Honey, Are You Okay?

November 18, 2015

I am sitting in the car in the grocery store parking lot, working on a short story while I let Cole finish his morning nap. I have to pee pretty badly; I may have to disrupt him soon.

But I look up to contemplate solving my bladder problem when I see a small, old, burnt orange hatchback pull in the space two down from me.

The woman driving, young – early 20’s maybe – pretty, long, shining black hair, pulls in and stares for a moment.

Is she looking at the car parked next to her on the other side? Does she know its owner?

Is she looking past the car to the Christmas trees, piled like kindling in front of the grocery? Is she debating, like I am, whether she can get away with buying one before Thanksgiving?

Does she have a clear view to the front doors of the store? Is she waiting for someone who needs a ride?

As I run through these questions, she stretches her arms straight out over the top of her steering wheel and rests her forehead on its center.



I look up again just now, and she’s sobbing into her hands; her fingers like flying buttresses bridging her nose.

Oh, honey.

I want to reach out to her. Would it be crossing a line if I went over and hugged her when she got out of the car?

She’s collecting herself, checking her mascara in the rearview mirror, wiping her cheeks of teary evidence. A deep breath and a sigh. It looks like resignation.

I would be taken aback if some stranger tried to hug me in a grocery store parking lot; I won’t force my well-intentioned empathy on her. But I want to reach out to her, to connect.

I have made up my mind to roll down my window and tell her I’m sorry, for whatever it is. But a dusty, large, old Chevy 1500 pulls into one of the spaces between us. Three enormously overweight men wearing camo hats and shorts climb out of the SUV. My view of her is completely gone. The connection is lost.

Was she ever even aware that I was here, sitting so near, bearing witness to her heartbreak?

I try to look for her through the SUV’s tinted windows. I’ll be able to see her shape if she gets out of her car.

But then the little hatchback is in reverse and she is pulling back, out, and away.

A Letter to my Son about Pursuing Passions

Dear, darling Coltrane,

I have brought you to a writing workshop put on by the North Carolina Writers’ Network at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

You have been mostly good so far, looking around, hanging in the Ergo. A few grunts, paci in, paci out. But just moments ago, as everyone settled in quietly for ten minutes of writing, you threw up all over me. Thanks a lot, bud. A nice, clear, “UURP!” and the wet sound of spit-up as it spilled out across my thigh.

I have used my lovely scarf from Bangladesh, a gift from my treasured former student, Ipsita, to dab it as best I can, but there is a clear wet spot. And now, I stand at the side of the room, rocking and swaying, displaying my soiled jeans for the room. Though, mercifully, no one is really looking; their eyes are directed at their pages, absorbed in the immediate world they are creating. I’ve left the scarf dangling long, uneven, in an attempt to cover the damp stain. I think it’s working.

Your eyes are red-rimmed. You are so tired, my dear. GO TO SLEEP! STOP EMBARRASSING ME! And now you are digging your fingers into my lips – your little arm extended fully in this reach for my face. And you laugh as I feign to eat your tiny fist. Bells. Music. An angel’s song – your laugh. SHHHHHH!

Now you are trying to put your paci in my mouth. Is this a new milestone? Are you feeding ME!? Six months old, this guy.

Oh good. Now you are trying to poop. You’ve been making a strong effort all day, to no avail. Will now be your big breakthrough? Timing, my man. Really.

Your lips purse, thinning at the edges and pushing out in the middle as though the rosebud center of your mouth is being drawn by a thread. The shape of your face triangulates in the labor; it flushes with red. Brows bow to each other, eyes look past me, faraway.

Oh good, relax. Nothing. A fruitless endeavor. I’m sorry your tummy’s not feeling good, baby.

Minutes go by; I’m swaying and listening to writers share their momented stories – unedited, fresh, and I glance down to see the whites of your eyes. Thank you, beneficent son, the familiar fluttering of your eyelids signals baby sleep. Strong at 7pm, not so much at 4am. But right now, right on schedule, 7:15pm, you nod out and I can sit, still involuntarily swaying in my chair, to write this – not the prompt given, but something I’ll tell you when you are three, like Maya, and wanting to hear stories of your own babyhood.

“Well, Cole,” I’ll say, “that year I stayed home with you, and I tried every day to shape my life to be the writer I knew I could be. So I didn’t miss the workshop, despite not having baby watching arrangements. Maybe I would just stand in the back and listen, but I wanted to be where the writers were. And you threw up all over me. Thanks a lot, buddy!” You will laugh at how gross babies are. And I will be proud that I showed you that I showed up to be who I wanted to be, even when inconvenient.

I love you,

Your Mama