I am at the coffee shop and I am thinking, which means—today, anyway—that I am staring out the window and wondering whose life I would rather have. Most of the time my observation is none of you people have the slightest idea what the fuck you’re doing, do you? and so my answer is, conveniently, no one’s, but once I looked out this window and saw a happy young woman, about thirty, with flyaway brown hair and twinkling blue eyes, wearing a white-and-pink print skirt. She got out of her little Honda with two small dogs on leashes, and she laughed while they gamboled and for one very long moment while I could not breathe, I wanted to be her so badly I ached.
But today there are no young women with flyaway brown hair. As I watch, a four-door blue sedan slots into the empty parking space in front of the window, but then I am distracted by an actual thought about my current project, and I start writing.
A while later, I look up again and a woman my age is coming down the sidewalk with a teenage girl who is using a walker, and they pause in front of the blue sedan. Apparently the handicapped spots were taken, and that’s why they’re in this spot, which is sort of pain in the ass to negotiate in a walker.
So the mother unlocks the car while the girl leans against her walker, watching intently. The mother opens the rear door, and leans in to move something aside. She turns back to the sidewalk with a smile. She says something to her daughter and her daughter relinquishes the walker, and puts her left hand against the hood of the nearest car to steady herself. I can see now the daughter is wearing leg braces, and her right arm is curled against her chest, so she has some sort of neurological disorder that makes it difficult for her to walk, and to move. She waits patiently for her mother’s help.
I think of Jessica, who leans hard into me whenever we have to go anywhere, and I am glad she is not in a walker yet, although I know she might be someday, a slow deterioration that will involve a wheelchair and in the end a ventilator, but today I am trying to work and so I put those thoughts out of my mind.
The mother looks worn in almost exactly the same way I look worn, overweight and tired but doing her level best to hide it, and I think how much we love our children and what a toll it takes on us to do so.
She smiles up at her daughter again, and her daughter smiles back, the beautiful smile of the one who is beloved and knows it. The mother takes the walker and works a mechanism and folds it. And then she takes a breath, and I stop, arrested. I know that breath. I have taken that breath ten thousand times.
She puts the walker in the backseat of the car. She shuts the door and goes back to her daughter, to help her down the curb and into the car, and she smiles one more time.
My collection of travel stories, Travels with Jessica, is now available! Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here. And I’ve published my essay “For Jessica” as a small book. Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.
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