I am listening to a cassette tape that’s 29 years old. It’s of my mother and I teaching preschool catechism classes. I was 14 and her assistant. It was my first teaching job.
Her voice is light and musical. She leads the children in a prayer: “Dear God, I am your little child. Thank You for my family. Amen.”
She tells the students I am her son and that I will be her helper, and that I am a good drawer.
She tells them not to run outside after class is over. She doesn’t want them to get hit by a car.
She tells them they will have a snack and asks me to pass out vanilla wafers and lemonade. We sit picnic style on the floor. I hear myself whistling in the background.
While they’re eating, she shows me a house she drew that she is planning on showing them. “Oh is that what that is?” I tease. She laughs and says, “I know you could do better, Smarty.”
She turns on a record of Carey Landry and everyone is singing, “Oh, How I Love Jesus,” as they draw pictures of their houses and their families. I hear myself singing. It’s like listening to a ghost. It’s me, I recognize the timber, but it’s so much thinner and crackly with adolescent changes. The record begins to skip. We laugh. I give the needle a nudge.
At the end of class she asks the children if they were good enough to deserve lollipops. “Yes,” I pipe up. She gives everyone, including me, a lollipop.
I hear us sending off the last of the children. We are outside. It must have been a sunny day in spring.
The tape is going to end soon. I am dreading the moment. The wheels carry the tape along like a little brown river. The hazy hiss of the tape is loud as it flows, carrying memories as it goes, like a river carrying pieces of the sun.
There’s a long quiet period. I can just barely hear my mother in the distance talking with one of the parents. I wish I knew what was happening. I hear the wind blowing over the microphone. I haven’t said a word in several minutes. I wonder if I am just standing there watching her.
And then I hear us getting into the car. The car door shuts. I hear myself saying: “Oh the tape recorder is still going.” “Oh you had it on all this time?” She says. Then it’s over. The tape ends. It just stops. And with it my heart aches. I feel suddenly empty. I don’t know what I was expecting to hear—some kind of secret message? Just more of her voice? Part of me wishes I hadn’t turned the tape on. My feelings are all a bit jumbled. I feel strangely stunned as if I’ve lost her again. But no. It’s just more grief. I miss her, plain and simple. There are no regrets—even though regrets are trying to break in and smash the tenderness that exists between us.
And it is OK. I can let her voice go. I can let go of teaching now if I choose. I do not need to fear being disloyal to her (or my father, who also was a teacher) if I break away and do something else. I can fulfill my own dreams. What matters now is that I remember how quickly it can all end. How suddenly the tape can stop.
I rise up to meet the rest of the day. There is a calm, but steady urgency. The wheels are turning. There are people to love, dreams to manifest, voices to listen to, here and now.
Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog