I woke when she did. She lay on my arm, nestled against my chest. Her hands tugged at my shirt. “Mommy!” she insisted clearly, before continuing in a garble of sounds she is convinced are words. I checked the blinking phone. Sixteen percent charge. Twenty minutes had past since the alarm, which never sounded.
I nudged her from my arm to the bed before jumping up to fumble through my closet for suitable attire. What might one wear at the end? Black. Don’t stand out. Be comfortable.
I brush my teeth, my hair. Paint my face, noting the increasing lines around my eyes and the darkened circles that never seem to fade. I’m joined, then, by the littlest, who reaches for toothpaste and mumbles. The tween comes in stealth-like, whispering good morning while searching for eye-liner she’s not supposed to wear.
And then, it’s time to go. I nod at the teen, sitting on his knees at the end of his bed. I blow a kiss to the husband now busy helping little one with her brushing. I holler for the man-child to let him know my unfinished coffee is his for the drinking.
Unfinished. So much yet to do, so much still incomplete.
Along the road, time seems to slow. I see with absolute clarity the rustling trees. They toss their leaves, which cascade in a gentle dance to the ground before floating up again with gusts of wind from passing cars. The street shimmers, still wet from yesterday’s rain. A truck revs up beside me, its driver invisible in the still dark morning.
I stop to drop off the teen. She hugs me then. “Don’t be a hero, mom. You should call out. We care about you.” Her hold on me is firm, hot tears wet my neck as I comfort her with strokes of her hair.
“I’ll pick you up from school, like always. Meet me by the soccer field.”
Ma follows me outside, drawing her coat tight to shield herself from the bitter cold. She lingers by the van, while the dogs tug in opposite directions to begin their walk. “I love you,” she mouths, offering a smile. She stays firmly planted in the driveway as my car lights pin her with increasingly softer glow.
And then I am driving along an empty street. Lights are eerily green, sending me forward without delay. The radio hums, but the songs are indistinguishable, unremarkable, unnoticed. I turn the final corner into the parking lot, and Robin Thicke belts out, “For the rest of my life…” as I turn off the engine and he is silenced.