Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Picture You Carried

I don't have much to tell since I stayed home except for a quick jaunt to pick up pizza.

At the door, a young couple leaned back on the hood of a ratty white car.  He had his face buried in her neck.  She was pretty, but looking around while he nuzzled her.  I didn't really think much of it as I walked in to pick up my pizza.  I figured they were waiting for their order to get finished.

When I came out with my pizzas, the girl said, "Hey, have you got a cigarette?"

I had so many responses for that girl.  The one that came out of my mouth was "No" along with an eye roll.  I wanted to tell her not to beg.  I wanted to tell her to get away from a guy who would lead her into that sinkhole.  I wanted to tell her that smoking would make her ugly. There are the wrinkles it will put around her mouth.  Then, it will yellow her teeth.  And, in the end, that little hole at the bottom of her neck will be ugly too.  The glom that she spits up will be disgusting and the sound of the coughing that she'll eventually do until noon is downright nauseating. 

When Nick was about three years old, he leaned out of our car and yelled at a skeevy guy on the sidewalk, "You smoking.  You going to die."  It was funny, but I wonder if the honesty of a tiny little boy could have enough effect to help that man stop.  Probably not. That man is probably smoking a cigarette right now. 

But this girl was so pretty.  She wasn't that far from the perfect baby she had once been.  I didn't want to picture her begging or smoking. 

Here's the problem with being a mom.  You give birth to this tiny apparition the moment you find out you're pregnant.  If you really want a child, it can begin before then, sometimes years before.  This apparition is perfect.  She has golden ringlets if you really wanted her to have golden ringlets.  And she's smart.  Or instead, he's got a powerful personality.  He's artistic.  You can see these children in your mind's eye.  You could probably pick them out of a stack of photos.

But they are born and they're wrinkled and their heads are still pointed and soft.  They have a mole where you never imagined a mole, yet they have perfect toes.  Then six weeks later, they burp like a trucker, then that imperfection becomes smoothed over when they smile at you for the first time. 

And you ratchet along from there.  They throw their first temper tantrum.  They say their first word.  They have accidents you never imagined.  They draw you pink flowers and a dog.  They get sent to the Principal's office and then make you mangled pancakes for breakfast.  Back and forth you go until you accept reality.  Your child is not perfect.  He never will be, but he's wonderful and handing you back a totally different picture than the one you created for yourself.

It's hard to get ready for the next part.  They crash the car.  They come home with a girl who isn't good to them.  They try drugs or alcohol.  Over and over your heart is broken.  Personally, I'm glad I have a few more years until I get to this part.  Some day, these pictures we draw will be handed over to them according to how we handled them.  The voice in their head telling them not to accept that cigarette will be ours.  But even after we hand them this picture of who they might have been, we'll carry it around with it for the rest of our lives. 

So I wanted to tell this girl that this picture that she'd given me, the one of her smoking her money down the drain, the one of her hacking up a lung every morning, or needing the surgery to remove her larynx along with the cancer, that was not the picture her mother had of her on the day she found out she was pregnant twenty years ago.  It was probably not even the picture she carried of herself. 

Thank you for listening, jb

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