8:44 AM. Voices and hands and feet echo and bounce off the walls and I awake to another day in August. I shake off my nightmares and all of their painful psychological detritus. I should have known the nightmares would come back again. I just met with a new therapist and while it’s old for me, it’s new for her, and as I bring her into my past, I drag that past back into my mind’s eye. It doesn’t matter how far I get from my past. There will always be times it binds me like an eagle’s talon in my sleep.
Shhh. I’m safe now, I think, gazing out the window and stepping over books and magazines that I tossed on my bedroom floor just before I slipped off to sleep the night before. “Get dressed and brush your teeth,” I order, and I wonder if it’s true that I show them no love, allow no smiles, and bear them no affection? Is it really a terrible legacy I leave my beloved?
In truth, I think not, but the pain of not knowing is underscored by the unbearable visions I receive while I sleep. I dream these dreams as the night fights against the damn-it-please-come-soon morning light.
11 AM. My son comes into my room, bubbling over with indignation. “Mama, Maddie just hit me.” He points to his arm. “Right here.”
Typing at full speed, I glance over. “Uh-huh. That’s not nice.”
His voice takes a melancholy turn. “Yeah.” He hops up and down and then his tone brightens. “Can I hit her back?”
He paces around me demanding answers to his questions as I type and yet again I count the days until summer ends.
1:30 PM. After we conclude a trip to Kohl’s that only stands out for its lack of tear-my-hair-out-bad-hilarity, I sit next to my six-year old at Wendy’s. I’ve taught them the meaning of “numbnut” after a minivan almost crashes into us in the parking lot.
My daughter, almost 9, smirks at me. “Can I say ‘numbnut’ at school?”
Brushing my still-blonde, but so close to brown hair out of my eyes, I shake my head and shrug and grin all at once.
“It’s better than idiot, right?”
I sip my diet coke and look at this child of mine, with the still-blonde, but so close to brown hair and before I can answer her, my youngest son bumps into me, lost in thought, and staring at the closed-circuit TV set.
“Is Wendy’s going to be here always?”
I look around and think. My other child, the blue-eyed son who bears his father’s name, has a serious look about him, but he’s just hungry. I cannot seem to give an easy answer.
What lasts forever? I see chairs and tables and children and people I don’t know, and none of us last forever. But this isn’t really the question he’s asking me. I want to reassure him without lying to him. I want us, our love, our family, to last as long as we can; I want to be here as long as I need to be and as long as he needs me. And yet, dear son, beloved light of my heart, there are no guarantees, no promises, no sure things.
I close my eyes and a flash, a fast-moving series of images, zoom from one synapse to the next, and in that millisecond, I see a fire burning, a nuclear bomb falling, and please God, I pray, make it so that I don’t see or feel us burning. I’m not afraid in that moment, the moment that I hope is just unfounded fantasy that will never come to be. I’m at peace, sitting here with my three children inside of a Wendy’s on an August afternoon, secure in knowing that this day, this moment, is all I can really be sure of.
It’s enough. It’s enough for me. And it that I know I’m free.
I smile over my straw. “I hope so, son. They do a good business here.”
“Yep. Not like Ho’s Dynasty,” pipes up my daughter. She’s talking about our favorite Chinese restaurant, which just closed down.
I take this in, my eyes making contact with each set of blue or blue-gray eyes in these children of mine, and I flash an easy smile. “Yes! Well-said Maddie!”
A tiny child toddles past me and we exchange winks.
As I clean up the table and crack jokes with my daughter, I think about all of this. I don’t make up the rules that govern our lives or dictate how many days we have left. All I have is this moment, with this family, and a quiet faith that there will be enough moments. When it comes to the future, our future, it really is that simple.
“Sodas. Trash. Let’s go,” I chirp.
“And watch out for numbnuts in the parking lot,” adds my daughter.
I hold the door open and look both ways before we cross the blacktop and head home.