Mon 15 Jun 2009
he came up as a suggested Facebook friend.
that application baffles me, i admit. it repeatedly pimps my brother’s dead dog’s memorial account, along with the guy who groped me most awkwardly – and somewhat traumatically – on that camping trip in college. erm, no. thank you. and then there’s the gaggle of people i swear i’ve never heard of even if FB is convinced they were in my high school graduating class. i come from a town with ten last names, Facebook. i know these folks are strangers. lovely strangers, i’m sure. friends i haven’t met yet. but seriously, there are a ton of people i’ve lost touch with that i did actually know and like, once upon a time. couldn’t you throw me a bone?
but his name came up and i did a double take, and clicked through, and there he was, in limited profile.
he would be nearly nineteen. the shock of recognition that came at seeing him was visceral, instant, even though it was not in fact recognition but a trick of genes and time. he is the spitting image of his father, same jutting chin and curve to the nose, same post-adolescent pocked cheeks, same searching eyes. i looked for his mother in the planes of that face and found no trace of her, my long-ago friend.
and yet the summers before and after he was born came back to me like yesterday, so present i had to shake my head and do the math and blink in wonder. one gets so old so fast.
she got married the summer i was eighteen and she was nineteen. we were both a year out of high school – i’d gone off to university to learn to drink out of funnels and shot glasses; she’d gone to college and met a fast-talking boy with angry, hungry eyes. she’d dropped out by Christmas. they had an apartment downtown, plastered with vintage posters of The Wall that i coveted dearly. he and i got along, in our way, intensity drawn to intensity around the calming, gentle oasis that was my friend. he and i talked music, politics. she and i talked pregnancy tests, that summer.
when she asked me to be her maid of honour, i’d never even been to a wedding. the pomp and circumstance bewildered me, and i thought getting married at nineteen to a man whose interest in his impending fatherhood was vague at best was a ridiculous prospect. but i stood with her at the front of that church when he gave her a showy kiss and they were pronounced man and wife, and i clapped, and caught the bouquet, and tripped over my taffeta frock.
Jesse was born in February. i had just turned nineteen, she was a month shy of twenty. i had never held a newborn until i came home that weekend, hitchhiked into town special just to see him, not realizing that barging in on a mother who’d just given birth might be anything but thoughtful. i cradled him, tiny squashed face still bruised from a rough birth, and wondered at his perfect nails and brought him a hardcover Richard Scarry book and handed him back with relief to return to my life of books and things that seemed so much bigger than that tiny, dark apartment with the bassinet perched by the futon.
i spent that summer with them, baby Jesse and his mother, working shiftwork not far from where they lived. she and i took him to the playground at the school i’d gone to as a child, and spread out blankets and watched him sink sink sink, buddha belly to the ground as he struggled to learn to sit up. he had fat cheeks and laughing blue eyes and i thought him impossibly beautiful. and i looked at him there and tried to imagine one of my own, casting tea leaves against a future i could not see.
that summer, outside in the grass, my friend talked of her days and i watched her with troubled eyes, this sunny girl with the boy-husband who did not really want to be a husband at all, and i swallowed all the sorrow that welled up on my tongue, the sorrow that comes with being a child left behind by a father who never really became a daddy, and i hoped for different for them both.
it did not unfold that way. the boy-husband left, eventually, found someone new, started a life that at last notice barely included Jesse and the younger brother who came into their lives just before it all dissolved. my friend struggled, went back to school, started again, found a life i think and hope makes her happy. we ended up in the same town together briefly, ten years ago now, one of the few times i’ve seen Jesse since that summer i was nineteen. he was still a little boy ten years ago, but long-legged, all motion, and i was flummoxed, wondering where the baby on the blanket had gone.
today, i looked into the face of a young man. my eyes combed his, searching for the blue-eyed baby of nearly twenty years ago until i realized, finally, that that baby is lost to all but memory. he is grown. in a blink.
this time the tea leaves spread themselves out like trollops in the sun, crystal clear. this is the future, they sang to me. this is how fast it goes.
and so today i will spread a blanket on the grass in my backyard and watch my baby tumble and try to stand, and taste grass and other delicacies, so that tomorrow when i blink and find her grown i will have this baby face still burned on my memory, open and tiny and laughing in the sun.
who was the first baby to ever make you imagine yourself maybe a mother, someday?