Continuing Education

What comes to mind is that I am constantly imagining. I was not a girl who imagined my wedding, what my dress would look like, how tall my husband might be. And though the names of my children might not come before they’ve arrived, I have imagined other things. I am a creative writing graduate student who imagines, many times over, that she is pregnant. The difficulty in the voyage of imagining has never been the packing but always the return trip:

“We can do this,” I say, exhale and grab a pair of stretched-out-yesterday-afternoon jeans from between morning covers. “Thump,” and set them down. Hold a dress not worn in months, away from body to mirror and “thump” again. “I know,” I say. “I know.” Un-hang a pair of black slacks; un-pin a pair of pearl earrings. “Thump” and another quick “thump.” I circle. Lunches and dinners packed for two. Notebooks for one, and “thump,” a good reminder, car keys left on the kitchen counter.

Seventy miles to school in a Jeep growing smaller by the week, turn the radio on to a thumping occasionally paired by Cuban bongo beats in the slow lane, ‘for you,’ I think. The miles pass slowly, and you agree, “thump.” No, we are not there yet.

As we park and then wait for the yellow bus on which there is no singing, I realize the need to wean from driving. The loading process more tedious each morning. No room to move. No agility, nor control. No backpack. No lead number two pencils and no children on the school trailer that arrives at a plot of grass preceding the marina parking lot. “What is it?” you roll to ask during the minutes to campus. “What is it?” I repeat. “Well, it means we’ve grown up. We’re expected to write in pen, and you can’t just be thumping willy-nilly. It means we’re going to make a movement of this. Ignore the fence lines. We haven’t tried this before, and that’s important. We’re going to try. You and I are going to.”
Forty minutes early, feeding outside the empty stall, “One for no, two for yes and, not that all questions are Boolean, but you can help. There wasn’t anything in the application saying you couldn’t.”
The class is twenty head, and I count twenty-one. We sit nearest the door, slip out twice in two hours. Narratives and critiques not all happy as we sit, but you will learn that lesson in the field. I am not worried. A lull in discussion, and what I do try to dam for you are other thoughts. That perhaps close readings correlate premature births. That perhaps trying won’t work. That what is coming down this dark chute is not only a glaring professor but one with a prod to send you to your plastic pen. You’re quiet. “I know,” I say. “I know.” You don’t respond.

Seventy miles to home on a highway that splits herds, twenty-five out, we pull into a rest stop. I walk in the building, then out, then out further before finding a picnic table under an oak. I sit and, not as flexible as I once was, use my ponytail to keep mosquitoes from my neck. I see us walking in the pasture, nearing the stop’s wire fence. You look like me but more spotted, more bouncy, more sure that where you’re going is a joyful place. I stop and sniff as you spring in unknowing circles. There is a whistle and sounds of hooves more agile than ours. I begin to circle, too. My head jerks.

First, I stop you. “No kicking in class,” I scold. Disappearing to my own grazing land, “Mommy’s trying to write a story.” When I return, you don’t need me. “Thump,” you say. You’re not by my side when the whistling begins again. I can see the shapes of men on horses. I bellow, “Mommy is done writing,” but you do not respond. I bellow and bawl and turn, but put down my pen. There is no more thumping.

—Christine Stroik-Stocke, Madison, WI