That James Taylor song he wrote for his baby nephew, I sang it to my son the other night at bedtime. I’d heard the song on line at the grocery store, and had tried not to get choked up as I laid my items on the conveyor belt. At bedtime I looked up the lyrics and sang it to C. I thought, I managed not to cry at the check-out, perhaps I will not cry now. But I did. My voice wavered, my eyes stung, I couldn’t go on for a minute.
“Why are you crying Mommy?” C asked, tears starting in his eyes. I make him sad, and I don’t mean to. I wonder at the sadness that wells up in him, just under the surface of the expressive, effervescent joy. When it bubbles up to the surface, I recognize it as the thick, sticky tar sadness that bubbles up in me. I talk to him about acknowledging when he is sad, expressing it, understanding it, and finally controlling it, so that he can rule his emotions instead of be ruled by them.
“This part always makes me cry,” I said. Now the first of December was covered with snow, So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston, the Berkshires looked dreamlike on account of that frostin’, with 10 miles behind me, and ten thousand more to go.
In my head like a film with this song as the soundtrack is me in my father’s car driving south down the highway to New Haven, CT. We pull into the parking lot of a McDonald’s, and through the window in the cold evening I can see me, about the same age as C, eating a Happy Meal with my father and mother. I don’t know if it happened like that, if we sat together in the booth, the cold kept at bay by big glass windows, condensation in long drips down the inside. I don’t know if I smiled or laughed or wished for anything. The film cuts, the film skips the goodbyes, and I am out again in the car, my mother’s car this time, and we are heading out of New England to New York, in her car, rented or borrowed, and my father turns north to go home. The switch-off, the bounce from one parent to another, the dream of the northeast corridor, its bluster, its flurries.
I tell C this memory, and that it is this memory that is summoned by the lyric, the atmosphere of those New England highways in the cold, the feel of the car barely gripping the frost-burned asphalt. He identifies the players in my story– Grandma, and Grandpa, and me. I don’t know why my parents’ split seems to get harder for me to deal with as I get older. It makes no sense. It is a long, established split, other than those early Happy Meals and the odd couple of times over the years, I do not remember seeing them together, I certainly have no memory of their being married. When I was in primary school a guidance counselor asked me how I was dealing with my parents divorce and I gave some serious side-eye when I replied “ummm they’ve been divorced my whole life, there’s nothing to deal with.”
It must have something to do with watching my son grow. So many things do. After I tell him this memory, I sing him the song again. But there are no tears this time. It’s tamping down the sadness that gives it power, and telling, with tears, that sets it free.