Thursday, May 10, 2012
Larger than the National Debt
I spent hours doing dusty-basement, primary-source research. Interviewing ladies well into their 80's. (one even died shortly after I interviewed her, adding urgency to the task of capturing the memories) I took notes. I made photocopies. I compiled and cited sources. It was a large project, and I chipped away, feeling responsible and mature. But in the end, the project was larger than I could wrangle, and too much of the final writing got left to the final hour. For reasons I can't remember, (maybe because this was high school before everyone carried a computer in their back pocket) the only computer on which I could type and print it up was at my dad's office in town.
So I typed. On and on. All afternoon. Past the evening and well into the night. The office took on the quiet hum of a burbling water cooler and a buzzy florescent. And still I typed. All thoughts converging to support a thesis, to tell the story. But I couldn't be in that business space alone, so my mom stayed with me. All through the night. Into the wee hours of the morning. I can still picture her dozing on the hard office floor, a hostage to my lack of time management skills.
The sun rose. I began editing. Printing drafts to "see" the mistakes that eluded me on the screen. (I still must do this.) My mom awoke bleary and sore to the sound of me still tapping away, working feverishly to get the paper done. No one collated and stapled a research project together with more tired satisfaction, to be sure. The night labor was done. The baby born.
She drove me to school. (Which had already started a couple hours before) and I went straight to my English class. I handed in the paper on time, and then handily walked out the door, back into her waiting car, and straight home and into bed.
We slept. Sound and sweet. It was done. She had endured the travail without complaint or criticism (though I deserved both) and that was that.
Weeks later, in front of peers, parents and teachers, when I received money and award for the research paper, I shook my teacher's hand and felt nothing but gratitude to my mom. In my tunneled-teen-vision, it never occurred to me to hand the entire check over to her--she being the more deserving of the two of us who earned it. I was aware enough to realize that she never held that occasion against me, ever. She never brought it up as a sacrifice, or a reminder of what can happen to graduating students whose "senioritis" flares up too soon before the end.
She clapped in kind support and never made mention of the long-prisoner-night when she surely must have wondered how so much prior work still required such sleeplessness at the end. Her sleep. And comfort. Sacrificed to let me own a success we really shared.
She let me own it. And has never once mentioned that I owe her a thing.
Since I owe my mom my very life, perhaps she threw out the ledger entirely when she told me years ago, "Pay it forward."
at 4:04 PM