The End of the Hallelujah Chorus
“There she is!”
I heard my son’s voice even over the wild din of boisterous kids in the elementary school cafeteria. His hand shot up in the air, waving at me from the middle of the room where he sat with a group of his second-grade friends.
As soon as I arrived at his table, Shane popped up from his seat. “Hi, Mom!” He wrapped his arms around me. I forget all about the sleepless night I’d had and the long list of to-do’s that never seemed to get done.
He took the subway sandwich and chips out of my hand. “Yes! Awesome! I saved a seat for you.” He pointed to a spot on the bench beside him—a miniscule space that would perhaps be wide enough for Tinker Bell, but certainly not for me. Somehow I squeezed in, huddled among all the seven year-old boys.
Being surrounded by males was not an unfamiliar place by any means. I lived with my husband, Brian, and our three sons. Shane, the youngest, had never done anything first in the family. Yet I him watched closely because each milestone of his was the final lap of my mothering event. I would never again see a child of mine toddle across the room successfully. His first kick of the soccer ball was my last.
With Shane, however, some experiences had a bit of a twist. He was either less excited, probably because he, too, had witnessed his brothers doing the same thing countless times. Or he was over-the-top exuberant, confident that, in his own unique way, his version was more sensational. At times, that exuberance extended to me.
I had occasionally brought a special lunch (special being something not made at home) to my sons, Austin and Ryan, sitting with them while they ate and chatting about what had happened in their day. Shane, however, loved the sight of me walking through the cafeteria doors. The food was obviously secondary. In his jubilance, he would turn and grin at me every few minutes, occasionally giving me a little hug in between bites of his sandwich, sometimes simply blurting out, “I’m so happy you’re here, Mom.” Let it be noted that I was a stay-at-home mom and my presence was a constant in his life.
By this point, Austin was twelve and I had the opposite effect on him. “Mom, I don’t want to talk about it.” “You don’t have to say anything in the carpool.” Or my personal favorite, “Nothing happened today at school.” Nothing? Really?
Ryan was still talking to me for the most part, but at ten, he wasn’t that excited about seeing me at school either.
My two oldest had passed the Mommy Walks on Water stage so long ago I hardly remembered it. Shane, however, was still in the boat admiring my everyday miracles.
He cleared my busy mind with his funny tales of the stories they’d read aloud in class. Every time he tilted his dark blond head to laugh, my heart felt lighter, more tuned in to gratitude.
When the lunch bell rang and the teacher announced it was time for recess, Shane turned to me with his big brown eyes and said the usual. “No. Stay. Just a few minutes longer. You’ve got to come out and watch me play.”
He led me to the squiggly, single-file line of his classmates headed out to the playground. Shane beamed at me, his hand, warm and pudgy, in mine.
The second we hit the ball field, Shane dropped my hand with a cheery smile, knowing I would be watching from my usual spot under a tree several feet away. He and his friends quickly chose two teams and began to play. Every few minutes, he would wave at me, occasionally shouting, “Did you see that?”
As soon as recess was over, Shane ran back, hugged me again, and thanked me for lunch. “See you later.” He waved good-bye.
This was our mother-son dance of childhood, the same choreography every time.
One morning, when I arrived at the cafeteria toting a requested lunch, I scanned the room searching for him. It took a while. I walked up to the table, disconcerted. The boys were engrossed in their conversation.
“I don’t know if you can sit here today.” Shane’s shrug was semi-apologetic. “We’re packed in here pretty close.”
I nodded and handed him his lunch. As the boys talked and laughed, I stood to the side feeling bereft, suddenly out of place. “Why don’t I go on,” I said to him after a few minutes.
“No, you can stay,” he replied. “It’s okay.”
Okay? What happened to the Hallelujah Chorus I used to hear playing when I showed up with lunch? Where was the trumpet call of my name from across the room? And how had these boys grown so much in the last month that they couldn’t shove a little closer and reserve a tiny place for the woman who walks on water?
I fidgeted behind him for another five minutes, then wandered over to talk to another mom on the other side of the cafeteria. When the teacher announced recess, I joined Shane at his table, waiting for him to grab my hand.
He stood with a tilted smile. “Thanks for lunch.” Then he turned and filed out with his class, the back of his head lost in a sea of second-graders.
I slipped out of the school with hunched shoulders and a hollowed-out feeling I couldn’t name. Safely ensconced in my car, I lowered my forehead to the steering wheel and closed my eyes. It was over, just like that. The Hallelujah Chorus had ended mid-aria. The silence slayed me.
I didn’t hear those notes for twelve long years.
I stood with a young-adult Shane in front of the Times Square subway station, a surreal setting. Who leaves their college-bound child in such a place? Masses of people surged around us, talking and shouting. A man barged right into us as Shane and I faced each other, trying to navigate this final letting-go. A taxi driver blared his horn, unrelenting. A siren screamed nearby. How could the sounds of daily life go on, unchanged? After a long hug, I watched him in his jeans and baseball cap disappear down the dark steps of the station.
The next time I saw him was two months later. I waited near the university bookstore, New York traffic roaring down the busy street. My eyes darted back and forth, searching through all the students with backpacks as they languidly shuffled down the sidewalk.
There! I laughed and waved my hand, joyfully shouting his name, “Shane!”
He sauntered toward me with his cap low on his forehead, shielding his eyes.
After a long hug, I talked him into taking me to lunch. At the outdoor café on Broadway, I patted the seat beside me. “Sit here. There’s plenty of room.”
We chatted about his classes and what was happening back home in Texas, our words falling over each other, hoping for a glimpse into a daily life we no longer shared.
“I’m just so happy to see you,” I said, an airy gleefulness soaring out of me and into the space between us.
He grinned and then checked his phone. “I’ve got to head back to campus, Mom.” He had a class starting in ten minutes and a full day ahead.
Just a few minutes longer.
I hear the Hallelujah Chorus in a different key now. And for the rest of my life, it will sound unfinished, abruptly cut off. As if someone came along and muted the sound when it still had a few more notes to play. The silence slays me.
Suzanne Adams’ essays have appeared in national journals and magazines including Ruminate, Radical Psychology, Diving in the Moon, Trivia: Voices of Feminism, Brain,Child, and Family Life. A former CPA, she has an MA with a concentration in Transformative Language Arts. She is a member of WFWA, Writers’ League of Texas, and the TLA Network. Her website is at suzannemontzadams.com. She is currently submitting a novel for representation.