I bought my cap and gown today: $62.50 plus eighty nine cents on a Hershey bar in which I hoped to drown my impending dread. I am a thirty-year-old single mother graduating into the worst economy since the Great Depression with a Master’s degree in English. Google will not be pounding on my door with a six-figure offer any time soon.
The lilacs blooming outside my kitchen window are indifferent to my predicament. Instead of hoarding boxes of discount pasta under the sink, they are spending their nutrients on a profligate display of color and scent.
The purple flowers always remind me of my first date with my boyfriend at Rochester’s annual Lilac Festival in mid May. “It wasn’t a date,” Mike still insists. “A stroller was involved.” He told me later that my habit making eye contact while changing lanes on the expressway terrified him. “I kept thinking, there is a two-year-old in the back seat. Why doesn’t she keep her eyes on the road?”
My son turned six last month, and I still like to watch him sleep. Sometimes, when I stare at him, I think about the great white page in front of me. The cursor blinks; Max-Yamil’s eyelashes flutter.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was a single, twenty-four-year-old college dropout living in a shoebox apartment and making minimum wage. I did not want to tell anyone, especially not my parents. But I did tell the baby’s father, and he told his.
Max-Yamil’s grandfather called me one afternoon from Puerto Rico. “My name is Israel,” he said in a crackly voice that made me feel calm. “You’re carrying my grandchild.”
Israel is in a hospital in San Juan now. He has congestive heart failure and his lungs are filling up with water. The white space in front of him is larger than any page.
“Remember,” he told me that afternoon as I stared out the window at a flat, gray sky, “this is a blessing. This child is a blessing from God.”
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and prepared myself to begin.