Tuesday, January 27, 2015

sing me anything

And now here we were, she a teenage adult, and me a teenage child and she wanted to talk about free will and I didn't have anything to say.
--Catherine Lacey, Nobody is Ever Missing

Mama had a crease between her two eyebrows. 
It was slightly closer to the left eyebrow than the right. 
Sometimes, I would creep down the stairs after bedtime, to get milk from the kitchen. And she was reading by the fireplace, waiting for Daddy to come home. If she wasn't really reading, and was really just waiting for Daddy, she would look up, and chase me back upstairs, laughing, without a line on her face. But if she was really reading something, then I would see the line between her eyes, and I could sneak into the refrigerator without her looking up. I think she was lost in her own world.
If I asked her to fix the hole in my doll's sleeve, she would look at the tiny needle and the thread, and she would knead her lips together, and draw her eyebrows closely together. The line would darken between the ridges of her white skin.
The line would appear when she would write a letter or write in her blue book.
What are you writing, Mama?
A story for when you grow up, she said.

I watched it when Mama would talk to Daddy, and it would crinkle up when she stopped washing dishes and listened to him very hard. You could feel that her ears were listening with everything, and she watched his face, as if she could hear him through the way his eyes and lips and nose moved. 

Sometimes, if I had a story about the scrape on my knee and why I was crying; or the girl at school who had said words that made my insides feel like an unripe pear, Mama would look at me very hard, and the line would appear again, a familiar ridge on the topography of her face.

It would appear sometimes when I watched her before church started. She knelt on the kneeler, even after Daddy had already sat down, and she would look at the man on the cross. Her eyebrows would knit together, and the line would appear between them. He was silent, and didn't move; just continued to look down sadly from his uncomfortable perch. But she was listening to him. I could tell, because the line appeared.
She laughed a lot, and the line between her eyes wasn't there when she laughed, unless she squished her eyes up real tight, and squinted so that she couldn't see, and only the tears would stream down her cheeks.

I asked her about the line one day. I stood up on her lap, my little blue jelly slippers (I was inseparable from my blue "princess shoes" for my entire fourth year of life) digging into her soft lap. I traced the line between her eyes with my finger, not even noticing the tenderness with which her blue eyes looking into my dark brown ones.

Mama?
Yes.
What is this from? I asked, as my fingers rubbed the line, trying to erase it, like a stubborn iron attacking a wrinkle in one of Mama's shirts.
It's from living.
And from what else?
It's from thinking a lot.
And what else? And listening?
And listening.
And worrying?
Sometimes.
She smiled.
It goes away when you smile.
I know.
Do you worry more than you smile, Mama?
No, I don't think so.
When did you get it?
It started forming when I was your age.
I don't have one.
No, not yet.
When will it come?
Maybe soon.
Will it mean I'm old then?
No, it will just mean that you have learned something.
It will mean that I've listened?
That you've listened, yes. And that you've lived.

She didn't tell me that it would mean that I've lived through sorrow and joy, that I've learned to listen to people I disagree with, and that I've learned to look closely at the world.
The world is too beautiful, Mama once told me, to not look so closely that you hurt your eyes.
What about the people that don't look closely? I asked, they don't have a crease between their eyes?
No they don't, laughed Mama. 
Then she was serious: but I don't know if they've found anything worth seeing.

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