thumb on the wrong button. i missed the call.

the cell phone, though, picked up the chirp, and by then awake enough — and seeing that the number on the face of the phone was the one belonging to our sweet college kid, my heart pounded through my chest wall — i grabbed the call.

first words i heard: “mommo, are you okay? there are all these bombings and shootings in boston.”

oh lord.

and so it began. the long surreal night of sirens bleeding everywhere. of trying to sustain internet connection so my laptop would clue me in, where TV was slower to respond.

the TV images: SWAT trucks, FBI jackets, men padded in camouflage garb. long-necked assault weapons. a lifeless-looking body lying motionless on the street beside a funeral home that’s not three miles away.

but before that, word that just down massachusetts avenue, at MIT, not a mile away from our third-floor aerie, a cop had been killed. and then a high-speed chase down memorial drive, at the bottom of our hill.

we stayed awake for hours, trying to make sense of what did not make sense. at last, at nearly 4 we tumbled back to try to sleep. we knew little. all we knew was that mayhem had this town on lock-down.

at 6:05 i awoke again. sirens drowned out the birdsong. i found myself alone in bed, nothing but an empty pillow beside me. i tore off the sheets, ran for that lifeline, the laptop. checked for emails, and saw that harvard was closed.

the reason: a massive manhunt for “highly dangerous” suspect. a second suspect, we now learned, was dead.

since i can’t ever work the TV clicker, i clicked around the internet, CNN, the boston globe, twitter feeds. it was a blur of SWAT trucks rumbling through the streets, bomb-sniffing dogs, robots dispatched to detonate explosives hurled at first responders.

the phone rang again, at 6:32. “coded alert,” read the words on the phone. “city of cambridge.”

the automated voice on the other end of the line instructed us to “shelter in place” — do not go outdoors, stay inside your homes — due to the ongoing police advisory. “please stay vigilant,” the voice implored.

oh, we are vigilant all right.

and so grateful that the 11-year-old is sleeping deeply through all of this. he’s been shaken since monday afternoon when the governor and police commissioner got on the television and said to “stay indoors, this is an ongoing police activity,” as reports rolled in of the explosions at the finish line, and an hour and a half later, an explosion at the JFK library. no one knew where the next explosion might blast.

all week, it’s been helicopters thwopping through the sky, and sirens shrieking by — on streets right in front of us, and in layers in the distances.

i’d not be honest, if i did not say that i’ve been scared, felt exposed, never had the sense that this eery chapter was in any way closed.

i steered clear of every metal trash can i passed on massachusetts avenue. i walked in classroom buildings, and thought how odd it was that we were all seamlessly, porously, entering and leaving without a soul asking our intentions. without a single backpack being checked.

my little one told me yesterday as i drove him to soccer that, to him, this is all much worse than sandy hook, at least through his eyes, his heart. the bombers, he said, “stole the sanctuary” of the boston marathon. “it was something glorious,” he reasoned. and in clear daylight, people who came to cheer, to run, to cross the finish line, got shattered, got killed.

as if to make his point in numbers, he asked how many were hurt at the boston marathon, and how many killed at newtown.

they are both horrible, i concurred, knowing you do not debate gradations of horrors.

he has no idea what’s unfolded since the phone rang in the middle of last night.

last night, after a “disturbance call” at MIT, a security guard responding to the scene was shot with multiple gunfire. a black mercedes SUV was carjacked, and the high-speed chase tore along memorial drive, the vast curving roadway just down the hill, the roadway i’ve walked all year for its meditative powers, as it curves along the charles river, the parade of london plane trees marching along its flanks.

as i type, the sirens are picking up in tempo, and decibels. it’s as if the pulse of this city is now being metered out in shrill, and undulating pierces.

now comes word that one suspect might have been a kid at cambridge-rindge high school, the campus i walk through four to six times a day, a mere four blocks away.

as i look out the windows, i see no movement on the cobbled sidewalks below.

