I dress modly, smoke golden cigarettes, drink only things French, read important books, eat dishes that no one I know could fix, listen to music youíll never hear on the radio, dance with strangers and rarely sleep. When I was little, this is how I imagined how my grown-up life would be. I would live out in the country and watch the weather ride in with my dogs who were named after famous authors. I wore the flowing hair of a mother, but my child was . . . conveniently always at school or visiting his father.
For a while it was like that. I smoked, drank, read or at least purchased a great many well-thought-of books, cranked up Yaz, and did a lot of things with strangers. I danced at midnight and woke at dusk. And I lived in the country by a volcano.
But then I became a mother and a lot of what I had always known to be important to me changed.
It was dramatic. One day I was round with child but still wed to my mascara. The next I woke in a frumpy gown I never took off and my favorite song was the New Age heartbeat music we put on to inspire our baby to sleep. I had no time or energy for myself. I even stopped needing to sleep, pee, eat, or brush my hair. For a while.
Slowly I had to teach myself how to tie on my running shoes when my husband got home from work, plop the baby in his bouncy chair so I could gulp down some breakfast, drive the speed limit on the way to picking him up from the day care. When I accomplished those lessons, I graduated to learning to sometimes leave work an hour early and lose myself in a coffee shop, trendy store or simply in the front seat of my car behind a good book.
So, as it turns out, I am much more like June Cleever (even though I work outside the house and rarely clean it) than my childish fantasy of adulthood. Buying a dress that makes me swing is simply uninteresting compared with giving my son fencing lessons. I can identify Blue Eyes White Dragon before I can guess Smashing Pumpkins. Iíll take chatting with my son in the car as we drive across town in the rain over polenta with fungus pesto on a bed of wilted chardóany day.
But sometimes I make a decision or let an important opportunity slip by and I fear Iíve given too much of myself away.
Which is why Iím thinking about the kitten.
When Cope was a baby I ran over our cat in the driveway. A few days later, the cat died a dramatic and memorable death in our living room. Later, I wrote a short story about it and it was chosen for publication by a very nice literary magazine that paid me $500. I used the money to buy the used lap top computer on which I am writing this essay while my son takes his fencing lesson.
A few months ago, the editors of said magazine contacted me to say they were publishing an anthology and wanted to include my story. We signed a contract and they promised me another $500. Just as before, I intended to use this writing money to further my writing career. I announced to friends and people with whom I live that I would use the money for a writing retreat so I could finish the two books Iím working on.
Less than two weeks later, my sonís kitten got out and jumped in the neighborís yard where he was attacked by the three dogs who live there. My husband rescued the kitten and rushed him to the vet who pronounced the cost of fixing him $1000. Our tiny savings is not earmarked for life-saving surgery on animal members of the household. We said no. My son was at school and knew nothing of this.
But then I remembered my upcoming story money and offered it, reducing our bill to a more manageable sum and possibly saving our kittenís life.
He nearly died during surgery. When we visited him, it looked like he wouldnít make it through the night. I tried not to think that Iíd just thrown away my writing money for nothing. After we left the vetís, my son cried so hard and long that he asked me: "Will I ever stop crying?" to which I said, "Yes," and joined in.
The kitten, nicknamed Miracle Cat by the vet girls, now bounces around the living room after his feather toy with his Franken-kitty scars and his tummy shaved like a lionís.
And I have no writing retreat.
Iíve chosen my sonís happiness over mine. Again.
Some nights, how I do miss cigarettes, violins, the volcano. I dream of symphony concerts, arty bars, lying in bed all day with my lover eating croissants and coffee and rubbing Sunday Times newsprint into our nude bodies. I miss the smallish selfish life I used to lead.
But what I remember now that Cope is taking off his white jacket and putting down his sword and I am finishing this essay, is that sometimes what he wants is exactly what I want. In choosing that scurrying, nibbling, nuzzling black-and-white life we call Marvelous, I have been selfless and selfish.
So Iím back to begging to housesit for friends where I can retreat and write for free. Some day my trip will come. Because how many times, really, besides becoming a mother, do you get a chance to give someone life?