Sun’s down by the time I leave today. But the light will fade for a while. I walk across the wet lawn in sandals. I am passing the stout apple tree when Mo calls to me that he’s coming. He races across the lawn and down the path — running is his favorite thing — to catch up with me. We walk side by side and he chatters about bears and coyotes. Will they attack us? I tell him they won’t; they’re afraid of us. But why? Because we kill them, I say.
We reach the old orchard with its leafless, cluttered bows and tiny apples holding on, and when we turn Mo sees something bound into the woods. It had a white tail he says, but he can’t decide how long and whether or not it was a deer. I say, it was a deer, but he seems to want to entertain other possibilities. I’ve never seen something leap and jump so far, so high, he tells me. I, having looked too long at the apples, missed it.
We go along, the grass tall and wet, the road narrow. The dark of the evening filters through the bright leaves of fall—shiny green about to burst into yellow. We climb the road until it evens out and Mo continues his chatter. I wonder if he is nervous. He clasps my hand lightly. His slight fingers feel like a bird in my hand, the wing of a bird perhaps. It’s a gentle holding between us, not like the clench of his babyhood. The tight, holding on for life.
Lately, I have looked at photos of him as a baby and no longer remember what I felt. I know from reading my journals, the intensity of that first love overwhelmed me and even today I wish it could have lasted forever, just him. We love our children differently—the force moving between, shifting based on the particulars of need and struggle, tenderness and independence.
When I was pregnant with him, my friend Susan once said, and so it begins… the love affair of mother and son. I thought it an odd thing to say. She would be someone I knew only briefly in this life. Someone who passed too soon after decades of cancer. And though I never knew her that well, it always felt like a part of us had come from the same place, was made of the same substance. We were instantly close, intimate. Don’t smoke, you’ll regret it, she told me when I still smoked and we had barely met. It wasn’t a scolding statement, just something wistful, as though perhaps had she never smoked, she wouldn’t have gotten the cancer, though breast cancer isn’t caused by smoking. She had one son and one daughter, and she told me that her son felt like her soul mate in this life. I understood, by then, what she meant.
He lets go of my hand and we scurry along, looking for creatures in the woods, the light still holding ever so. It crushed me to become a mother, in every way—the overwhelming love, the exhaustion, the endless caretaking, the fear. It goes on and covers everything, and though my husband is fully a co-parent with me, he doesn’t seem to carry the same burden of worry and longing and hope. Yet every year my sons grow older and more independent and I both mourn and celebrate this.
We reach the pond and walk out onto the short dock. We sit together, crossing our legs, and he begins to hoot and holler, then cry-bark like he imagines a coyote would, though we rarely hear them from our snug beds with our fans whirring and our windows shut. He likes to imagine these creatures close, but not too close. The sky is still blue, and we wait for the first star, entangled in our chorus of animal ruckus, our closeness. All around us the world turns to shadow, misty and blanketed. The first star arrives but, we decide, it must be Venus.
Again, we speak of the bears and the coyotes and I tell him he doesn’t need to worry. Then he is ready to go. All the way through the thickening darkness, he chatters and talks and calls to shadows as though he might corral them. In the field we look out at the lit windows of the little house. We walk towards them; towards Josh and Willem, the two earthy forces of stability in our swirling galaxy of emotion and feeling and transcendence—of sorrow and exuberance, conviction and devotion.
When Susan was dying, I called her in hospice. I wanted to visit but Willem was still little, and my life felt chaotic and difficult. I asked her how she was doing. Oh, you know, she said, I’m dying. It’s abstract and surreal. Come on down. I never did and when she died, I was sad, but I didn’t regret the missed hospice visit. The last time we saw each other, she was at home in bed. I brought Willem, he was six months and crawled onto her lap when I placed him at the foot of the bed. I don’t mind at all if he climbs on me, she said to reassure me. She was easy with children and seemed to understand them intuitively. She never spoke to them in a childlike voice.
We likely spoke of writing. She’d written a novel and we often exchanged our shorter work. My last critique of her was harsh, she said. I was sorry, I’d been in a bad mood. Something about the story irked me. I thought it was memoir disguised as fiction. But why had I cared? What did I know about fiction or writing or truth? Convictions can be a terrible thing.
I still miss Susan. Still think of her as though I might tell her something, find her again, ask her a question, share a bit of writing or a cup of tea. Once I saw her daughter at the college where I work. She told me that the family planned to move out west where her brother lived.
Moses runs ahead, bounding up the porch steps and into the house to find his brother and father. I trail, exhausted, too heavy, full with growing life—somehow an entire being can come to be within my own body. Her soul I called from the netherworld years ago, chanting softly every spring, every fall, come if you will, I am ready.