When he was small, he would ask me to sleep with him every night.
“Please sleep with me, Mom.”
And most nights I would. I would snuggle in next to him, feeling his small body pressed against mine, an arm thrown across my neck as he burrowed in so close our noses would touch, his breath minty and sweet against my cheek, his hair still damp and fresh from the bath. He would whisper his dreams and silly rhymes in my ear as the room slowly darkened, a gently stillness seeping in, his chest rising and falling in time with the soft whir of the overhead fan. All thoughts of the piles of laundry that needed to be washed, the already late bills to pay, the sticky dinner dishes that should be rinsed, floating away as I lay with my arms around my child, both of us drifting into sweet, sweet slumber.
And some nights I wouldn’t. On those long, hard days when I just needed some space to think, wanting some peace and solitude to collect my thoughts and mull over the day. Those nights when all I could dream about was an empty chair, a cup of hot tea and a good book, or a piece of the couch, a mindless television show and a glass of wine.
“No, not tonight. I am busy. I don’t have the time,” I would say impatiently.
On those nights there would be tears and pleading; “Can I just have a glass of water … maybe one more … can you turn on the light in the hall … open the door just a little … now it’s too bright … please can’t you lie down here … just a few minutes” and then, finally, thankfully, he would fall to sleep, alone.
Those days of asking are gone now.
Funny, I remember the last time he asked.
The asking had slowed down, becoming more sporadic over the years as he grew, separating from me, as he needed to, but still, occasionally … after a scary movie, a hard day at school, a lost baseball game, he would ask … and I might.
Then came the dark, dismal, cloudy days of preteen rolled eyes, low mutterings, and out right defiance. Days of arguing, yelling and talking back. He came to me after one of those long days; one of those days that left me still seething hours later from his insolence, the bitter taste of disrespect rolling around my mouth, the heavy buzz of surliness ringing in my ears.
“Can you lie down with me for a few minutes?” He mumbled, his eyes shifting first to the window, then to the ceiling and down to the floor.
“What!” Anger boiled, bubbling and popping inside my chest. I was too annoyed to care that this humble asking was his best apology. Too angry to see that this might be the time he needed me the most. I snapped and snarled, “No! I’m busy! I don’t have the time for that! Go to bed!” dismissing him with a dark glare and a wave of my arm.
He shuffled out, shoulders slumped and I sat, by myself, pretending to look at my book.
Minutes went by. The clock on the wall steadily ticking out the beat of time … passing. I heard him turning in his bed, but he never called out. Never asked for water or a nightlight. Never pleaded for me to open the door just a crack … and the dull space that had started in my head slowly wormed its way down to my heart and landed with a heavy thud in my stomach. The silence of the night surrounded me, and in the quiet, sliding through the anger, I heard the whir of a soft whisper. Not much more time.
I put down my book and shut my eyes and listened to the gentle hum, the quiet warning.
Not much more time.
And alone, in the darkness, I remembered. I remembered the little boy that dragged his yellow dump truck all over the house carefully putting it next to him on his pillow at night as he pulled up the covers. The boy who had me read the same dinosaur book over and over until we both could name and identify the eating habits of each creature. The boy who held tightly to my hand as we crossed the street, readily sharing his vanilla ice cream and always saving the very tip of the sugar cone for me. The boy who showed me the joy of finding worms in the rain, how to collect baseball cards and tried to teach me to like roller coasters. The boy who snuggled next to me, his chubby hands on either side of my face as he whispered about what he wanted to be when he grew up—a baseball player, a rock star, a paleontologist, a dad.
Not much more time.
I walked across the hallway, over the dimly lit space that separated us, and stood near him.
“Hey,” I whispered. “Move over.”
I climbed in next to his awkward almost adolescent body, the sour smell of sweat surrounding him but this time there was no hand thrown across my neck, no noses pushed together or silly whispers in my ear, instead he moved away, turning to the wall, and we slept in uneasy silence, our backs pressed together.
And that was the last time.
(This post originally ran on Brain, Child)