Today, while getting a root canal, I had a lot of time to think. A friend had told me to listen to music while it was going on, and so I brought my tunes along. I knew that would be risky because I am susceptible to music mush, where I hear a song and it takes me right back to a memory, kneading my heart like bread dough. But I have never been one to avoid certain emotional swamps, and so I went, because it would be better than watching bits of my tooth dust fly out of my mouth.
I say I am an emotion explorer, but that is actually not always true. Sometimes I avoid like crazy, so much so that I turn to stupid destructive behaviors and make them the problem, just so that I don’t have to sit with a bad feeling. An example we can all relate to: eating junk food. And that’s just the start of it, that’s the vice I can admit to. See, people think they know me because I write right from my gut but the fact is they don’t. There is so much inside me that I don’t even know because I can’t deal with it.
Lately I have not been able to write at all. One big expository kidney stone. So I decided now that the only way to relieve this is to just start typing. I have been having a very hard time since September. And while yes I do suffer from depression and also the opposite, I feel that this terrible sadness that has plagued me on and off, mostly on, since the fall is about change. Nat is in his house, Max is back at college, and Ben is at the high school. The three of them are flying. They are launched. I am that familiar cliche: emptying nester. I’m a mother most of the time without children, children I’ve been plugged into, umbilically almost, for 23 years.
Roll that tape back a few sentences. Let’s not skip over all three boys like some kind of long-memorized rosary prayer. Each of those beads is a world unto itself. I’ve shone so much light on that first bead, that gem, that diamond in the rough. My Nat. But this fall, it is the second bead that is sticking in my windpipe. Max is back at college. That is where my feelings alight, like scary bats at twilight who finally find some filthy hole to dive into. Max. I wasn’t sure until I was in that dentist chair today, and on came Sugar Mountain. You know, you can’t be 20 on Sugar Mountain. And even though Max is 20 and no longer on Sugar Mountain, he’s in Greenwich Village in New York City studying film, and that’s pretty close to being in an amusement park.
I miss him so much I can barely even mouth it. But I can type it. I remember once when we watched a baby film of Ben, Max said to Ned, “I didn’t hug him enough.” That’s exactly the feeling I have now about Max. I didn’t everything enough. I still don’t. When he’s here, I want to do and say so much but I don’t know what. I want to hold him, but it’s not like holding that fat little baby, of course. It is a bony, muscular man who is a head taller than me, so it isn’t quite the same. He gives a quiet little chuckle whenever I lean in to kiss him. Why does he do that? Is he uncomfortable? I guess. It’s always been that I don’t want to overwhelm Max with all my emotion because — I don’t know why.
So I sit there looking at him and smiling because my mouth just does that when he’s around. He walks into the room, and there seems to be a big general exhale going on. Everyone is relieved. We all know we will feel good now. He brings with him his laptop, so we hear his music. Never obnoxious stuff that has to prove something. Sometimes whiny female stuff, sometimes ugly White Stripes cacophony. But mostly, feathery guitars and interesting lyrics. Light yellow stuff that makes you feel like everything is okay. That’s Max.
I know he wasn’t put here on this earth to make us all feel alright. It just happens. He’s not always happy, and when he’s not, he finds his way to me. He’ll surprise me, in the middle of a gulp of coffee, with some big raw cut in his young fleshy life, and I will drop everything, do anything to heal it. Out of nowhere, out of the deepest parts of myself, comes this clarity — for him. Things I just know. Ideas I have for him of how to look at it, what he might try. It’s alright. I make him feel alright. Every now and then, I can give him his own gift, and it lifts me like a balloon, softly into a light blue sky.