just got word that the suspect was last seen on a street a few blocks away. we get these messages in blurts, sometimes beginning, “not to scare anyone.” sometimes, cutting straight to the chase.

i think i am typing to keep calm. i type because it’s what i do on fridays. if i keep typing, i can turn off the news for a few minutes, can build my shield against what unfolds outside, and not too far away.

twice this week i got a call from my college kid; both times the voice i heard held a tremble in its utterances. “mommo, are you okay?”

it’s not supposed to be the college kid worried for his mommo. or his papa. or his little brother.

we are safe, thank god.

it is the horrors that have torn apart this blessed city that are the focus of my prayers. dear God, deliver them from evil amen…..

casting the white light of love all around…..(hitting publish without backread, so if there are typos, i know you’ll let them slide….)

“will he make it home?”

will he make it home

dispatch from 02139 (in which the furriest member of our traveling troupe seems to be fading before our eyes, and we all wonder — silently — if we can please, please get him home to the garden he believes is his own personal stalking ground…)

from the start, there was one condition to the then-fifth-grader’s willingness to up and plant himself anew in the cobbled city by the river charles: “i’m not going without turkey baby. either turkey baby comes or i don’t. period, the end,” the adamant one declared.

and so it was.

(turkey baby, for the uninitiated, is our long-beloved cat; TB, short for the breathlessly hyphenated moniker: turkey-baby-meow-meow-choo-choo-hi-cat-bye-cat-space-ship-baseball-hockey cat, a name acquired by an imaginative young lad’s stringing together of his serial obsessions. that lad, now a college kid, long ago — when he was four and the cat was but six weeks — carried home the mewing ball of black-and-gray striped fur in the cardboard hollows of an otherwise vacated six-pack of icehouse beer. so begin legends, right?)

back to cat tale:

yes, on that pre-cambridgian day when cat allegiance was proclaimed and etched in promise, so ended any scattered thoughts of whom we might appoint custodian of cat whilst we ditched east to 02139. no foster dwellings for Le Fat Cat.

he was stickin’ with his People.

alas, unbeknownst to the four-pawed fellow, he was — for 11 months — leaving behind his leafy life along lake michigan, trading it for what would amount to third-floor incarceration, with nary a skittering critter to pounce, and no patch of grass in which to writhe ecstatic.

wasting little time, we began to explore the myriad modes of transport. or rather, I — being the sole coordinator of these nitty grits of daily life — began exploring how to shlep fat cat 1,000 miles from where he’d   long and blissfully roamed.

transport, mind you, is a daunting thing for a cat who’d not do well with sitting tight (say, confined to the airline regulation 18-by-11-inch satchel), a cat who had not spent a single day of his existence bound beneath a roof.

our fat ol’ cat, you see, was the original ramblin’ man. from farm fields he did come, and unto farm fields he would forever roam (admittedly, our cat has vivid imagination and must have imagined hydrangea bush to be his rows of corn, prickly rambling rose to be his blackberry brambles, etcetera, etcetera…i wonder if he imagined me his scarecrow?).

didn’t take more than a minute to rule out packing ol’ TB in the back of the little black sedan for two days, interrupted — somewhere deep in pennsylvania — for one mere night’s respite, with unbound motel acreage.

so it fell to me, thank you, to swoop him through o’hare international airport, no longer the world’s busiest, perhaps, but busy enough for me, honestly, when weaving through its landscape with my not-so-cheery cat. (remind me to retell some day how he nearly leapt from my arms in Terminal 1 when the nice TSA fellow musta figured it’d be funny to have me unzip the unsuspecting traveler’s little travel bag and mr. cat clambered, trembling, into the crook of my arm before spying — and nearly ejecting onto — his escape route.)

