Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
I Try to Behave Myself

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Age 7

The hardest thing is when they ask you why you do it.

What do you mean, you don't know? What were you thinking?

I wasn't thinking anything. Like that time I climbed up the bookcase and it fell on me. Or that time I hit the tuning fork on the table to make it go ping and it made dents in the wood. Or that time I made the glasses go one on top of the other really high and they all fell down and broke. I was just doing stuff.
How could you do such a thing? You should know better.

It's like checking the gumball machines to see if somebody didn't see a second gumball drop by mistake, or if change got lost underneath. Or taking a cookie out of an open package in the store. My own mother does that.

But taking something that isn't forgotten about, that isn't open, taking a whole something, that's stealing. Taking a pack of Starburst from the newsstand in the mall and putting it in your coat pocket and then saying your friend gave it to you when your mother sees you eating it is stealing.

I didn't think about stealing, though. I didn't think about not getting caught. I didn't think about anything. I just took it.

That time me and Stacey tried to stop thinking, it didn't work, because we were thinking about not thinking. But when they ask me what I was thinking and I can't remember thinking anything, that must prove you can stop thinking. I wasn't thinking about stealing, that's for sure.

Just don't do it again. Understand?

I've got to tell Stacey.

Age 37

You know things have gotten bad when you would rather be stuck in traffic than be at home or at work. So bad you feel some kind of relief, because now you have an excuse to just sit and be for a while. It's not much, but the traffic jam will have to do.

Want that. Want that. Everybody wants from me. Poking at me like that fly buzzing and thumping against the window, its little body hitting the glass over and over.

All I want is to be still enough, alone enough. One unbroken thing. Maybe a rest cure, like they did in Victorian times, when you were shut up in clean, quiet room, away from everybody's wanting, including your own.

I have been behind that shiny red coupe with the rainbow decal across the rear window the whole way home. The woman driving it looks young. Loose curls, black leather jacket, Mardi Gras beads and a rainbow lei hanging from the rearview mirror.

It's funny that she would be following the same route I do. I wonder what direction she will take along the borderline roads coming up. I doubt she will turn down the road where you can go into the poor neighborhood. I bet she'll turn where you can go left into my neighborhood, or right into the rich one. I bet she'll turn right. But maybe she won't.

Maybe she has been watching me too. Maybe she wants me to follow her. This sort of thing supposedly happens to people. It happens in books, at least. Naiads, that sort of thing. Books where women come out of the closet and fall over their first lovers, where women with shiny red cars want you to follow them so they can murmur to you in their smoky voices, a flicker of pink tongue behind their painted lips. This sort of thing must happen to someone, somewhere, for it to be in books. It just doesn't happen to me.

This sort of thing does not happen. I happen to be married, happily married, with kids. If I were a man, a straight man, I would be one delusional, middle-aged fucker. Not that I'm really serious about wanting to follow this woman. About wanting this woman to want me to follow her.

How would I know that she wanted me to follow her anyway? How could anyone tell? It must not happen. How could it? How would you know?

I just want to see where she goes. I cannot imagine a car like that parked in my neighborhood. I cannot imagine a woman like that getting out of the car in my neighborhood. Old Polish ladies. Mexican families. Even our little Lesbian family is not entirely out of place. But this woman? No.

She turns where I turn. Well, where I would turn, except the light is red. The sign says "no turn on red." How could she not see that? Maybe she didn't see it. Maybe she is the sort of person who turns even though the sign says "no turn on red."

That's it. I've lost her. I could turn and try to catch up, but if I get stopped by a cop, what's my excuse? I wanted to see where this woman goes? Besides, if I try to catch up, that would mean that I am intentionally following her, and I am not. I have not been following her, not intentionally. I have not even considered intentionally following her until now.

I've lost her. She probably turned into the rich neighborhood, where dykes with black leather jackets and shiny red coupes are more likely to live.

I just wanted to know where she turned, that's all. I didn't want to talk to her, to follow her into some pulp romance plot. I just wanted her to see that I am like her, underneath it all, underneath the gabardine pantsuit and the light blue station wagon. A smile, a nod, or even just that moment when your eyes meet and the look says, "Aha, you're one of us." That's all.

I just wanted her to turn where I turn, so I could pretend that I was like her. Not that I was ever cool like that, even when I was young. I just wanted to feel the possibility of coolness. That sense of floating free that coolness seems to confer. I could have had that. If only she turned where I turn.

I have got to tell Stacey about this when I get home. Our friends say it's pathetic, how we tell each other everything. Me, I like telling her everything. I bet she would like to hear about the woman in the red car. It's kind of funny, really.

Then again, could I tell her this story without making it sound like I was attracted to another woman? Was I attracted to another woman? I would say that I was attracted to the idea of this woman. That is not the same thing as being attracted to another woman.

It might be just as bad, or even worse, for her to know that I was attracted to the idea of this woman. I probably shouldn't tell her. I probably will wind up telling her, if only because I want to figure out what all of this means, and she is the person I talk to when I want to figure things out. I should not tell her, for her sake. But I bet I will. I won't be able to keep my mouth shut about it.

That fly is still buzzing and thumping. I should let it out. I should get out of the car and go in the house and get dinner started. I should stop sitting in the car, staring at the steering wheel. I need a rest cure. Definitely a rest cure.

Stephanie Friedman lives just outside Chicago with her partner and their 4-year-old daughter. She is the program manager for the Writer’s Studio, a creative writing program for adult students at the University of Chicago Graham School of General Studies. Her most recent publication was an essay in the parenting ‘zine Fertile Ground.

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