So I took my pillow and crept out of the room. My Korean daughter Ashley was sleeping in the spare bedroom, the pull-out couch in the family room was cumbersome and heavy, so I got a spare quilt from the hallway closet and lay down on my office floor and tried to sleep, but I could not. I was thinking about execution.
What if John’s appeal should fail? What if the executioner should get him after all? Could I bear it? Could I bear to go and watch him die a cruel death? And what would happen afterwards? What would they do with his body? Bury him in the prison yard so that he spent eternity locked up? So I could not even take flowers to his grave. Could I bear that? And if he didn’t die, if he spent his life in prison, could I bear that?
The door cracked open and Joe’s voice said, “What are you doing on the floor?” “I can’t sleep.”
Joe knows me well. I did not need to explain. He crept into the room and sat down on my ergonomic office chair. “You’re not going to be any good to him if you’re hospitalized for exhaustion.”
“But what if they execute him after all?”
“That’s out of your hands. You can only do what you can do for him.”
“But I’m not doing anything to help. I’m just this person loving him and being kind to him. What good is that?” Joe was silent.
“He says he wants to be my son. He says he wants me to be his mother.”
“Then be his mother. Come back to bed.” “It means I can’t ever change my mind. I have to stick with him. I have to go and watch him executed.”
“If they execute him, then they execute him. Worry about that when it happens. In the meantime, if you want to be his mother, be his mother. What harm can it do? I’m going back to bed.”
But still I agonized and could not sleep. Each night that week I lay there on the floor and thought and thought. By Friday I must give John an answer, but I could not come to a conclusion. For the first time I asked myself if I would have been better off never to have met him. If I had ignored that letter, never taken that rainy drive to Raleigh, never gone to see his lawyer, if I’d been scared off, or decided after all I didn’t want to get involved, I would by now have finished maybe two new novels, advancing my career. So why, I asked myself, why should I do this? Why make such a big commitment?
By now it was Thursday night and I must have fallen off to sleep because I woke to Joe saying, “Aren’t you prisoning today? It’s almost ten o’clock.” I didn’t shower, just leaped into my clothes, grabbed a hairbrush, lip gloss and mascara and ran for the front door with Joe’s voice behind me, “Hey, hey, slow down there.” He grabbed me from behind and held me for a brief, tight moment. “I think you’re wonderful, I want you to know that. I admire you. You’re doing a wonderful thing.”
Then I was racing for my car, backing up so fast I scratched along the hedge, stuck the mascara brush into my eye at the corner stoplight, and set out one-eyed and lipstickless along the highway. I marched into that visitation booth and plonked myself down on the stool.
“About me being your mother.” John Lee came alert. I could almost feel it physically.
“The answer’s yes, I’d be proud to be your mother.” Nothing still, just that alert watching. “Because I love you, baby, you know that.”