Walking into the reunion room
I’m startled by the low light, the drafts, and the stale air.
I’m not 38 anymore, picking at imaginary lint balls on my sweater
But 17, anxious, anticipating something hard and hostile crackling behind me.
The bar charges more money for pre-packaged dark beer than for urine from the tap.
I stick with water in unopened bottles, and wait.
Wait for a kind, vaguely familiar face. There’s one, then two.
Some are more familiar than others, some more kind.
And then the phone at the bar rings – my child has exceeded my mother’s capacity to comfort him.
I drive to retrieve him, then bring him back to the banquet hall.
He is soft armor, but his five months of life cover me completely.
But beyond the protection he lends me, he has a strange effect on others.
No one can be hostile to a baby; no one with a baby will be hostile to a simple greeting.
Men remark on the pawprints on the feet of his sleeper – pawprints made by their sons.
Women coo and gently touch his round soft creamy cheeks, asking softly for a smile.
And others as anxious as I am see a chance to sit down with someone who won’t threaten them, who will help them feel less lonely in the drafty ballroom.
My baby doesn’t make all the cliquery disappear, and cokelines still get consumed in the ladies room along with misdemeanor memories.
There are still drunken stumbling people, and others who get angry at the thought of someone wanting to know more, learn more, be more than what they were.
But the baby and I can walk out of the hall, facing forward, into the chill of late November, safely. He is in my arms, but tonight he is carrying me.