Saturday, November 01, 2008

SAT Morning

I knock softly at the door. Light leaks from under it, which concerns me a little. How much has he slept, I wonder? I open the door a little, and pause, as I always do -- I always disliked it when I was a teenager, if people barrelled into my room -- and then go in. He's sleeping in his clothes, as he tends to do these days.

"Time to get up," I say, rubbing his back a little. He wakes readily enough, which is good. He probably did get some sleep.

I go downstairs, scramble some eggs, make some toast for him. I never hang around the house at breakfast, let alone cook it for anyone: this is my silent way of marking the importance of the occasion.

Martha comes down in her nightgown. Goes over the list one more time. Goes over the instructions with Alan. Makes sure he's not carrying a phone that will go off: supposedly your scores are cancelled should you commit such an enormity. Checks to make sure he has everything, twice. Two number 2 pencils? Eraser? Calculator? Photo ID? Alan bears all this with typical patience and good humor, answering, "check!" spiritedly to each inquiry.

Tori appears, sleepy. She's wearing one white sock and one black sock. "I like your socks," I say. "They show originality of thought." I give her a little half-hug -- Tori doesn't do full hugs. "Or absence of it," I add.

Tori smiles faintly and drifts to the window. "I don't believe it's morning yet," she says. "It's too dark."

"Standard time starts tomorrow," I say.

I go out, into a remarkably balmy dawn, to warm up the Honda. Leaves swirl around my feet. Soon they will be a sodden mess. Weather this warm in November means only one thing, in the maritime Northwest: a bruising rain is on its way from the ocean. By tomorrow the remaining leaves will be beaten from the trees by the deluge. But at the moment all is quiet, warm and still.

I leave the Honda running and trot back up the porch stairs to the house. Alan is moving toward the door. Martha's running over reminders and exhortations for the third time. That's her job, in the family: to think of everything that could go wrong. My job is to quietly make sure people are awake and underway on time.

I reflect, not for the first time, on the sexism and unfairness of it. She gets to seem fussy and overanxious, and I get to seem strong and solid: but if she weren't here, I would be the one having to fuss, checking to make sure the pencils were sharpened, making sure he's got something to eat with him, running over the SAT instructions. And if I weren't here she would somehow manage to drag herself and Alan out of bed on time. Thousands of mornings and events together have shaped our responses this morning. The family works, and we are very fond of each other. But I wonder sometimes how much playing our parts costs us.

I drive through the quiet leafy streets. "Did you take the SAT's?" asks Alan. I can't remember. I remember the GRE's. I think maybe I didn't take the SAT's.

"I'm really not sure," I said. "I don't think they were as standard then as they are now." Though I don't know. Maybe it was me that wasn't standard.

"When did the SAT's start?" asks Alan. He has an orderly and historically oriented mind, and likes to have things in their places. He also still, at moments of abstraction, expects me to know everything.

"Golly. No idea," I say. We subside into silence. We're never big talkers, just the two of us. We rely on the females in the family to make conversation go. Sometimes when I drive him to school he'll make an effort to start a conversation, always the sort of question you'd ask a distant acquaintance: "How are you doing, these days?" And I make an effort to answer, in the same vein. If Martha or Tori were in the car we'd all be chattering away.

I pull up to the nearby high school. We're a bit early.

"How long does this go?" I ask.

"I don't know. But I can make it home fine on my own," he says. Two guys, casual, sure of themselves. No fuss.

A few kids are going in; a sprinkling of parents. Martha would no doubt go in with him and make sure everything was happening right, go over the checklist one more time. I just drop him off. He's perfectly capable of dealing with finding the place and making sure he has everything. Though again, I only have that confidence because I know Martha's been on it.

"Break a leg," I say.

"Cheers!" he says, and he's off.

I make myself drive off without watching to make sure he gets in the building okay. Leaves swish under the tires. Tears prickle my eyes.

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