Allison sat on the front steps of her parents’ house, holding a mug of coffee in her hands, and staring into the middle distance between their front fence and the street.
She understood why people took up smoking. At least it gave them an excuse to step outside every hour or so for a few minutes. And when you are staying with your mother, watching her struggle to recover from surgery, with all your past swirling around, the future uncertain, and the present full of pain, you need to step outside.
Or, get up super early, as Allison had, bundle up against the morning chill, and take your first cup of coffee out on the porch. So if Mom wakes up, she won’t see me and start the day’s conversation, Allison pondered.
The thought immediately triggered a pang of guilt that threatened to interfere with her ability to swallow her coffee. I should be grateful Mom’s home for her recovery, and well enough to talk, she thought, not annoyed by her need to comment on everything about me and my life. Even when she says she supports me, it comes across as micromanagement.
There was something else, too, underneath the moderate annoyance at her mother’s ongoing critiques of her educational, vocational, and relationship choices.
Allison was stunned by the vision of her mother as physically frail. She had always known her mom’s emotional ups and downs, had memorized them as a kind of road map of hazard areas to avoid. But seeing her mother in her nightgown, face dreadfully pale, thin hair mussed from too much time on a pillow, weaving unsteadily on her feet as she rejected the walker the hospital had sent home with her, this was new territory.
And it was territory that Allison disliked intensely. Any moment, watching her mom, panic would creep up her spine, or clutch at her bowels. This panic was beyond word or thought. It was, Allison began to understand, the simple, blank terror of confronting a vision of one’s own future.
“Allison? Honey?” Her mother’s voice came through the front door. “Where are you?”
Taking a deep breath, Allison downed the dregs of her coffee, and stood. She took a long look around her, and started her inner clock, counting down to when she could, legitimately, take her next break to step outside.
She opened the door.
“I’m here, Mom. Right here.”