It’s 6 a.m. I stumble out of bed following a fitful night’s sleep to wake my daughter for school. The same thing I’ve done every morning since she was in kindergarten. Bright light tumbles from the crack beneath her door. A sure sign that she’s pulled an all-nighter. Staying up to write a French paper she should have started days ago. She’s still in high school. How will she ever make it through college? I managed to, and suppose she will, too.
I creak open the door. Light glares around her room. I speak her name. A question mark punctuates it as I turn and head for the stairs. Maybe she’s in the shower. I search frantically, but there’s no sign of life anywhere. Did she lose it and suddenly take off? Run through the cornfield naked on this frosty morn? Thoughts like this race through my mind; this year’s been tough on her. On both of us, for that matter.
I hold my breath and return to her room. A blanket from a younger time in her life lies heaped across her bed. I move in close, stricken with fear, and proceed to touch it. I can see the headlines now, “Local Teenager Dies Writing French Paper.” I’ve been a single mom too long. Menopause doesn’t help. These are the thoughts I entertain at 6 in the morning. Maybe I’m the one who needs a naked run through the cornfield. The thought stirs up some glee, but I’m afraid the neighbors might shoot me. At the moment, the idea doesn’t sound so bad.
I lift the blanket and see her body, garbed in yesterday’s clothes. It’s curled like a fetus, and lies sideways on the bed. I touch her head. The headline flashes again in front of me. Standing beside my teenage daughter, I feel embarrassed by the lameness of my thoughts. And grateful that she can’t read my mind.
My eyes fix on her breathing. Her shoulder rises and falls like a wave in formation, moving toward the shore. This pastime feels familiar. Reminiscent of the hours I stood by her crib, watching to make sure she was still alive. That longing comes back. I want to hold her hostage. Freeze-frame her and stare eternally.
I glance at the clock, sensing it’s time to wake her. I feel my hesitation. I know what’s coming. She’ll whine and crab, throw an adolescent tantrum, wanting to stay home. She knows my weakness. She’s my only child, and she’s going away to college next year. So, she will probably stay home from school today. Sleep late into the afternoon. And every now and then, I’ll peek into her bedroom, and I’ll stare.