stuffed under the airplane seat in front of me, in a jazzy little black zipper bag profoundly doused in oil of lavender (prescribed for calming powers — for me? for him? what really does it matter?), there he mewed, until the mews turned into MEOOOOOWs that, if not for the deafening decibels of airbus turbines, might have prompted the vast population of flight 1477 to turn and clobber me for disturbing their celestial peace. (and never mind the eyerolls from the chick two seats away on the aisle, the chick with low-rider jeans that rode so low my once-innocent fifth-grader quickly grasped all there is to know about the rise and fall of the female derriere.)

suffice it to say, as i’ve said here before, that the short flight from chicago to boston was a messy one, one that i sported billboard-like across my chest as i de-boarded said plane. and let me add that it’ll be a cold day in hades before i ever again skitter onto a plane with scaredy cat in tow (snazzy black cat sack or not).

for all the troubles getting here, though, there’ve been umpteen-million times when that ol’ cat did just what the doctor ordered: in his own furry way, he made the young boy feel like his whole world had not turned tipsy topsy.

that fine old cat curls on the boy’s bottom bunk by the hour. snuggles beside the kid as they both soak up the $159-a-month cable-sports package. rubs his little head against our shins when it’s vittles time again, and always seems to thank us when we oblige.

but, slowly, and incessantly, signs of trouble cropped up here and there. most often in the deep dark of night, with a howl to wake the block. i’ve come to know the guttural bellow as the uh-oh-move-now-or-else-you’ll-spend-the-wee-hours-scrubbing-the-landlord’s-rug meow.

i’ll spare you details other than to mention that, these days, we could probably count the poor guy’s ribs, and any minute now we’re heading to a vet on the far side of the city, just to figure out what lurks within.

the other night, stroking not-so-fat cat’s stripes, the boy who loves his cat, the boy who’s known the cat — called him “my little brother” — his entire living breathing days (the cat’s been around going on 16 years, the sixth grader, a mere 11), looked up and put words to what i’d been wondering of late:

“will he make it home?” he wanted to know.

and so do i.

the sadness of that question hung in the air, unanswered but a minute before i bumbled into some half-wit band-aid of, “oh, i think so….”

i sure hope so.

i can’t quite figure out how we’d do it any other way. i could not leave that cat, not in any form, here where we won’t be for too much longer. i can only imagine him forever residing in our garden. even if that means, yes, a few feet down.

why, back home, we’ve a whole cemetery for the critters we have known and loved, if only for a few days or even a few hours, in the case of one rather mangled baby bunny we tried to rescue. (p.s. to wordsmiths, i know that’s redundant but i am making the point that the wee bunny was maybe three inches long, new of fur, and new to the world at the moment when we found him, panting, breathing, barely holding on to life. but we nursed him still on that tried-and-true formula of pipettes of carnation condensed milk from the little red-and-white can that all but promises curative powers.)

i’m sure most minds wouldn’t leap to the task of trying to figure out such things, but i’ve been strapped with the sort of brain that never sits still in the moment, and always leaps round the bend and four mountain climbs ahead. and so i think too many things, untangle knots before they’re noosed.

we’ll see what light the vet can shed. and believe me, it’s a might load of worry that gets me to dial up a slew of strangers, searching for a D.V.M. with appointment slot and inclination to take on a sad new case. for the first time since that messy flight back in august, i will stuff mr. TB cat back into snazzy bag, head out into the howling winds (for spring has temporarily ditched these parts and we’re back to winter once again), and await the diagnosis.

could just be old age, in which case i’ll hedge my bets and wager that i’ll get the old cat back to the haunting ground he knows and surely searches for in his purr-stoked dreams.

or else it’ll be something more nettlesome, and hard to cure.

these are the sad truths of making room in your traveling troupe for furry, purring heartmates. we would not leave home without our trusty cat, and by hook or by crook, we’ll not go back without him.

there is only one true answer to my sweet boy’s question: you betcha, he’ll make it home.

has there been a long loved furry (or hard-shelled) friend you count among your dearest inner circle? has he or she or it (for hermaphrodite worms might be your choice in pet) stuck with you for the long haul, and could you imagine your days without the fine one’s ways? 

laboratory for loving

laboratory for loving

dispatch from 02139 (in which most of what was learned this week came in the wee hours of the night, in the dark, uplit by glow of cellphone, and the voice on the other end of the line was the kid who’s taught me more than just about anyone else on the planet about what it means to love…)

long ago and far away, last sunday in fact, easter sunday, the piled-up collisions on the highway of my life seemed daunting, seemed as if i’d never find that skinny path between crunched fenders and broken glass, to ease myself to the side of the road, where i’d call 9-1-1, and see if blaring lights and roaring sirens came riding to my rescue.

