I overheard the following as I was walking cross town yesterday: If you will be good just this once, I’ll never ask you to come anywhere with me again.
The tone was more angry and exasperated than pleading. And I began to think about those bargains we drive with recalcitrant children, bargins that are impossible to keep. But what would happen if we did?
Here’s what my imagination did with that as I continued my walk:
If you will be good,
Just this once,
I’ll never ask you to come
Anywhere with me again.
And you were.
We made it through that awful ordeal
Of settling your mother’s estate.
So I kept my promise.
Grandma would love to see you,
I’d say and you’d look at me
With a challenge in your eye,
“Are you asking me to go with you?”
No, I’d sigh, but she would love you see you.
“I’ll pass.” And I’d call the sitter.
As you got older, I’d go to your games, concerts, and shows.
“Don’t ask me to go home with you.”
You challenged, and so win or lose,
You’d catch a ride with someone else.
I took to watching from the bleachers
And sneaking out. Perhaps,
You never knew I was there.
And when your grandmother died,
You walked to the church.
Your aunt drove you to the burial
And then back home
Where you retreated to your room.
Still every morning I made your breakfast and lunch,
But I never drove you to school.
Every evening you’d grumble over dinner and glare at me and Joey.
As soon as you could, you bought your own car,
But you never offered me a ride
And drove yourself to college, never to return.
Joey and I would take road trips
To see every one of your shows.
Til your brother went off on his own road too.
Then it was just me.
Following your career,
Calling every week for a few minutes
Of awkward small talk and strained silence
Only to find out from the tabloids
That you were engaged.
I was relieved to get an invitation,
But you did not ask me to walk you down the aisle.
You did that yourself.
And when you won that award,
I was so proud of all you accomplished
And you thanked everyone except me,
Including Joey and your mother in heaven.
Now, here I am, alone, in this hospice room.
Would it be breaking my promise
To ask you to come see me
One last time?
I’m afraid it would.
“The promises we keep define us,”
You said all those years ago.
So young, so headstrong, and so prescient.
You fought against me defining you,
And in the end, you defined me.