Friday, March 23, 2012

For Whom the Bell Curves

"Hold still!" I said to my son as I snapped a photo of him coming down the front steps. I take one every year on the first day of school. And the last. Capture his size, hairstyle, and current fashion taste forever. I have pictures of all three kids on every one of their first and last days of school. If only I scrapbooked.
             My sixteen-year-old daughter spoke from inside the screen door. 
            “He’s in sixth grade now, Mom,” she said. “That's middle school. No way can you walk him down to the corner. It wouldn't be cool.”
            I whimpered. Made my eyes big and slow-blinked. “Really?” I said. “No way?”
            She crossed her arms. Shook her head, her mouth a firm, lip-glossed line.
            I settled for standing in the middle of the street in front of our house. Watched his figure diminish in the morning mist. Another girl was already at the corner. Waiting on the bus. With her daddy. I noticed a pinch. Of jealousy. Guess girls are different.
            A few minutes later the bus wheezed to a stop. The kids piled up and in. The yellow-orange rectangle disappeared around the bend. I sighed. And remembered. The day I sent him off to kindergarten. Back then when the bus had pulled away, I wept, quietly. And I smiled, sort of. All at the same time. I felt lonely, but I also felt free.
            I lingered there on the corner, my toes pointing down the yellow slanted curb, long after the other parents left. I focused on  the horizon. Craned my neck. Something was out there, way out yonder. I held my hand above my eyes to avoid the sun’s sharp glare. A breeze nudged the hair around my face. I shivered. In my gut, in my spirit, I knew everything was changing.
            I dawdled as I made my way back to the house. Kicked at pebbles and considered my life. The last year and the one before seemed like a black and white photograph. No, that’s not right. There was always color, but it was washed out—pastel and weak, with undertones of grey. Personally, I don’t care for pastels. I think they’re wimpy.
            Back home, I climbed the stone steps, then the wooden ones. I perched on the top stair. Pondered how for the past four years or so, I’d craved more. And then recently, I'd wanted much more. For the longest time I felt like a sleepy caterpillar in a dry and raspy, mocha latte-colored cocoon. What I longed to be was a butterfly—an aqua and magenta fluttering thing of beauty, starting to nudge, poke, and kick box my way out of a dusty coffin. I desired freshness, greenness, sunshine, and new life to fill me and my veins to overflowing.
            My elbows dug into my thighs as I framed my face with my hands. Spoke to the morning.
            "My life is kind of like a bell curve." 
            For years, I'd been ascending the left side—busily inch-worming my way toward the pinnacle. It seemed to take the longest time. One daughter. Another. A boy child. And then my son entered the bus that first day. Once he started school, the plummet began. The descent down the other side was slow at first, but then I gathered speed. I thrust my arms over my head and shouted, "Wheee!" Silently though, so no one would think I was rejoicing their absence. That wasn't it at all.
            For me there could be no more, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
            I cupped my hands around my mouth, but ended up speaking in a whisper.
            “Keep your silent sadness!” I told the memory of Henry David Thoreau. “What a snore! I want more than a grey rag of a life!”
            I criss-crossed my hands over my heart. Pictured God inside me, balancing on the rosy wet flesh of my lung. I felt him create a sphere with his breath—a bubble gum or living tissue balloon in the space beneath my ribs. What would happen if he let go? Surely it would go “WHOOOOSHHHH!” And then it would twist and shout, somersault and dance, with me wrapped around it, through my neighborhood and town, and eventually all over the world, in glorious, ecstatic, technicolor bliss.

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