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  • Marie Smysor Watson

On Time

Man, I don't know much, but this I'm sure of: being sick will take you into some interesting head spaces. I've been sick for several days - not cough-cough sick, but lying-on-the-couch, praying-on-the-toilet, the-boys-will-probably-get-along-just-fine-without-me sick. Dramatic, fo' sho', but damn, I really don't feel good. So during these many contagious hours of near-solitude (I've cancelled every single bit of work and fun I had scheduled, but I'm keeping company with the middle one, whose suffering mostly mirrors my own), I've been ruminating on the essence of time. It's my biggest enemy and my greatest comfort. It's infinite and it's running out. It drags, it speeds. I don't have any better answers than this, so this essay is merely my best effort to document my feelings about it. Now, if you'll excuse me, the bathroom is calling, and it most definitely won't wait....


Time is a construct.

Time is relative.

Time is on our side.

Time to make the donuts!

All of these are lies, all are truths. It just depends who you ask. But maybe you shouldn't ask anyone. Maybe you should make up your own mind. Don't worry, there's plenty of time.


*****


I spent so much time away from Middle during his formative years. Seven years - I only saw him on weekends, holidays - a part time mother, with a full-time heart. What does it actually mean to spend time? What does it mean to waste it? I don’t have the answers - only that every minute away from him was like trying to breathe while silmutaneously holding my breath. Impossible, stupid, a waste of precious time.


*****


As a substitute teacher, I’ve given many timed tests. Mostly to elementary kids, roughly third-grade. How many problems can you solve in three minutes? I feel for the slow ones, trying so hard to beat the clock. I’m angry at the quick ones, who are finished well before time is called. I want to whisper, to shout at all of them: this is not important, no one cares how fast you can multiply. But memorizing your times-tables is a rite of passage, a sticky-faced badge of honor to be first, to not fail, to be right, and to be right in the shortest amount of time possible. After years of this, now I am angry at the slow ones. Hurry up, I think. Hurry up, don't you know that you’ll be left behind?


*****


I hate how the clock spins, but I hate it even more when it flips digitally, from one number to the next, no warning. The second hand at least ticks away our breaths, our blinks, our heartbeats. Although which one is quantifiably worse, I can’t say.


*****


Oldest will turn twenty-one in mere days. How do twenty-one years pass without me marking each second, each moment. I failed to do so, and now he gives me his time grudgingly, when all he wants to do is slide away from me.


*****


It’s beautiful, it’s awful, having children, having sons, marking the passage of time on faces that look so much like mine, like my husband’s. Smoother, better versions of our broken-down, monstrous selves. I wonder how I will feel when their hairlines recede, when they get replacement teeth, when their backs bow. Maybe I will be sad. Maybe I will just feel lucky to have witnessed it all from my own cloudy eyes.


*****


My mother moves slowly, stiffly. My father does not, but he tells me he’s old. One I can see, the other I can hear. Neither do I believe, although I can tell time just as well as anyone else.


*****


It’s time, the midwife tells me, guiding me to the bed where Youngest would be born. An easy delivery, if delivering a ten-pound, squalling scrap of human is easy. You did that in no time, she crowed. Fifteen years later, what might she say if she saw him, this baby, my third son? She wouldn’t recognize him. Time has obscured his softness, helplessness; it has made him almost grown. She would never be able to find the baby in the man.


*****


Younger pictures of my husband reveal a round face, darker hair. His older face is chiseled, almost gaunt in certain light. We have lost so much, I think, flipping through these memories, and all we have to show for it is time.


*****


I don’t want to grow up. Oldest, when he was seven. I don’t want you to die, he cried. Don’t worry, I’m not planning on it anytime soon, I replied. Now, a dozen years down the road, I wonder: Does soon have a limit?


*****


At a funeral: I’m crying, monumentally sad at the unfortunate series of events. Youngest, uncomfortable at my distress, strokes my arm, patting away my sadness. Don’t worry, Mom, you’ll see her again. That’s what Pastor said. I know, buddy, I reply. He leans in, delivering the fatal blow: And you’ll see her much sooner than I will.


*****


I would say that Middle mostly doesn’t understand the passage of time. He knows seasons, but days mean nothing to him. I wish I was more like him, instead of constantly searching the face of the clock for some kind of meaning, flipping the pages of the calendar for some timely truth.


*****


I’m pathologically impatient. Hurry up, hurry up, I bray (mostly in my head), you’re taking too much time. My sons, hubby, bear the brunt of this. I don’t wish to leave them behind, but I can’t wait, I can’t explain, I can’t slow down. We’ll be late, and then all will be lost.


*****


All we have is time. It is not on our side (sorry, Mick), but it is here, today, in this moment, waiting for us to notice it, dressed up in its best clothes, ready for the party. I forgot my fancy shoes, but I swear: I’m here, I see you, I’m finally paying attention. Wait for me, wait, I don't want to miss a single thing.


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