I am in a loud place. On the harbor. A marina. Full of good-timers. Boats everywhere. People shouting. Most have a beer in one hand, a hamburger in the other.
The waitress asks me what kind of beer I’d like.
“Budweiser!” I yell.
“Sorry, no Bud here.” She hands me a menu with four thousand choices. I don’t have my reading glasses, so I tell her to surprise me.
And when she walks away, I see a brunette girl in the doorway. This girl slumps her shoulders a little bit.
My mother sees the girl, too. She says, “Would’ya look at her big belly?”
I know this brunette. When this girl was much shorter, I remember sitting in a tiny closet with her—small spaces made her feel safe. I recall how she’d color in her coloring books.
“You’re supposed to color INSIDE the lines,” I would suggest.
She ignored me, loaded her hand with eight crayons, and drew a striking portrait of cat vomit. “Is this good?” she asked through her speech impediment.
Then, she quit coloring and looked at me, eyes serious as heart disease. “You think Mama’s gonna die next?”
I didn’t know how to answer that. After all, everyone dies, even parents. That much I knew from experience.
“What’ll we do?” she moaned. “If Mama dies, like Daddy did?” She was working herself into a fit. “What if YOU die?”
“Calm down, nobody’s dying.” And because fatherless thirteen-year-olds say stupid things, I answered, “I’m not going to leave you. Not ever.”
And they felt like the biggest words I’d ever used.
“You promise?” she said.
I held up my right hand.
Mother interrupts my little daydream. “Look, your beer’s here.”
This brunette sitting beside me, she’s a full-blown adult. She orders cheese sticks, then rests a hand on her large belly. They say she’s due this week, and it’s going to be a girl.
She doesn’t remember the adolescent promise I made to her. She probably doesn’t even remember sitting in that closet. Why should she? She was only five.
But I remember things. When she lost her first tooth, her first driver’s license, her summer haircuts, the times she cried into my shirt, swim meets, when I gave her away.
I used to feel ashamed that there was no father in our family photographs. Only one mother, one little brunette, and one big-nosed fool with red hair.
I don’t feel that way anymore.
Happy first Mother’s Day, Sarah.