The last time I was late, the look of disappointment on her face haunted me for days. When I pulled up to the curb, she was the only kid on the school steps, standing for some reason, the cello next to her almost the same height, but not quite. I swore I would never do it again. I keyed a reminder into my phone and asked it to send me two alerts each day. And for a while that worked.
It’s hard for me to keep time. I put clocks in my studio but when I’m working I don’t see them. I get lost easily. When I’m in a piece of work I know exactly where I am, but my work is always a place without minutes or seconds or hours. Without ticking and beeps and analog and digital. It’s a place to just be, a place to stop and look around, a place to examine closely, a place to touch and feel, to move things around, to color and highlight, a place of light and darkness, of people and things you know without ever having met before, safe and thrillingly dangerous at the same time. And when my phone alarm jingles its merry tune I look out the window and there I am again, always suddenly and surprisingly, the light not quite how I remembered it being, my daughter out there wondering where I am and what I’m doing. I have tried my whole motherhood to bring her with me, to somehow put her in my work, but this, so far, is my biggest failing as an artist, and as a mother, and as a human. There she remains out there, alone.
My daughter keeps time beautifully. Her cello teacher once told me it was her best quality as a musician. I never had to buy a metronome like the other parents, though I did have to buy a tuner.
I have always found it daunting that if we have another five years in this apartment together, that’s 3,650 dinners I’m responsible for. And that’s just dinner! And if I live to 75 (and please, God, not much longer), that’s another 9,125 dinners I need to figure out. Just me! I often, of course, skip lunch. I see life as a series of rolling hills, but those hills are not all the same size. Some hills are quite high and some are quite flat, so that some last longer than 24 hours and some are maybe only 19. Each of my daughter’s hills are 24 hours in length, no more, no less. When she was born the doctor told me children thrive on a schedule, but I always thought they grew out of that.
Every evening after dinner my daughter moves a chair from the kitchen into her room, sets up her stand, unzips her cello case, and practices for exactly 45 minutes. She doesn’t close her door; I can hear perfectly from where I sit at the kitchen table and listen. I make a cup of tea that I sometimes forget to drink as I just sit and listen to all of her beautiful mistakes and all of her soaring notes and her attempts at vibrato and the deep staccato bass notes that keep time for the violins, the stars, in her orchestra who are not here now, only imagined. I can hear the fine hairs in her bow grabbing at the strings. I can almost feel the deep grooves pressing into the calloused tips of her fingers. She makes godly sounds, even in error. When she has put everything back in its place and comes out to pack her own lunch for the following day I smile at her, but she always scowls wondering, I guess, how I could be so lazy. I have missed many phone calls and deadlines because of those 45 minutes. I regret none of them.
When I missed her recital, I felt sick to my stomach, I did, but I told her it’s got nothing to do with love. I told her you can’t go through life pretending to be someone you’re not. She told me it has everything to do with love. She’s 13 and she thinks she knows these things. What she doesn’t know is that we’re both striving for perfection. Hers is for order. Mine is for a feeling, a really white, pure feeling, which is why I can key the date for a recital into my calendar wrong and later stare at the ochre and cobalt and sunset grooves of a few brushstrokes for an hour and not hear my phone ringing or notice the collection of text messages vibrating.
She’s stuck with me, is the fact of it. She’s going to leave me as soon as she’s able. She’s going to do everything differently and I’m happy for her. The fact is, we’ve always lived in different time zones.