Excerpt: 'Along for the Ride'

My mom didn't really have room to talk, considering she'd let my dad name me and my brother: Detram Hollis was a professor my dad greatly admired, while W. H. Auden was his favorite poet. I'd spent some time as a kid wishing my name was Ashley or Katherine, if only because it would have made life simpler, but my mom liked to tell me that my name was actually a kind of litmus test. Auden wasn't like Frost, she'd say, or Whitman. He was a bit more obscure, and if someone knew of him, then I could be at least somewhat sure they were worth my time and energy, capable of being my intellectual equal. I figured this might be even more true for Thisbe, but instead of saying so I just sat down with my speech notes, flipping through them again. After a moment, she pulled out a chair, joining me.

"So Heidi survived the childbirth, I assume?" she asked, taking a sip off her coffee.

"She had to have a Caesarean."

"She's lucky," my mom said. "Hollis was eleven pounds, and the epidural didn't take. He almost killed me."

I flipped through another couple of cards, waiting for one of the stories that inevitably followed this one. There was how Hollis was a ravenous child, sucking my mother's milk supply dry. The craziness that was his colic, how he had to be walked constantly, and even then screamed for hours on end. Or there was the one about my dad, and how he…

"I just hope she's not expecting your father to be of much help," she said, reaching over for a couple of my cards and scanning them, her eyes narrowed. "I was lucky if he changed a diaper every once in a while. And forget about him getting up for night feedings. He claimed that he had sleep issues and had to get his nine hours in order to teach. Awfully convenient, that."

She was still reading my cards as she said this, and I felt the familiar twinge I always experienced whenever anything I did was suddenly under her scrutiny. A moment later, though, she put them aside without comment.

"Well," I said as she took another sip of coffee, "that was a long time ago. Maybe he's changed."

"People don't change. If anything, you get more set in your ways as you get older, not less." She shook her head. "I remember I used to sit in our bedroom, with Hollis screaming, and just wish that once the door would open, and your father would come in and say 'Here, give him to me. You go rest.' Eventually, it wasn't even your dad I wanted, just anybody. Anybody at all."

She was looking out the window as she said this, her fingers wrapped around her mug, which was not on the table or at her lips but instead hovering just between. I picked up my cards, carefully arranging them back in order. "I should go get ready," I said, pushing my chair back.

My mother didn't move as I got up and walked behind her. It was like she was frozen, still back in that old bedroom, still waiting, at least until I got down the hallway. Then, suddenly, she spoke.

"You should rethink that Faulkner quote," she said. "It's too much for an opening. You'll sound pretentious."

I looked down at my top card, where the words—"The past isn't dead. It isn't even past"—were written in my neat block print. "Okay," I said. She was right, of course. She always was. "Thanks."

I'd been so focused on my last year of high school and beginning college that I hadn't really thought about the time in between. Suddenly, though, it was summer, and there was nothing to do but wait for my real life to begin again.

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