There is a reason that it is called a deadline.
Emily glances at the clock icon at the bottom of her laptop screen. “It is long past quitting time, if that even exists any more.” The ability to work at home is either a gift from the flexibility gods, or another form of slavery, she isn’t quite sure which.
“It has been a day,” she sighs audibly as she continues her internal conversation. She should have gotten up earlier, tried to make the gym. “That’s one thing I can’t outsource,” she laughs. Emily missed the time to herself, but she had been up late the night before with kid stuff and needing to say more than a passing hello to her husband, and then there was Netflix. She needed to unwind somehow, and although she would have liked to have read one of the books on her nightstand, TV was easier and it won out.
Tetris in the bathroom,
podcasts and calls in her commute, text messages and email chirps competing with each other at the edge of her awareness while she should be focusing on that question her daughter just asked. What did she say again?
Most of the time, Emily loved the challenge of ‘getting it done’, playing a racing game with the clock to see how much she could accomplish before the final bell. Tonight it would be a race to midnight, clicking keys and creating strategies, and she liked it, she was engaged. But sometimes she thought she might be missing something.
“I used to like to read.”
“I remember that. Not stuff to advance my career, or fine tune my flaws, or discover the perfect shade of lipstick to wear to a business meeting… real stuff. Stuff that made me think. Stuff that made me remember that the everyday isn’t all there is. When I read those things I used to feel, I don’t know, more human somehow. Is that it? More a part of something? Connected? Less fragmented?” None of the words were quite right, but somehow they were close. “Oh well,” she pushed that thought aside as she resumed clicking away on her keyboard. “There just isn’t time…”
“But what if she’s lost?” a small voice inside her heart wants to know, refusing to be put aside so easily.
“That girl, that version of Emily who wants to join a real discussion, who loves ideas that are just that – ideas not strategies, who wants a chance to speak in class because she has something intelligent to say. I liked her… a lot.”
“She’s still there,” Emily tells the voice, hiding the small fear creeping through the cracks of her defenses like a mist. “Isn’t she” are the words she doesn’t even allow herself to say.
That girl, with her laptop in her lap looks up for a moment and her eye catches on the painting above her couch. As she stares, she only thinks about how thick the paint is, following the direction the brush strokes lead with her eyes. The paint is glossy. What is the name of that shade of blue? The waters off the coast of the Dominican Republic were that shade of blue…
The cursor blinks its black eyelash in annoyance, waiting.
Emily hasn’t noticed.
She is somewhere else entirely. Hearing sounds that aren’t there, feeling sand rubbing between the thong on her flip flops and that part between her toes. There is the white blueness of a bright afternoon sky, the yellow and orange of that bathing suit she bought. She laughs at the memory of V trying to convince himself that goat cheese on pizza couldn’t be that much different than Mozzarella…
Emily is somewhere else, led away by examining a thousand tiny pathways, carved in paint by a thousand tiny brush hairs. In this moment, she is that girl, just out of school, 5, 10 ,15 years younger, in a place that her memories are constructing for her, a place that can shift as easily as a dream. She’s experiencing all sorts of feelings at once, emotions she doesn’t quite have words for. Emily is lost. After all, how do you explain nostalgia so that someone else will feel it? She’s exploring the green now – how it is grey and blue and yellow all at once and still somehow green.
The laptop screen goes dark, hoping that Emily will notice the light change and finally pay attention.
Nope. Emily is still following her own thoughts, allowing them to shift, being interested in their conversations, intrigued by their questions and the pathways they present for her to explore. Gradually she becomes aware that her daughter is peeking through the doorway.
“Did I ever tell you how tiny the sky seems in the Pacific Northwest?” Emily asks her, thoughtfully. “You were born there, you know, and the sky was just that shade of blue in September.” She indicates a section of the painting.
The little girl comes to perch on the arm of Emily’s chair, as if to silently say, “Tell me the story again, Mama.”