by Brian Doyle
My mother is driving me through the rain to the beach. I am applying for summer jobs. The rain is thorough and silvery. We do not speak. The trees along the road are scrubby and gnarled and assaulted by reeds. I am huddled in my jacket. No one else is on the road. You never thank your mother enough. The road is so wet that our tires send up tendrils and spouts of water behind us. I can see them flaring steadily in the mirror on my side. My mother is intent on the road. She would like to say something gentle about the interview I will have in a few minutes but she knows that I will not hear what she says. I will hear what I thought she said, which is not what she said. I heard a lot of what was not said or meant then instead of what was.
My mother woke me that morning, and fed me, and handed me clean folded clothes, and handed me the plethora of forms I was supposed to have filled out but had not filled out and of course filled out hurriedly scribbledly scrawlingly as she drove me through the rain to the beach. We drove along silently as I scribbled and she maybe thought about all the things she would have liked to say but was too wise to say.
This would have been a perfect time for me to say or whisper or even mumble my gratitude to my mother for eighteen years of extraordinary love and care. This would have been a great time for me to say something like I see your hard work, mom, and I see your weariness with all these kids, and I see how quietly worried you and dad are about money, and I can only faintly dimly imagine what it must be like to bear and coddle and raise and protect and educate and love children and have them be rude and vulgar and dismissive and contemptuous and worse. That would have been a great time for me to say something gentle for once. Rarely were we alone together for thirty minutes as we were that morning in the rain on the road to the beach. That would have been a great time for me to say quietly I see you, mom, and I love you, and I never say that, and I should say that every thirty seconds every blessed day, and I should touch my head to the holy earth every dawn and say thank you for you to whatever it is that we mean when we say The Mercy and the Coherence and The Imagination. That would have been the perfect time, alone in the quiet car in the quiet rain on the silent road among the gnarled little trees.
By the time we got to the state park headquarters it was too late for me to say anything, and I hurried off to the interview, and I don’t know what my mother did for the next few minutes. Probably she went for a walk along the boardwalk, or sat in the car writing letters; she was always in motion, always quietly doing something even in moments when nothing needs to be done; that was how she was and still is, though now she moves very slowly indeed and does not drive at all. Now I drive, and she sits in the passenger seat, and we talk freely and cheerfully and deeply and avidly and eagerly and every time I talk to her I say I love you. We don’t say that enough. We don’t. After a while I came back from the interview and she started the car and we drove home through the ranks of the bent twisted little trees. There were pitch pines and salt cedars, and here and there beach plums, and thickets of sumac, and I thought I saw a tangle of bearberry but I could not be sure.