You were sick with a cold the night I flew to London. I called you from the cab to see how you were, but it just rang and rang and clicked over to voicemail. I worried you’d fallen asleep too early and would wake in the middle of the night, the morning-night, with only the sound of garbage trucks on the street, and how terrible a time that was to be awake and alone and sick with a cold, how it magnified the aloneness.
I imagined waking up and discovering you seated at the edge of the bed, never having felt you move, because you always made sure to move lightly and not wake me when you got up in the night to pee, or write the things that came to you in your sleep when your brain was “soft,” you said. You would write a note for class the next day, something for you students (“your kids”) and sometimes you would write something for yourself. I would find the notes on the kitchen table in the morning, secret codes scribbled lopsided down the edge of a paper towel. I’d ask what they meant and you’d call from the bathroom, mumbling through your toothpaste, “I need to call the parents about chaperoning the trip,” or “I told the kids we’d play a word game today.”
I never found the notes you would write for yourself. Those disappeared the moment they were written, in a drawer, in a journal, I wasn’t sure where. I would roll over and find your body not there, and squint at the clock, and wonder if I’d find an ink- blotted napkin in the morning, or a diagram on a cereal box folded inside-out — cat scans of a mind that turned on the moment the rest of the world had switched off. The restless mind of a mother, I thought, watching over her children.
That’s what the parents don’t see when they meet with you at conferences. They don’t see you at night caring for their babies, tip-toeing through an apartment looking to write something down, something you don’t want them to miss. I know what they pay you, and they don’t pay you for this. And I don’t like that you’re at home alone with a cold, or that I’m in this cab, and that when you wake in the night I won’t be there to hear you creaking over the floorboards, and I won’t find your notes in the morning, and I won’t be able to care for you the way you do for them. I won’t find you at the kitchen table and kiss the back of your head and feel the way you lean into me, exhausted. I won’t be able to put you to bed and warm your body with mine and take care of you the way I do. And not having to be a teacher in those moments, letting the children sleep, and just being a woman, a lover — they don’t see this either. And I won’t wake in the morning and find the table cleared, except for a pen, and know that a note was written that night, but not for me to read. And that was the thing that no one would know but you. That was you truly alone. And I would miss that too.
And then my phone vibrates in the inside pocket of my coat and I take it out and read the text you’ve sent.
hope I didn’t get u sick
But you did. You did get me sick. But not like you think.
And I slide the phone back and let it rest against my chest, and I lean forward and ask the driver how long til we’re there.