Someone to Hold On To
When did you first understand the meaning of love? For Life Lessons Essay Contest winner Mara Eve Robbins, that moment came unexpectedly, overwhelmingly, when one small gesture helped her cope with an enormous loss.
You grinned at me and hopped up onto your bed. “I know, Mom, and I even pushed the rewinding button before I pushed the playing
button!” Settling down into your pillows, fingers still twisting and pulling at that one tired curl, you blinked at me, eyelids
fluttering as you struggled to keep them open. “Is tomorrow’s tomorrow my birthday, Mom?”
“No, it’s one more day after that. Today is Monday. Your birthday is on Thursday.”
You smiled, finally letting go of your hair and holding both arms out for a hug. “So it’s tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow,” you said into my shoulder.
“Yes, it is,” I said, stroking your back.
“OK,” you murmured.
It was October. Three months before, your father had had an acute coronary occlusion and died while I was giving him CPR. You called 911. Or maybe you just got the phone for me? Those details blur.
I recall what I have told people. I recall the thin skin of sweat on his face seconds before the seizure. I recall the moment he quit breathing and it was only my breath going in and out of his lungs. I recall telling you to watch for the ambulance.
Life keeps moving ahead even when it is not recognizable anymore. I was a 30-year-old widow. You were a preschooler. The two of us shared a brand-new home, one we had purchased and moved into less than six weeks before your father died. There were breakfasts and dinners and bedtimes. Breakfast I could rarely eat; bedtime I often forgot. All the while, you asked me impossible questions I did my best to answer.
My friends who were single parents became my child-rearing gurus. Together we tucked you and the other kids into a pullout sofa bed, put on a movie for all of you to watch, then went to sit on the back porch and drink wine or coffee. On those evenings, I studied the new role I had no choice but to play.
The kettle whistled, and I kissed your cheek before getting up to make the tea. When I went back into your room, you had fallen asleep on your side, fingers still in your hair, your breath gentle against the pillow. I set the tea on top of your dresser and lay down next to you, just looking at your face—long eyelashes you inherited from my uncle, a perfect nose sprinkled with freckles. Your father’s cheekbones.