I can’t remember where I read it. It must’ve been a couple of years ago that I came across a news article or blog post or something about how “busy” is like the It Mom answer to “How are you?” Probably closely followed by “tired”, which then inspires a detailed explanation of how many commitments she has and what her kids are involved in and how her husband has no idea what her days are like so she has no choice but to soldier on. I get it. I’ve done it, far too often. For secular Western moms, running ourselves into the ground for the good of our families (or, at least, appearing to do so) makes up for some of the shame of leaving the paid work force and opting out of the competitive career climbing our culture celebrates. We become Competitive Mommies, instead. Soldier Mommies. Career Officer Mommies battling conflicting feminine ideals and endless Mommy War infighting, army-crawling through organically sourced diapers and disposable toddler meals and alternative public school programming options to get our kids and our souls through unscathed. But, God, you know if we would only lean in a teensy bit harder, we could come through victorious amid a brain-twisting allegiance of Mommy CEO’s and grassroots feminists who can make it all better for the low-low price of their latest ebook or upcoming conference pass, just-grab-the-blog-button-here.
Anyway, I’m done. Grad school is busy. Life is busy. My household is busy, and we’re all tired. Would I change it? No. Our goals are too important. My husband actually has a very clear idea of what my days are like, and my friends don’t give a shit if my house is clean, and my kids are exceptional at some things and struggle with other things, just like everyone else. I’m lucky, and I’m blessed, and I’m not doing this alone. So, I’m done focusing on the tired. I’m done stacking up the sliding wall of things I Need To Do like sandbags on a slit trench. I’m done slipping around in my busyness like D-Day mud, the choking wet mess of its drama. I’ll climb out of it. My goals are that important. I will execute this years-long campaign, successfully, victoriously. But what I need to keep in front of my face as I battle forward is that I’m a mother, yes, and a wife, and a friend, and a student, and an educator, and a sister, and a daughter. All of those things. More than those things. But most of all? I’m a writer.
Which means it’s time to cut the bullshit, check my weapon, and fucking write.
The sandwich was divine. Sherry’s husband Teddy was fifteen years this side of a heart-attack that had left his rig jack-knifed across two lanes of oncoming traffic, killing a family of four. He kept their picture over the grill. Normal looking people. Could be anyone’s sister and brother-in-law, twin nephews missing complimentary front teeth. If you asked for a burger, he’d show you their picture, tell you these folks would be grandparents now, these two boys all grown up with families, coming home for dinner Sundays with Maw-maw and Gran-Pop. That one, on the right, his name was Mason. He liked to build stuff, which is hilarious, when you think about it. Mason the mason, haw haw haw. His brother, there, that one, you can see the edge of his baseball mitt if you look close. Refused to take it off for the photo. Refused to take it off to sleep, they told me. His grandparents told me, did I say that yet? When they came to the hospital to give their forgiveness for me killing these kids with my rig. They said their grandson Mike loved ball so much, he’d shower, sometimes, with his hand stuck out the curtain to keep his glove dry. You think he’d be in the majors, now? Triple A, maybe? I think so. Those boys, you look at them, you look at their parents and all the love they lit the camera with, and you know they were good boys, going to have to a good life. We’d be watching them on tv, I bet. HGTV and TSN, using that button that lets you go back and forth between the channels, the one boy building castles and the other one jumping high against the ivy, the ball coming to his glove like a fish on a hook…. So, what can I getcha? You want the angus beef with bacon and Velveeta? Or can I interest you in this here club sandwich with the free-range turkey breast, pesto aioli, sodium-reduced baked ham slices, and a wedge of sharp cheddar on multigrain toast? Got a side-salad, too. I dress it with this oh-six-oh-nine blend of olive and flax-seed oils and some basil we grow right here.
The watcher took the sandwich with the salad and a paper boat of oven-baked potato wedges, homemade ketchup and a rootbeer float. The restaurant was quiet, but she’d eat at the bar, all the same. She knew from her last visit, years ago, that when Sherry was on grill she served the burgers. No questions, no comments, no blue eyes narrowed slightly so you knew how many favours you might lose out on if you chose the stack of medium grilled red meat. Just a burger on a plate, deep-fried fries and a squeeze bottle of Heinz. Walking by the grill, Sherry’d kiss her fingertips and touch them to the faces in the photograph. Strangers who saved her husband’s life, she’d tell you, if you asked. And that was all. The watcher wondered what it would be like to have love like that. To be someone who did the wrong thing over and over again, pulling roads together in such a way that collision was inevitable, deaths were inevitable, but who was still beloved. Who would kiss their photographs when this was over, she wondered? Who would cherish hers?
She thumbed her phone awake and ran through her contacts until she found a courier she’d used before for something more benevolent. Graduation flowers for a girlfriend backhome. Sorry I can’t be there but CONGRATULATIONS! Three dozen pink roses got a hand-written thank-you card and eyes forever interested in something else when they passed each other on the street. The courier was good, anyway. He got the message immediately and responded in seconds. He’d have to get it into the First Class mail system in time for morning delivery. She’d have to message him a photograph of her payment and the package tracking number in advance, or no deal, so she better get moving. She palmed the freebie shower tokens Teddy’d given her with the sandwich, met Sherry at the till and asked for one of those prepaid FedEx envelopes on the shelf up there. Pick-up at 5am for 8am delivery. It would be tight. The watcher didn’t have a backup plan, and maybe that was okay. If the delivery went to shit then the seeker might finally learn the definition of “impossible”, and “over”, and “jesus let it go, already”.
The watcher was laughing, so Sherry said, “What’s funny, darlin’?” as she slid the five and two quarters across the glass lottery case. She squinted one eye a little so the smoke rising up from the end of her cigarette wouldn’t sting as much, though a closer look showed an e-cigarette logo, the glowing ember false.
The watcher nodded at the cigarette and said, “Somebody die to save your life, too?”
Sherry grinned. “Not yet.”