I always kept people waiting. “Who cares if I’m three minutes late,” I would say, defensive, and secretly ashamed of the stubborn pattern picked up from a single mother who was late even when she tried to be early. In ninth grade, my best friend’s brother would pick me up for school each day. Every morning he drove up to the condominium where I lived with my mom and brother, always the same time: 7:05 sharp. He’d shift his clean white Ford Taurus into park, brusque beeps announcing their arrival, and begin the wait. I’d run to the door, feel a familiar lump growing in my throat, auburn curls still wet, droplets dampening the back of my cheap Contempo Casuals shirt. “Two minutes,” I’d mouth optimistically through the screen, fingers raised in a V, dark polish eroded from constant chewing. Forced smile, hoping he wouldn’t be mad, knowing he was cursing at his sister in the passenger seat about me as he nodded his head in understanding, certain I’d make him late for school again. At school, I would tiptoe to the front of the classroom, skin ablaze, drop the late pass onto the teacher’s desk, crumpled and wet.
Once you build a reputation, you’ll always be the late one. Plans will be made, reservations will be scheduled, all with a buffer to account for your selfishness. Even when you really did leave the apartment thirty minutes early but your Uber driver goes the wrong way, or there’s traffic on the West Side Highway. So you text, and they might believe you, but they’re not surprised. Typical. Even when you become a mother and you show up to swim classes and baby gyms fifteen minutes early. When you nag your husband to hurry up because you’re going to gnaw at your nail beds, make your deodorant work overtime, shake your foot so hard your whole body vibrates if you are even a minute late. Leaving a minute early is still cutting it too close. “When did you get like this?” he’ll ask because it worked better for him when you both thought three minutes wouldn’t hurt anyone. He’ll flash a playful half smile, rub your shoulder gently, try to assure the new punctual you. You’ll smile back with a slow, growling sigh when he says, “No one cares if we’re three minutes late.”
For three full minutes after my son is born, time’s knowing middle finger cuts through the air. Payback. “Don’t worry, he’s breathing,” says one of four nurses, each in different colored scrubs. Lime green, salmon pink, sky blue, and slate gray. I steady my focus on my baby boy’s slender fingers, pale pink body still covered in white vernix, matted brown tresses. Jaw agape, all the blood vessels in my face broken from pushing for over an hour and a half. Salmon has one hand on the back of his tiny head, the other on his pink bottom, juddering vigorously like she’s been working behind the bar for an extra shift, it’s last call and the customers won’t stop ordering cocktails. Don’t worry. We just need him to cry. Did I drink too much coffee? Is it the Zoloft? Did I not sleep enough? I knew I should’ve exercised. One eye on the clock, the other on my son. The room spins and I feel like I am falling, fast. Someone told me when you get too drunk, lay down, put one leg on the ground and the spinning will stop. I can’t reach the floor but still, I throw my sweaty, unshaven leg over the side of the bed. It lands softly. The spinning stops. Lime green hands him to me. My baby and I both cry. I whisper in his perfect little ear, “You kept me waiting.”
Stacy N. Ross is a writer and teacher living in northern California with her husband and young son. Originally from New York, she has also lived in Arizona, Italy and South Korea. Her work has appeared in Pidgeonholes and Anti-Heroin Chic. You can find her online at stacynross.com, or tweet her @sn_rossitto.