Wet babykisses circle my face, delicious, as in the morning’s almost-rain I walk the track. Through my cottonball ears I hear the swoosh of cars and trucks and a big fire engine chugging its way home. This is my time most early mornings while my legs do the heavy work to puzzle over my life’s decisions, all the turning points, all the moments of could-have-been.
At thirty posed on the brink of single parenthood, I feared the outcomes of staying or going, hiding his toys from him, packing his clothes, and carrying him off to a place where he spoke with an accent, where I was almost the only person he recognized. Would he forgive me for wrenching him from his father’s arms, gently but persuasively?
For sixteen years he and I lived together in relative harmony though he was not an easy child nor I, a perfect mother. In a lifestyle I would not recommend, we made it through. I found a career I loved and he found me a mate who loved us and vice versa. My wishes for him, my very talented son: be an architect or artist or graphic designer or carpenter or even lawyer. Ha! He managed to find ways to confound me, to implement his own ideas and carve out his own destiny, opting for adventure every time, taking himself on far off pilgrimages to the Caribbean, Maine, California, Israel. Did his childhood upheaval at two years of age dictate these peregrinations?
I tell myself, “This is what happens, Janet, when you raise a very independent little boy.” Yet I can picture the two of us still, cuddling on the couch to watch The Simpsons and Battlestar Galactica; reading stories I had written especially for him; going on nature hikes, riding our bikes through the local park; crouching on the floor at midnight praying that the miniature train we’d put together would actually run.
His grade school teachers claimed he was prone to making things up. He’d claimed to have attended summer camp in Hawaii, for example. I quickly set them straight and added: “He’s also gone white water rafting on the Salmon River, hiked the Grand Canyon, camped out in Iceland, and visited relatives in France. Every summer he spent with his father, travelling to whatever location his father found himself in. The Greater Outdoor Club, I dubbed it.
Now he’s contemplating a return home, a settling down with some young lady he hopes to find. He dreams about once again spreading out on the grass, facing the harbor, sketching with colored pencils charming vistas, playful seals cavorting on buoys, beautiful sailboats, scuba boats, windjammers. Yesterday I observed, “You were happy in Maine.”
“Mom, I don’t like the closed-in feeling of big cities. I can’t live where you do in New York,” he said. “I need lots of space and quiet and nature.”
If he does not return from Israel, his life will continue as it has for the last twelve years: a cobbling together of odd jobs, working security on construction sites, a facilities job on a school campus, trucking people and goods from one location to another, volunteering with the police, and mostly, helping other people. “Why not study to be a nurse or social worker or some other steady job?” I ask. “You have a college degree, a merchant marine license.” Instead he’s opting for the freedom to be his own boss, to decide where to move and when. Unlike me, he appears not to need family or a dependable support system.
If he returns, he’ll be hundreds of miles away instead of thousands. He could count on us and we could count on him.
But first a need to express a deep-seated anger, poking him in unseen places. “You’re brainwashed,” he insists. Since I think the same of him, I refrain from discussing areas of contention—politics, feminism, career— and pray we can once again find common ground in the arts and in the simple pleasures of family gatherings.
I wish for a return and outlet for my boundless love while suspecting what’s been lost can never be recaptured. He speaks English, French and Hebrew with three passports to prove it. In one of those languages. I yearn for him to reassure me, to once more call out our love for each other.
But then the vision of his two arms reaching around my waist as I lifted him from his bath, giggly, in on the joke, waking to full reality, floods my consciousness, coaxes my legs onward to make circles, more circles, on the way back to the birth of him and me.
Janet Garber is the author of the satiric novel, “Dream Job, Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager” and welcomes visitors to www.janetgarber.com. She lives outside New York City with her husband and two quirky rescue cats.