I picked up Richard Dawkins’ book The Magic of Reality at the airport on Sunday night. I’m on a self improvement kick again, and feeling guilty about my tendency to read stupid murder mysteries rather than mind improving non-fiction and career improving business books.
I was in seat 16C of the plane and Dawkins was talking about finding the first mother and I remembered the exhibit at the Smithsonian about the origins of man and I found myself filled with a strange mixture of anger and loss.
I don’t often think of Gabriel as the little boy he would be now. I don’t often let myself think of him. It just seems pointless. Dwelling on what could have been instead of what is. It seems like it’s unhealthy, I worry that this is the way madness lies. I try to live in, to make the best of the here and now.
But on the plane: between thoughts of another young woman that I wanted to help; and thoughts of going to Travis’ parent coaching class for Driver’s Ed; and seeing my roommate’s photo’s of his kids at Disney, and Friday’s comment a colleague made about me not being good with small children, there was my little red haired boy.
He played hide and seek with me, with my thoughts. Dancing in and out of them. Calling to me. “Mummy, these are things you could have taught me. Mummy, this love of knowledge, the things you know, these are things you would have shared with me.”
He called out to me to hold him up to see the great stones of amethyst broken open in the Gems and Jewels gallery. He called out, wanting me to see how tall he was next to the earliest species of man. He called out to me in the middle of Mendelian genetics, explaining how he came by the red hair and blue eyes I am certain he would have had.
He called out to me in the now, in the present, reminding me with strident tones ringing out in my imagination, that he isn’t here.
He called out to me, reminding me of how very much is lost. I am perhaps not the most maternal of persons. I don’t have a sing-songy voice, I don’t stock wet wipes in my purse and I can’t think of fifteen activities to amuse small children at the drop of a hat. My life doesn’t move to the rhythm of small children. I like my sleep. I forget that it takes me longer to leave the house with them in tow. I am matter of fact.
After my colleague’s comment on Friday I am struck bare.
I thought of calling one of my best friends, the one with a child Gabriel’s age. I am good with your children, aren’t I, I wanted to ask. They actually like me, don’t they? Oh, I know I’m not perfect, but they know I love them, don’t they? They look forward to seeing me, don’t they? I’m not a mother, but I’m a good aunt, even to small children, right? I’m not a complete failure at aunt-hood too, am I?
I don’t have a small person of my own. I don’t know the truth. Maybe I am terrible.
Perhaps that small red haired boy I could see at the Smithsonian, perhaps it is best that he stay in imagination.
It’s only that it hurts. It’s only that I wanted to be the one to lift him up to see those crystals. I wanted to explain the states of matter. I wanted to be a part of the moment when he moved past my high school physics and moved to university and started teaching me things.
I wanted to teach him. Not just about crystals and the origins of matter and evolution and Mendelian genetics: I wanted to teach him about where he came from. I wanted to teach him about learning and my love of it. I wanted him to know what it is to know a thing fully. I wanted to teach him about reading and I wanted to see the moment that he had his own thirst for knowledge. I wanted to leave that with him.
I wanted that more than anything in the world, really.