It was 5:30 in the morning, I remember. I think I must have rolled over when I heard the heater clanking to life. It let out a soft sigh of feeble hot air into my icy room. My sister slept in the bed next to me. Her steady breathing told me that she was still wrapped up in deep dreams.
I stretched my legs to the edges of my bed and quickly retracted into a ball when my feet reached the cold corners of my sheets. I pushed my back up against my warm pillows and listened to the early morning sounds of my house.
The bathroom sink down the hall was running, and someone in my parents’ room was pulling and closing the wardrobe doors—the wood grating on hinges. After a few minutes, their door creaked open, and I heard my mom’s hand slide on the banister and her feet softly treading down the stairs to the kitchen.
The bathroom sink continued to run.
Distantly I heard the sounds of a simple breakfast being made. I rolled over to face the wall and my pillows. I ran my hand against my flannel sheets and listened to the blender whining and the chink of dishes. Down the hall, the sink turned off, and the door to my parents’ room thudded open again, but this time I heard the heavy fall of my dad’s feet on the stairs.
I wasn’t tired anymore, but I didn’t want to get out of bed. I just listened to my parents’ nonverbal morning routine.
A chair grated against the tile, and I heard a plate clank on the table. Faintly, I could hear utensils scraping and then the chair grate again.
I sat up and twisted my back this way and that, feeling my backbone realign itself with a quiet series of pops. Below me, the garage door yawned open and swished close behind my dad. His truck growled to life and made my floor and bed vibrate. It groaned out of the garage, and my room blazed as his headlights glared on my ceiling. He backed out of the driveway; weird shadows whirled across my walls. Then it grew dim again. I listened to his truck rumble out of the neighborhood.
I flopped back down into my pillows. Aside from the sigh and clank of the heater, the house was silent. Then I heard my mom’s quite gait ascend the stairs again. I waited for her bedroom door to open and for her to disappear behind it, but she paused, her hand probably resting on the doorknob, when she turned around and padded quietly to my bedroom door. The door glided a crack open, and orange light streamed into my room. I closed my eyes and evened my breath out, pretending to be asleep.
Behind my eyelids, I could picture her, silent and dark, standing in my doorway and silhouetted by the hall light.
I breathed deliberately—in—and out—in—and out.
She left the halo of light to tip-toe across my floor. I felt the bed sink from the pressure of her body. Still I breathed—in—and out. Her hand stroked the covers above my curled up form, and then I felt her lean toward me. Her rough fingers picked a strand of hair away from my face and tucked it behind my ear.
I breathed on.
A quiet pause, and then she whispered my name so soft that I could have mistaken it for the sighing heater. She sat still for an eternity there on the edge of my bed while an internal struggle pulled me back and forth.
Wake up . . . Wake up. Stop pretending.
I can’t . . . I couldn’t.
Finally, the bed eased back as she stood up and retreated. She closed the door, cutting the warm light out.
My room grew dark and silent.
I stayed in bed, drifting in and out of sleep for the next few hours. When I awoke, I went about my day as if nothing were different. I left the house to visit a friend, leaving my mom behind in a chair reading a book. I shut the door with her wishing me a good day to my back.
All these years I wonder what she wanted to tell me that morning; what she needed to tell me.
But, I pretended I was asleep.