I didn’t understand how much a child needs you. I never remember needing my mother. It wasn’t so obvious. Babies came very fast in my family. Eight in eleven years. She needed me. It may be a simplistic explanation and counter-intuitive but I wasn’t a very good mother because of this. Years later my youngest grandson told me: “If you would move here I could see you every day.” I quit my job and went to live with him for two years. I wasn’t married so I could make this kind of grand gesture. To complete something. I wept for weeks when he was spirited away by his mother and father, who, after all, were the loving parents and had every right. I try not to dwell on it. I come up with plans: I’ll buy him a portable keyboard so that he can make music wherever he goes in Seattle. He’s fifteen now. I sometimes wonder what he’ll remember. Will he have a story he tells a girlfriend? My grandmother lived with us for two years. She had a big dog. Part Border Collie. At night the dog and I piled on her bed and she read her book and I read mine. Sometimes there was chewing gum, which felt forbidden. It was our secret vice. Classical music played on the radio. Once I recognized “Ode to Joy” — a eureka moment. I knew how to play it on the piano. She would sit knitting beside the piano as I practiced. We walked to the Bluebird Cafe for breakfast. And after that, we went to the park with the good climbing tree. She always said not to go too high and I always went too high. There was a stone wall outside an old church and she took photos of me jumping off the stone wall as if it were a precious act. Me in my striped shirt, my shoestrings untied. She laughed at my jokes. We had a plot in the community garden. It did not thrive. The carrots were tiny and crooked. She said it was a learning experience. As a special treat sometimes she would make a nest for me on the dog bed beside her bed. A quilt and a pillow with the planets on it. My cheek against Mars. Her reaching down to hold my hand if I was anxious. It was the year my mother had cancer. Later we moved away. Will he tell the girlfriend how he felt when we had to go our separate ways? I always want to know but whatever he says will strike a small perpetual fire that burns me at the oddest moments. Eating a waffle cone. Driving by a playground. Petting a dog asleep on the bed. Scooting past boy food in the grocery. Constellations like sparks. Ode to joy.
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