I found the entry to my apartment house by touch, my sight still obscured by the unceasing stream of tears. I stood outside the gate, unable to enter; the authority of a strange force, making its presence known through a familiar voice, prevented me.
My fingers gripped the metal gate more firmly. I leaned forward, but could not step any further off the sidewalk. My face inclined downward, I painted the ground with tears while grunting in objection through gritted teeth. “No….”
“Mary, everything will be okay.”
I suddenly recalled the warmth of Gardner’s smile, accompanied by the certainty in his eyes as he assured me, “…everything will be okay.”
“How do you know that?” I had asked him.
Gardner’s voice melded with that of the unseen stranger, “I know you.”
“But,” I began in an attempt to resist; alas, my battered heart hadn’t the strength to step into another fight.
I slowly opened up my hands, straighten my back, and turned my face in the direction of the cafe. As I walked the seemingly long way back, my heart felt sore, but it was quiet and my thoughts were focused, moving together on a single train, “everything is going to be okay.”
When I arrived at the cafe entrance I was met with an open door and a smile.
“Thank you,” I said, receiving the door from a patron who was exiting. I released the door behind me and turned my eyes in the direction of my usual table. She wasn’t there.
“She left.” I said quietly. I awaited a word, or thought of redirection, but perceived that the presence which had led me, had left me. I stood still for a moment, growing increasingly agitated in the silence. I groped inwardly for the remnants of the demolished wall that I may rebuild it in order to retreat there. I found nothing. Tears slowly began to fill my eyes.
The Barista slowly eclipsed my view of the vacant chair where my mother had been seating. “Gracie.”
I focused outwardly once again, making eye contact with him, but remaining silent.
“The woman you were sitting with, your mother, she said to tell you not to leave. She’ll be right back.”
Inquiring more aloud than specifically of him I asked, “How did she know I’d come back?”
“Huh?” He was reasonably perplexed.
“Never mind. When was this?”
“About five minutes ago. I saw her sitting at your table when I got here. She kept staring at the door. I thought she looked familiar but didn’t figure out that she was your mom till she came to the counter.”
I was mystified as to how she could have known, or why she would have presumed that I would return.
“I didn’t know your mom lived around here.” He awaited a response from me.
The intensity of his anticipation drew my focus outward once again. “What?”
“I was saying your mom must not live around here. I’ve never seen you two here together.”
“Yeah…I don’t really know where she lives.”
“Oh…” Glimmering curiosity was swept aside by compassion. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. Why?”
“Nothing…you don’t really seem like yourself.”
“Well, I’m fine.”
While he remained physically planted, I could sense a withdrawal of his compassion.
“I’m sorry…” My hand, unrestrained by fear, met his arm with a reassuring touch. “I’m okay…”
The gesture surprised him; he looked down at the point of connection between my hand and his arm.
“I’m gonna go sit down.”
“Thanks for asking if I was okay.”
“Yeah. Let me know if you need anything.”
I withdrew my hand and started off to my table.
I sat still in the unfamiliar silence of my thoughts and enjoyed the symphony of cafe life around me. A few minutes elapsed then The Barista came to me again, a gracious smile across his lips and a cup in his hand. “It’s on me.” He placed it on the table.
“Thank you.” I reciprocated his smile.
Just as he stepped out of the scope of my vision, my mother came into view at the entrance. She hurried toward me, her shoulders bearing the purse I had seen her with earlier and one of her hands a shopping bag I had not. She turned toward the counter as she passed by, scanning the faces behind it until she found The Barista. She gave him a thankful thumbs-up before continuing toward me. She plopped into the chair across from me, then set her purse on the table and placed the bag in front of it.
“I got you something.”
I kept my hands folded in my lap and focused a suspicious gaze on the bag. “What is it?”
“Do you wanna take a look?”
I lifted my eyes to meet hers. They were incomprehensibly resplendent with…joy? I diverted my gaze from hers to the bag; I reached in and lifted into view a relic of my childhood, a reminder of my forgotten innocence.
“Jon-Jon,” I whispered as I held up a copy of my favorite childhood teddy-bear. I examined him from head to fluffy foot and found that he was perfectly as I remembered.
My mother looked on, the light in her face perfectly reminiscent of a light I had beheld during endless hours of play in my childhood home. My senses gradually began to transport me back to the old house as they had earlier; I dared not allow them.
I muzzled the unbridled glee dancing to the surface then spoke. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Anything you want! Do you remember the many different characters Jon-Jon would become when–”
“I remember.” I buried the bear back in the bag. “I’m not a child anymore.” I slid the bag toward her.
“I got it for you Mary.”
Her enthusiasm vanished, undoubtedly driven off by my frigidity. “I was hoping we could start again on a… happier note than earlier.”
“…yes happy…..It’s not easy for me to see you cry.”
“I’m guessing it’s easier not to see me at all…”
She took another breath and shifted in her seat; she reclined in the chair, mirroring my posture. “Okay. I can live with that. Although, if you were asking a question, my answer would be that not seeing you…not being able to hug you…not being able to watch you grow up and be a part of your life was the most suffocating thing I had to endure for the past twenty years.”
“And yet you never came to get me.”
“It wasn’t that easy Mary.”
“You’re my mother, it shouldn’t have mattered how hard it was, you should have found a way.”
She swept a stream of tears off her cheek. “My life wasn’t the kind of life that you want to bring a child into. I–”
“You’re an adult, you could have made different choices…I didn’t have any choices!”
“I know that and I’m sorry.” Her tears flowed more rabidly, soaking her cheeks, neck, and the collar of her blouse. She simply let them.
“You keep saying that, and it doesn’t change anything. It can’t fix anything!”
“I know…I know…”
“So now what? What are we supposed to do? Am I supposed to just be happy and smile like nothing ever happened?”
“I don’t know…but maybe this is a good start? Maybe just talking is good? Maybe I can get to know you again…” Her eyes replete with hope, she awaited my response.
I remained silent. In the stillness, I rediscovered the ease with which I had walked to the cafe and was surprised to also find the courage to be honest.
“I don’t even know who that is.” I took up the cup that The Barista had brought me, turned in my seat such that I faced the entrance and took a sip. It was cold.