My mother’s questions are always pointed, speaking volumes. I am hesitant to answer. My response will be the same as it has been for the last two years: No.
No, there are no new job prospects that would advance my career, which astounds my parents–considering how much they shelled out for my tuition–and there are no burgeoning relational opportunities on the horizon, which my mother frequently balks at, given my “outstanding gene pool and pleasant nature.”
The simple question fills the space between us like a heavy curtain, a thick partition separating expectations from reality.
Her eyes search my face, extracting my response from fidgeting fingers and my wavering gaze. She presses her lips together in a thin line, resisting the urge to lecture me to “keep trying.” Her words would be premature at this point.
It’s these moments that have convinced me that mothers smell fear like bears do. They sense it easily. I know it’s true.
I clear my throat and attempt a smile, trying to throw her off the scent, as I ponder how to better word my answer this time. Any topic I could delay her with would only be juvenilia in her eyes.
But when my creativity fails me, panic sets in and I go for my second best idea and knock over my steaming cup of camomile tea.
My mother hates a mess. And with the liquid racing across her weathered, lopsided antique table and toward her grandmother’s rug below, her attention is momentarily diverted from the mess of my life to the problem between us.
“I’ll get something to clean this up,” I say, hoping my speed is wrongly attributed to an urge to save Great Grandma Abernathy’s rug and not my desire to escape from the table.
“I’m sorry, mom.” I look in her eyes when I say these words and I mean it, because I wish I could do better.
Most days I wish I could be better.