(note to mother-in-law and all those who worry: all metaphor, no one really got hurt. not much anyway.)

there was, come to think of it, one case involving bodily injury, and that came, of course, because too often i forget to watch where i’m going. especially when i’m hurdling toward one of my sweet boys.

what happened is that the monday before easter, the first night of passover when the calendar was a bit more jammed than usual, i was dashing out of a lecture hall, because i’d just realized the school bus was disgorging my 11-year-old at the very moment i was leaving postwar fiction, and no one had reminded the boy to wait patiently on the stoop. i charged full throttle into a protruding (potentially decapitating) oak ledge (a big mother sucker, one i’ve since gone back and examined, and i’m talking two inches thick, 12-inches deep, cantilevered in thin air, jutting brazenly into the path of oncoming traffic).

i hit the darn thing straight on, as if a linebacker to quarterback’s helmet, only the parts of me that hit the former titanium-grade tree were those bones — sternum, clavicle and one or two ribs — that course across the upper chest, first line of defense against crushed lungs and heart and wind pipe.

ol’ wind got knocked right out of me, all right, and apparently, bones crunched too. as did my top back molar, which on impact somehow smashed and cracked into the tooth just below. so, for the next few weeks, i am spending too much time getting to know my lovely cambridge dentist. and because i’ve decided there’s not much to do in the cracked rib department, i am self-medicating with ibuprofen and watching the ugly chest bumps go down-down-down.

other than that, all the week’s collisions have been the sort that scramble up the heart and head. out of respect to all involved, all i can say on that is that my prayer list grew mightily in recent days. (and cure from breast cancer is among my prayers for a dear, dear friend.)

oh, there were the usual not-life-changing worries on the list: the sixth-grade math project (due today), the taped phone interview with one of the icons of the american feminist movement (yesterday), the newspaper assignment (due monday), the all-weekend narrative writing conference, and the cat who keeps forgetting that the rugs are rugs and not patches of grass thirsty for his fertilizations.

but the one who stretched my heart, and once again plunged me into the laboratory of what it means to really truly love, was my beautiful two-hours-away college kid.

i remain convinced that, more than anything else, i am on this planet to learn how to really deeply exquisitely love.

and from the moment my firstborn tumbled into my life, he has been my masterclass zen guide and professor.

the most essential truth, of all the truths i’ve learned so far: you don’t give up. ever. not when you’re bone-tired. not when the going gets really rough. not when you’re afraid to breathe. not when you really think you’re plumb outta solutions. or even make-shift stabs in the wilderness.

i vividly recall the first time that lesson crossed my sketchpad: i’d been home from the hospital with that little bundle of perfection for maybe one or two whole days. he was a hungry boy. he mewed and rustled in my arms, to make sure i always caught his drift.

i’d just finished a good hour or two of nursing, and then, hungry boy, he wanted more. well, it had been a long day already. one that had launched with little sleep, and one that barely allowed for spooning porridge to hungry lips (and the lips in this case were mine). but the sweet boy cried. all he wanted was the thing that i alone could give.

i remember, at precisely that moment, glancing at a window, a dark, mirror-like plate-glass plane shielding the abyss. i saw a frantic face in that window (mine). and i remember thinking, oh, now i understand how it is that overwhelmed mothers dump their newborns at the police precinct door. can’t i just take this bundled lump back to the land from whence he came? ask for refund. wipe my hands of all of it, and go merrily on my way? really, i don’t think i’m cut out for this round-the-clock unrelenting equation.

