I got up early today. Fed the animals. Ate breakfast.. I walked over to the calendar, knowing I shouldn't. I couldn't help it. I had to. It's like the days and weeks had some crazy gravitational pull. I held onto the kitchen table, but in the end, the calendar won. I counted the days. Twenty seven. I collapsed onto a kitchen chair. Pressed a cloth handkerchief to my nose. Lately I've made sure there's one in every room.
In 27 days you'll make like John Denver and leave on a jet plane. Go halfway 'round the world. For three whole months. You'll come back for 30 or 40 days, then off you'll go again. For a long, long time.
I feel as if I've been diagnosed with something awful.
"I'm sorry," the doctor'd say. "We're going to have to cut out a third of your heart. The other two thirds are fine. For now. They won't have to come out for, let's see . . . three years, and seven, respectively."
After lunch I went upstairs. I squinted when I walked by your little brother's room. He was lying on his bed, dressed, with a pillow over his face. I went to him, laid my hand on his shin. He peeked out. His eyes were small and red.
"What's up, bud?"
"They wouldn't let me play Capture the Flag," he said.
I sat beside him and twirled one of his silver-blonde curls around my finger.
He rubbed his nose. "It's not so much they wouldn't let me play," he said. "It's more that . . . she'll be leaving soon and . . ." His voice trailed off.
"It's what's supposed to happen," I told him (and me) as I rubbed his lightly furred, 10-year old legs. "Kids grow up. They start hanging out more with friends than family. Then they go away."
He buried his face in my side. I scrunched his hair with my berry-colored fingernails.
"It's normal, but that doesn't make it easier, does it?"
I felt him nod against my ribs. We sat there for a minute. Quiet. He put the pillow back over his face. I patted his leg and stood.
Out in the hall my nose burned, then my eyes. It didn't take long for them to give up the tears that seem to be always ready these days. I know I hurt, but my little guy feels it too? That's somehow heavier. My sadness plus his grief equals more.
"When you left for college, your dad got depressed."
I'd smiled when Mom told me that a few years back. "Really?"
That is so sweet. I'd put my hand over my heart. Pictured his light blue eyes and the way they almost disappeared into the nearby crowsfeet when he smiled. He loved me that much? Awww.
Now it's happening to me. I suppose it's that whole what-goes-around-comes-around thing. I thought about it as I made my latte today. I pressed hard on the tamper thing. "Apply approximately 30 pounds of pressure," the espresso machine directions said.
I have to apply way more pressure than 30 pounds to tamp down all the stuff inside me right now. I need to practically put my whole weight to it. To hide it. See, I don't want you to notice how close to the surface my tears are. My fears are. Thing is, this is your time. This is the biggest, bestest thing you've ever done. You're looking as forward to it as I am dreading it. I don't want you to worry about me. To feel guilty that I'm such a wreck.
Sometimes I walk over to the mirror on the dining room mantle. I look into it and smile. Well, I try to. "I went to Europe for a summer when I was 22," I say. "Now it's your turn."
I stand there 'til I think of something else. "And your cousin? She's been a nanny in England and Spain. Spent a year in Buenos Aires too. If she can do it, so can you."
I came up with another one yesterday. "In eight months, all your travelling will be done, and you'll be home for good." I held both sides of my face and grinned. I had another thought, and my shoulders sagged.
"But then you'll be off to college," I said. "At least there, you'll only be four hours away, instead of half a world."
Half a world away. Where I can't fix you supper, pet your curls, take care of you if you get sick. What if you get sick, baby?
Tears. Again. I press my fingers against my eyes and hiss. "I'm not going to drink any more water. Then you'll go away. Dry up. Right?"
I called my best friend from high school after supper. She's got a grown up girl of her own. I hadn't planned on sobbing, but I did. I've decided crying's like Advil when you have the flu. It helps for about four hours, then the symptoms--tears, runny nose, urge to clutch at your heart--come back. The tears are always there, simmering, just below the surface. Threatening to uncurl my eyelashes and run little creeks through my blush.
It's after midnight now. You know what that means, don't you? There's just 26 more days.