Metro tickets in my pocket
I finally drop my weary body onto the bed. It’s nearly 9 at night and my son pops into my room and wants to go out. It’s Thanksgiving break. He’s 16. Of course he wants to go out.
To a nearby pizza joint, about two miles away where friends are waiting. He has that open, earnest look on his face that is – well – irresistible. It was a long day of baking and I was right where I wanted to be.
But he wasn’t where he wanted to be.
“Can I drive? Please?”
You’ve never driven at night before, I say.
The fist in my stomach materializes in seconds. Remarkable. If I could package “Fear in a Flash” and sell it I’d be rich. But who would want it?
“I need to learn to drive at night, Mom.”
I’m so tired, but he’s right dammit.
Each of these steps with him in the car, so much more difficult than with his brother. At least for me. I didn’t think giving him driving lessons would be so wrenching. He’s done well, but the problem is the accident almost three years ago, when my older son was driving and I was in the passenger seat.
Only two blocks from home. Flashbacks, still.
My right arm stiffens. I’m suddenly aware of pain.
You’re right, I say.
He goes for the car keys on the kitchen table as I get out of bed, step into my jeans, and feel in the pocket for a few bucks to give him for pizza.
Metro tickets. Metro tickets from Paris, in my back pocket.
Paris is only a subway ride away
Did you know that you can get to Paris on the subway?
Let’s be clear – I can walk a half mile, take the subway, get out at Airport Station, stand in line, pass through security, board a plane, wake up in France, take another train, then the subway, et voilà – PARIS.
All you need is a subway card and metro tickets. The rest – well – those are just details.
I keep metro tickets in the back left pocket of my jeans. All my jeans. When I do wash, I’m very careful to remove them, and put them back when the jeans come out of the dryer. After all, Paris is only a subway ride away.
We get in the car and I begin to talk about driving at night – how it’s different from driving by day. I don’t know where the words come from through the fatigue but they do. I don’t know how I can articulate these distinctions until we are right there.
In. The. Moment.
He listens attentively. It’s one of the reasons I love him, profoundly. There is no guile, no arrogance. He doesn’t think he knows it all.
He adjusts mirrors, we back out onto the dark street, and we drive. He’s going slowly as I asked him to. Suddenly, a black blur shoots in front of us and he brakes. It’s disappeared already.
A black cat. I fix my eyes on my son; he has blanched, but he resumes driving.
“Wow,” he says.
Do you see how quickly something can happen? And it’s so much harder to react at night.
He nods and we continue without incident. He parks behind the pizza place, gets out of the car, and I slide over to take the wheel.
You did well, I say.
“That’s bad luck, you know. The cat.”
The thought had crossed my mind of course. But I will shape his impressions – and my own – into something positive if I can.
No, I say. I’ll call it good luck. You didn’t hit him, and everyone’s fine. So I’m going with the theory that a black cat scooting across the road in front of us, who lives, promises good luck for 2010.
He shakes his head like I’m crazy, tells me he’ll get a ride home and won’t be late. I watch him walk into the restaurant. He moves like his dad. Gracefully.
You can help me cook, I say.
“I was planning on it,” he answers.
It’s late now but he’s home and content. Something in him has changed this week, and I can’t put my finger on it. We argued last weekend which is rare. I told him some things I shouldn’t have. Or should have. I’m still uncertain.
Perhaps I told him things he needs to know, but not in the best way: our financial realities, his dad’s part in that. He was angry with me over a situation I did not create and cannot control. He had a right to be angry, and I was the recipient of his anger.
I am the parent who is present and who will love him unconditionally. His emotions are safe with me, but no less painful for either of us when he pours them out and I am the vessel that contains them.
There were calmer words a few hours later. And then, the balloons on Monday. Something has changed, and I can’t put my finger on it.
“Mashed potatoes?” he asks.
Yes, I say.
“Did you get sweet potatoes, too? I love your sweet potatoes.”
Yes. And for a green vegetable – peas or spinach?”
“Peas. And stuffing, too?”
This scrawny kid can eat, and eat, and eat. And loves to eat well.
“I’ll do all the mashing,” he says.
The future is in each moment
My arm throbs when I must lift, mix, mash, cut for any amount of time. Last year, I had to ask for help. This year, he offers. And a black cat taught a lesson in a way that my words could not, demonstrating that lives can change in an instant.
I am grateful for the black cat. I am grateful for my son’s growing awareness of the world around him, for anticipating as well as reacting. We will cook together later this morning, and eat together this afternoon.
Most likely, there will be a gathering of teenagers here tonight, and their laughter will fill the house. I will call my first-born later, and we’ll talk for a bit.
He’s in college now. And I miss him.
My job isn’t done, but both my sons will soon be men. Good men. And I have metro tickets in my back pocket. Because Paris is only a subway ride away.