the temptation, i tell you, nearly flattened me.

but then, i plunked back down into the crushed pillows of the couch, yanked up my T-shirt, and attached babe to breast. i rode out the impulse to surrender, abandon ship, ditch it all and call in reinforcements.

and ever since, that’s been the bottomline of each and every mother-and-child encounter.

when you sign on, as i have, to life-long passage on the good ship motherhood, you are bound to find yourself in dark and murky waters now and then. it’s how life works. most especially in this day and digital age.

so the kid i love got hurt a few weeks back. all tied, it turns out, to when he broke his neck back in eighth grade. this time muscles spasmed. shot him through with pain. so bad he could barely breathe. and then the headaches came. pounding, unrelenting. two long weeks of unabated brain wedged inside a vice. or so it felt to him.

that makes it rather hard to read hundreds of pages, and harder still to sit through midterms. so, if you’re a kid who cares about not flunking out of college, you begin to panic.

and the worse it gets, the more you check in with that one soul on your list who’s shown herself to have a fairly bottomless bag of tricks.

thus, the phone rang the other night at 11:55. the first words were, “mom, i’m kind of scared.” that pretty much catapults you into the land of wide-awake and ready to hit the gas pedal clear up state route 2.

all i wanted in that deep dark moment was to be right beside him, the way i always used to be. with warm washcloth at the ready, sponging his pounding brow. i wanted the room he was in not to be the dingy college dorm, the one splattered still with blood from when he stepped on broken glass and forgot to spritz the cleaner. i wanted not to be sitting two hours away, but was deeply grateful it wasn’t the usual 17 hours away.

i needed to employ long-distance mothering, which might be one of the more wrenching brands therein. i stayed on the line a good hour, till he was yawning, till he was sure he could finally fall asleep. first thing the next morning, i was on the line with the doctor back in chicago. i was emailing the extraordinarily compassionate english professor who’d vowed to be there for whatever the kid needed. i was texting the kid, asking if he remembered to take the excedrin. asking if perchance the vice was loosening its squeeze.

i pretty much lost track of every other worry on my plate.

during the hour i was strapped into the dentist’s chair, i remember a tear trickling down my cheek. and not because the shot of novacaine hurt so much. only because the boy i love was far away, was hurting, was scared, was not so far from panicking.

i checked in a couple times that day. because when you are loving through and through you don’t get to forget the deep dark place where your firstborn dwells. you stay on it, check back with the doctor’s office, make sure they got the message, make sure the doctor’s set to call the kid.

you know it’s not yet time to leap in the car and drive out there. you want the kid to learn to fend for himself, to find his way, to take up the reins of his own life, and taste the sweet joy of self-driven resurrection.

by nightfall, you get a text, telling you the doctor talked to him not for five measly minutes, but for 45 glorious ones. he knows what to do. and, by the way, the headache’s lifting.

next day, he meets with the professor whose midterm he is due to take, whose reading he’s nowhere near finishing.

by week’s end, the headache’s all but gone. he sounds pretty much his usual ebullient self. he’s got a reprieve on the midterm, and all weekend to catch up on reading.

and you, the mother of this child, you’ve steered through the narrow channel, figured out all over again just what it means to love as you would be loved.

you’ve kept your whisper up against his ear, late into the night. you’d not let on that you’d been sound asleep till the moment the phone jangled you awake. you knew, because that’s just how it is, that you’d clear the calendar and drive straight through to the horizon if that’s what he needed. and, most of all, you knew there was no stopping you, no hurdle, no ledge, no nothing you wouldn’t brave for him.

in the laboratory for loving, the kid keeps teaching you the depths and breadths and heights of your hard-held vow to make this the one wee spot in your life where, no matter the blunders, you try — oh, God, you try — to get it right.

who teaches you the depth and breadth of love?