Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Road Most Traveled

Robert Frost's farm waits for me,
a picture post card
of calm green pastures
and pristine white fence posts.
The image floats behind
my retinas, shimmering there.

From the corner of my eye
my peripheral vision
caught it, an unlikely mirage,
a hopeful snapshot,
in my mad dash from ice rink
to ice rink.

My husband once promised me,
in lovelocked words,
"I'll take you to New England,
to see where they wrote,
what they wrote--
why they wrote."

So many years later,
four children later,
life and death
and much inbetween later,
we are here
to watch my daughter skate.

She is a beautiful girl,
her brownstreaked hair
hidden by a hard hat;
she flies from blue line
to blue line, around and
around the rink,
her skates first puncturing,
then lacerating the ice.

I know now
that with each stroke
she was waiting
for something else to happen,
like so many others
before her.

That day on the road
in New Hampshire,
we stumbled upon the farm.
No gates, no billboards--
Could it be just here,
so greenly unassuming
only steps from Rt. 76?

We piled out of the van
onto the side of the road,
the gently curving farm
just before us.
The gravel pushing through
my flip flops,
I felt the pull.

I could feel him there,
beckoning, as I gazed up
into the second story window.
He was in the field, thinking,
writing, just over the crest.

I could write here,
I thought. Here,
the words would tumble
in a freefall for me.
Sitting on the porch,
I would begin to spin a tale.

"We'll come back,"
my husband promises.
As if fenced, I never leave
my graveled spot to step
onto the grass
that is Robert Frost's farm.

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

It's been such a long time, and I thought I might see you today. I'm sorry I didn't make it.

Rachel played a field hockey game not too far from where you are now; I know you would have been there if you could. I thought back to the old days when I'd get to the softball or lacrosse field late, and you'd be waiting in the stands. Do you remember how you toppled backwards out of your chair in the outfield? We laughed then at our shared clumsiness, the sunshine crowding in around us, our feet bare in the clovered grass.

How many times did we sit knee to knee in the ice rink, a single blanket covering us, as we watched my sons and daughter cut across the ice from net to net? I don't think you ever understood the rules of their sports, but your hands were always full of quarters for the kids to play video games, to buy hot dogs and hot chocolate. "Where's Nan?" they would ask me when you couldn't come because of a play, a card party, or a dinner out.

And then you really couldn't come. You did try, the long walk from the parking lot to the rink stealing the little breath you could pull into your lungs. The last time you came to the lacrosse field you tripped up the steep metal bleacher stairs, leaving bloodied shins that were reluctant to heal. I don't think you ever did see Rachel play lacrosse, fiercely defending her goalie, your determination flashing from her eyes.

After a while, I quit telling you about things. Did I lie to you? It was such hard work for you to come to concerts and games. At the end, you were starting to get ready for dinner outings shortly after noon, so wearily slow was your small body. I tried to pick what you would like most, and I shielded you from the others--at least that's what I told myself. Perhaps it was too much of an effort for me to help you, so short of breath--an old woman frantically gulping mouthfuls of air-- up the steps, down the hallway, into a seat. Mea culpa, Mom.

Today I thought how much you would have loved watching Rachel as goalie. Her red mouth guard makes a loony smile, and she stands tall in the net like a blond Amazon. We call her RoboRach, her bright orange pads giving her the look of a Transformer. You would have sat talking to me, drinking me in, loving me until I redirected your vision, saying: "Look, Mom, they're headed toward Rach. Look, look there--you'll see her stop the ball."

I could see myself turning left instead of right after the game, following the winding road to where you are now. In my heart, I would throw myself across your grave, face down in the spiky grass, tracing your name and date on the bronze plate with my disconnected fingers. People watching would have seen a woman sitting on a concrete bench; perhaps she would have covered her face with her hands. Instead, I turned right onto McKnight Road, so I would be on time to meet the bus.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Letting Go

I am perched on a black faux leather stool in the middle of Sephora, feeling rather conspicuous as a flawlessly sponged and lined face asks me questions.

"Where is your daughter going to school?" she asks as she brushes on a thick layer of Dior foundation. I have asked for something to help my old skin look younger. "Yes, want something to make you look dewey," she says.

Dewey would be miraculous at 52, but I would settle for something that would masque the tiredness in my face. "She's going to California," I tell her. "To the University of California at Davis."

"To California, California?" she asks as the brush stabs foundation into the side of my nose.

I have answered this question hundreds of times since last fall when my daughter signed the NCAA Division 1 intent papers. "Yes, near Sacramento."

"Ohhhhh, that's so far," she coos. I hope the foundation is doing its job.

"Yes, it is far," I answer roboticly, as I've answered nearly everyone who has heard she is going to UC Davis. "But, it's been her dream to play Division 1 lacrosse. How could I keep her from her dream?"

I look up at my daughter, wandering freshfaced through the aisles of liners, bronzers, and concealers. She carries a round mesh basket, into which she drops various colored pencils, tubes, and boxes. We have been shopping for weeks, buying room decor, clothes, school supplies, books.

Winding her way back to me, she glances with a bit of alarm at my face, which has now been brushed with powder, blush, and a mash of bronze beads.

"What do you think?"

"I like the way you usually do your makeup, Mom," she says, "but this looks nice."

In the mirror I see that the dewey look involves emphasizing the fine lines around my lips and nose. My personal makeup stylist tells me, "We can change anything you don't like."

If only that were so. I buy the expensive foundation and concealer, putting back the dry powders that gathered in the creases of my face.

We purchase my daughter's pencils, tubes, and boxes, and we will add them to the evergrowing pile on the floor of her room, a pile that is a hedge against the day I fly home from California. She is collecting all she might need in any scenario, wrapping these new things around her as an insulation from the certain loneliness she will feel when she wakes to find herself only one instead of being one of six. In the packing, can I slip some of who we are together between the layers of sleep shorts and bathing suits? Can I leave something there for her to find, to hold onto until she gets her California legs, until the new becomes more real than the old?

I catch our reflection in Sephora's window as we leave, shoulder to shoulder, close enough to distance the coming separation. Even in the blurry mirror image, the Dior foundation lays heavily on my skin.