Thursday was one of those exceptionally busy days, coming at the end of a couple of weeks in which I hadn’t really had a proper day off (other than the one spent nursing The Princess). It had a lot of comings and goings: half-days at school for the children, with different dismissal times; orthodontist for one and dentist for the other; big concert for #2 Son with a rehearsal mid-afternoon and an arrival time several hours later; lecture at the hospital for pastoral caregivers that featured a retirement presentation to one of our longtime on-call chaplains, therefore a command performance for me as board President; a dinner to follow; a meet-up with Pure Luck to race to the concert; arrangements with The Father of My Children to get them fed and to the concert hall on time; finally, at 7:30, the concert itself.
To expedite matters, I had Pure Luck drop me off at the hospital at 4:30 p.m., where I made two visits, then went to the lecture by the hospital’s ethicist. Because I remembered last year’s event as having a sit-down meal, I asked my dear husband to meet me at the back entrance to the medical center at 7 p.m. I went without purse, cell phone, money—I didn’t even have a big coat, just a fleece vest, since I would be hopping right back into the car.
At 6:59 p.m., I went right outside, to the exact pre-arranged spot. I didn’t see him yet, so I faced the direction from which he would be coming (it’s a one-way street). The minutes ticked by. I thought about going inside to call him, but worried that he would be puzzled if I wasn’t on the spot as promised. It was pretty cold. The wind was blowing. My thumbs began to numben. (It’s not a word, but oughtn’t it to be?) I remembered standing somewhere waiting for my mother to come and pick me up, the way I would count the cars, or watch their lights to see if they were familiar.
And then, I had a little nutty.
I was quite cold by that point, not sure of the time (which I usually keep track of on my cell phone, which I did not have—see above), mildly frustrated. I began to walk in the direction from which he *had* to be coming. I got to the front entrance of the hospital. Here’s how I know I was not myself: I didn’t go inside and use the phone. I kept walking. I walked a couple of blocks to the first big intersection. The concert hall lay a couple of miles away through City By the Sea’s downtown area. I thought for a minute or two about walking to the concert. I determined that either Pure Luck was dead, or he was going to be (!!!). I had that terrible feeling of panic about being left behind combined with a mother’s guilt about being in the wrong place at the wrong time and letting down her child.
As I say, I had a little nutty.
Finally, thank goodness, some higher-functioning and wind-resistant portion of my brain kicked in and I went back to the hospital and called Pure Luck’s cell phone. You may ask, why didn’t the usually clever Songbird do this, oh, as soon as her thumbs began to numben?
Remember that thing about the nutty? It was as if I had forgotten he even had one. And all I could remember was my mother, not coming, of the cars driving by, one after another, and not being hers.
I spent many years in therapy talking about my mother. I don’t believe I ever mentioned feeling abandoned in that particular way, but I do remember now standing outside a school with a long driveway, hoping each car would be hers. I was about #2 Son’s age, and it was cold, and it was dark, and I was a long way from home. The school was in City Next Door to Hometown City, and the only route was on the highway. It wasn’t like City By the Sea, where I could certainly have walked to the concert, though I would have been late, or home, though I would have been cold.
He answered the phone immediately. If you ever have a nutty, I hope the person you call is as patient and steady as Pure Luck. He had been there all along, and while he had parked in a spot invisible to the naked eye, he had been there all along. I was a little, well, upset, on the phone. He found me, whisked me to the concert hall, just a few minutes late, dropped me at the door and went to park the car. Since I expected #2 Son’s group to be later on the program, I did not hurry up the stairs.
Do you ever have one of those nightmares, mothers, about needing to pick up your child and not knowing where he is? Do you ever have one of those nightmares, children, about your mother forgetting where you are?
As I reached the second floor, I realized his group was already playing.
I slipped into the auditorium balcony and instantly saw the rest of the family (TFoMC, the grandparents, The Princess) sitting in the back row of the nearest section, seats saved for Pure Luck and me. At the end of the second piece, I sat with them. The lengthy work played last by the wind ensemble was a composition based on Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” The music built to a loud cacophonous mountain of sound, and my feelings about being out of place and late and missing the first piece were all in tune with its disharmony. Then came a break in the music, a section of smooth though solemn tones; I felt myself begin to calm. As the piece moved toward its resolution, I heard someone behind me and glanced up to see the dear person who had been so steady in the face of my distress.
The next morning, I said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you in the car last night.”
“You didn’t yell.”
“No.” He paused. “You just seemed distraught.”
He wondered whether I had a fear of being alone, and I said it was more a fear of being rejected. I’ve worked so hard to be self-reliant; somehow the night before I felt all the fear and pain of being lost, abandoned, unwanted, dependent and inconvenient.
Did I think my mother didn’t want to come and get me on those late winter afternoons at the end of play rehearsal? Why did I think that? I don’t remember hearing her say anything about it. Maybe that’s why those nights of counting the cars came back up for me, because they insist on being acknowledged.
This is the birthday of both my mothers. My adoptive mother would have been 80 today; my birth mother is 64.
It disturbs me to go to those fragile places, the ones that remind me of the long postpartum depression of 1995-96 and the difficult road back to health. I’m grateful for a partner who can see the difference between a spat and a nutty, even when I can’t at first.