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Happy 100 Days: 92

Eleven and a half hours. That is how long he sleeps without stirring once. I wake at dawn and head out into the damp dark to run with only the glow of the waning moon to show the way. I return, stretch in the dew, walk the dog, pack lunch, shower, and bring the water to boil for oatmeal. He sleeps on and on.
 
This is what happens the night after the day the kid rides his bike to the school and back all by himself. Not all by himself, actually — training wheels notwithstanding, he is still skittish about hills. When we come to the top of a slope, he slows to a crawl and asks, “Mommy, can you hold on, please?” I touch the handlebars the way I remember learning to hold the barre in ballet. This lightest of grips is poised and at the ready. When he hears a car, he tenses and turns back three or four times to look. He veers in a wide arc away from the curb. I tell him the story about hitting the telephone pole when I was learning to ride a bike even though I was staring right at it. “You tend to go wherever you are looking, so keep looking at the place you want to go, not the thing you are trying to avoid.”
 
“I am going to run over that black spot,” he says. He peers with great intensity at a tar patch on the street ahead and steers his front tire over it. “Now, I am going to go over that one.” The cars pass on by.
 
At the playground behind the school, we run and run and run and run. It is dusk and the storm clouds are rolling in. I chase him up the slide and down the ladder, up the fire pole and down the parallel bars. We do not speak. This game demands no negotiation of rules. He bends and peers at me from between poles across the yard, eyes flashing and skin on fire. He breathes hard and braces himself. I charge and he shrieks, mulch flying. He tears off over the jungle gym and under the bridge, ducking, faking left then right. His wild laughter echoes off the school’s brick walls. We run until he notices the sky.
 
“Those clouds are very low,” he says.
 
“Yes. They are.”
 
“We should go home.”
 
He is back on the bike and I drop my fingers onto the handlebar. He nudges my hand away. “No, Mommy, you don’t need to hold me.” He weaves in and out and around the pillars at the front of the school building, tires churning up the chalk murals of peace signs and rainbows. On the way home, we meet the slope going the other way. He lifts his hands from the bars and gazes at the red, puffy spots on his palm.
 
“We can put ice on your hands when we get home,” I tell him.
 
He makes a fist, releases it, then pushes on.
 
“They make special gloves for biking,” I say. “They have padding and no fingers. We can get you some.”
 
“I’ve seen them,” he says.
 
And now he is climbing. Up in the seat, he stands as he pedals up the hill, grinding against gravity. I grin and tell him he’s got it. He climbs all the way to the top hill and then drops into the seat, pauses, and looks at his hands again. The red spots are angry now.
 
“We’ll use that soft ice pack,” I say.
 
“Okay.”
 
He turns right at the stop sign and continues all the way home. He never asks for my help, never complains. He makes it to the driveway and then lets me maneuver the bike into the garage. Inside, we root around in the fridge for the ice pack. He presses his hands to the blue pockets of relief.
 
When I put him to bed an hour earlier than usual, he does not protest. We read our three books and sing our three songs, cuddle and nuzzle and have butterfly kisses.
 
It is no surprise he sleeps on and on this October morning. When he wakes and comes padding into my room, he tucks himself under the already made folds of my comforter, grinning with sleepy bliss.
 
“Can you come cuddle me, Mommy?”
 
“I can cuddle you for exactly one minute. We have to get ready for school.”
 
I lay down next to him and put my face against his. He turns and presses his nose into my cheek.
 
“How about exactly two minutes?” He puts his hand on my arm. The red blister has faded to a pink whisper.
 
“Okay,” I say. “Exactly two minutes.”
 
He hums into my neck, closes his eyes, and pulls my arm across his belly.
 

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If a Tree Falls

We climb to the top. He hangs on my arm and wraps his hands around my thigh. “Mommy, I’m tired.” He drags at me, trying to make me stop. He has no idea. Gravity has no effect on me. I am stronger than he can imagine. His fifty pounds are a ball of cotton, a cheesecloth sail. I can carry him to the top. Down the crevasse. Hoist him back up. I can lift him into the branches of an oak. I stand below him and know he will not fall because I will not fall.
 
I will not fall.
 
The hands under me are not visible. Are they any less present? Are they any less real? I have skidded and tumbled but still, my body is not broken. I rise every day. The smile comes, even it is forced. Music whispers at my throat. The legs walk on.
 
A good job, a good living. All there is? No, I still believe. Maybe that makes me a romantic idealist foolish idiot. Maybe small minded and smaller hearted. Maybe unable to accept the world as it is. Maybe? Maybe not believing in this one approach to things. Maybe ready to welcome the self that is becoming and not just the self that has already become.
 
