Your kid’s eyes are glazed over because it’s after three a.m. and he’s still working, and your eyes are glazed over because it’s after three a.m. and you’re still working, and while you’re the mother you remember being the kid – hanging on with everything you’ve got to pull it out at the end of the race.
You are the kid who wants to make it, the kid who wants freedom, the kid who wants to sleep, the kid who wants to taste every possible dream even as they are still forming – and so you find yourself in the zone, together. You and the kid.
The past 48 hours have strained every shred of perseverance and every trick of self-discipline; you are pushing through the fog you know too well and motivating with food and reassuring with watchfulness from a distance. You know the kid has dragged himself through the next to last orals and more to come, through written exams and more to come, through checklists of his own that you cannot even imagine, through nodding politely and making chit chat at a local gallery; an art show is a requirement and so you fit in a fleeting visit on the drive home from school.
Somehow you make it through the social necessities, you consider impasto on the surfaces of oil on board, you hurry back to your kitchen and your living room, to the rhythm of one more stretch of hours through the night.
From three a.m. it’s a slippery slide to seven; he’s asleep and you have to wake him but this is the last time for a long time, and it’s the last push at this level of extremity and in the last mile you tell yourself as well: just do it. In solidarity you stay up late and finally pass out at four and your brain is breaking but no, it isn’t breaking it’s only heavy because you wanted to feel it and you wanted to remember the ache of effort, to store it in your bones and your lenses, this shared work of going for gold.
You wake him gently as usual but with fewer words because you doubt you can articulate anything anyway, and then you wonder about your own waking: you were dreaming of a bed in an urban loft, and a younger you on the mattress. In your dream which lingers along your fingertips, a man is speaking softly and you want to touch his dark stubble even as you apologize, closing your laptop and explaining that you must get some sleep. He grins and says “no problem” and you slide beneath the covers together and abandon language together and yield to the body’s maneuvers, together. And then the alarm chirps and the man fades and the woman who is you pulls back abruptly as the mother who is you is called upon to tend to the day.
So you let go of the man and you let go of the dreaming. You let go of the woman you are, wrapping your arms and your brain around the mother instead because it is the mother who is needed, it is the mother who must accept the day’s outcome, it is the mother who will position the present transforming into the future; it is the mother who will offer context, consolation, congratulations. Whatever will be required.
And in letting go of whatever happens next, you welcome the knowledge that you both did everything you could and so you say no to five more minutes in bed for yourself and no to five more minutes for the boy who just wants to sleep. You yield to your own fight for words and let them go; they will arrange themselves as they see fit, and you relinquish the reins.
Now there is yes to the coffee and yes again to this hour moving quickly; there is the face of the boy becoming a man and yes is the only reasonable response. There is yes to the ache for the boy when you see his fatigue, when you note the way he shuffles and bumps into chairs, and yes to bread and ham and mayo, to making sandwiches and wrapping them, to functioning through the muddle seeping into every defecting thought.
And then in a flicker, there is yes to an inebriating image: there is the dream of a man and his smile and his stubble.
You’re still in the zone and you insist on remaining. You’re in the zone which is wordless, on the road which is familiar, in the traffic that is light for a change, and you are glad to relent on reminders.
You say nothing on this day of last chances: nothing of assignments, nothing of the brochure from the art show, nothing of the bag with lunch, nothing of the cell phone, nothing of the books and papers, nothing of the stretched canvas he loads into the trunk of the car – nothing of everything he remembers on his own.
In the silence that serves to soothe you, the inevitability of the day takes form: now it is out of your hands. You accelerate on the straight stretches and slow on the curves, aware of the bald runner who pauses at the crosswalk, aware of the middle-aged woman in a burgundy jacket who walks her Scottie, aware of the primly painted houses each with their prominent “for sale” signs. Your mind drifts a little and then you park in front of the building and you murmur “Have a good day.” He steps out of the car, gathers up his belongings, and you pull away, struck by the sharp blue of the sky in which suddenly, everything is brilliant, brazen, and surprisingly clear.