Best Kept Secret
4:25 a.m. She knocks twice on my door, her soft voice chiding me up. My eyes burn as the light flips on. I hear her steady footsteps descend to the kitchen. I sit up, swinging one foot at a time over the edge of my bed, and stand.
4:47 a.m. By my place at the kitchen table she has set out the Raisin Bran and 1% milk. I fill a bowl and start crunching. She stands at the counter, methodically pealing an apple for my snack. I only eat apples when they’re pealed. She knows.
5:03 a.m. I collapse into the front seat of our station wagon. The roads are deserted. Why shouldn’t they be? Only the high-powered businessmen heading to NYC on the 5:32 in starched suits with starched hair to match are up at this hour. My train buddies.
A scowl edges its way down my brow. I’m so close to spitting the question that’s always on the edge of my lips mid- Monday morning shuffle: “Why?” I stop myself. I know why. No Orthadox Jewish schools in Connecticut. I need a good education and friends who will understand that I can’t go out to a Friday night movie. I know the script. I glance over at her in the seat next to me. Lips turned down; her eyes look tired. Somehow I feel like she’s restraining herself from asking the same question.
5:18 a.m. My fingers tighten around the brown paper bag full of snacks she made special for me. She let’s me feel like a kindergartener again; I love that feeling sometimes. Checking her watch she ushers me out of the car. Kiss on the head, big smile, pat of the shoulder—all efficiency. She shoos me towards the train station doors and blows me a kiss. I catch it. I’ll save it for later.
I watch our car waiting at the red light adjacent to the New Haven Train Station. She doesn’t know I’m watching her. But there I stand.
Her head is down on the steering wheel. Her shoulders move up and down, so slightly. As the light turns, her head comes up. Her shoulder’s square. She grasps the wheel tightly, bites her lip, and drives away. It’s her best kept secret—any mom’s best kept secret.
5:32 a.m. As the train pulls away I rest my head against the smudged window, trying to re-catch my abruptly stolen slumber. All I can think about are those humble tears standing, just for a second, on the steering wheel.
I believe in waking up at four in the morning and thinking of what someone else wants for breakfast. I believe in the power to send away, with a smile and a kiss, what you love most in the world, if you know someday she’ll thank you for it, even if now all you get is a scowl. I believe in selflessness. I’ve seen my mother live it. Maybe someday I’ll live it too.