It could have been beautiful, but then it was not. I left one when he was as ugly as I am now. When he could not get up and out of himself. When he got stuck. This is karma. It shows no mercy. It is a pitching machine. It hurls its force at a guilty spirit. It is deaf to the pleas. It is blind to the body, curled in a ball.
 
Get out of the cage. Just get up and out. It only hurts if you stay inside.
 
What is this jail? I built it. I put myself in it. The key might be right here in my pocket, but all I find is an ID card, a mobile phone, lint. I find the inside of the pocket. But there, a tiny thread, a small tear in the making, the skin of my thigh there, warm. Alive.
 
Who will come if I wait here? A chariot? A winged horse? Icarus, maybe? I would dare him to fly even closer to the sun just to feel its heat.
 
Up, away. Through the rent fabric, I feel my own leg. I feel the possibility of rising by my own volition.
 
This is what’s begun. The end. We unravel. We fray. The edges were never bound. It was all just us pressing the hems into one another, holding it up. The thread was not real. It was spit and prayer and no sudden moves. As soon as the twist was 180 degrees, the whole garment split and fell away. We were as naked as the emperor.
 
I could have gathered up what was left. I could have brought it to our naked breast, covered the soft place there before the broken branches had their chance to pierce
 
Our poor torn heart
 
Hearts
 
There were three there, inside that one body. Three bruised and busted creatures in need of a gauze, a soft wrapping and an untouched room with a curtain at the window to soften the glare.
 
It was not in my hands. I did not reach for anything but my own rope. I let the others slip down under, grabbed only the hair of my son.
 
I am single again. It is sweet nudity. It is defenselessness. He is not coming to get me again. This is not his job, and I must grow up enough to know this is the way it is.
 
Grow up. Bear down. Bare truth.
 
What is the thing you still believe even though you know it is false?
 
You have all the time in the world. You will get there someday. Being beautiful will make you happy. Having things will bring you peace. You can live a halfway life and still be whole. You can have it all. You deserve better. You deserve worse. You are a piece of garbage. Someone will write to you even if you do not write first. Doing more will get you more. People will change. Your criticism protects you. Love is unconditional. The number in your bank account is based on hard work. You can trust your neighbor. You’ll have another chance. You’re out of chances. People forget the words you say. People remember the words you say.
 
In which myth will I place my faith today?
 
You can live through your children. You can live without music. You can live alone. You can live without making something of yourself. The way will appear if you keep walking. The voice will guide you if you shut up and listen.
 
Which myth?
 
Swallow it down. Choke it back. Squeeze the muscle and contract. The only way to the woman I am becoming is to punch through to her, rip the torn place wider, shape her, make her, smooth her into being, breathe in life life life. Oil her. Wet her. Paint her with a paste of pollen and creekwater, gather the milkweed fluff and tuck it between her thighs. Draw down the branches of the hemlock tree. Weave moss and bough to shape the organs that beat her blood into breath.
 
Whatever is haunting me, I have to perform this exorcism alone. It is not the job of any man to boil down the sap of me into something sweet. He cannot discern the obscenities of the ghosts. He only hears their echo called back through my own flailing limbs.
 
A wise woman once told me, do not adore your man. She meant to be cautious of idols. We deify our lovers. We pray to them to shoulder the burden and quiet the demons, to absolve us of our sins. This is too much to ask of anyone. When I left the man I married, I merged into the first one I found waiting. He promised he would come for me. They all say this: I am here. You are not alone. But it is impossible. No one can get as close as would be required to inhabit the place where the dark chill lives. To unfurl the buds. To bring the spring. They would have to press themselves entirely into the skin I call my own. They would have to squeeze me out and become the skeleton of me. This is what the one adoring dreams of. Obliteration. Complete.
 
Now, here, I release the myth of disappearance. The only story I can live is this one. It is not for me to make this into anything other than what it is. The paycheck comes. The child is fed. He climbs, he runs. The work waits on Monday morning for me to arrive, for me to claim it as mine. This is mine. This is the only narrative, and here sits the only protagonist, inside the arc. I never thought of myself as anything other than an independent woman, but I have lived for 20 years as one who cannot get through a day without fantasies of rescue. This is the cage.
 
Giovanni will, alas, not be the last man I love. But he will be the last I dream of saving me. No one is coming. I save myself.
 
Maybe there is nothing to learn from this. Maybe it is the same lesson after all, returning like the first leaves. Falling is a choice. So is growing. So is stepping out from behind bars. So is opening to the sun.