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Clockwork

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I have an affection for clocks.

The oversized square clock that acts as a divider between my kitchen and family room. Its first home on a wall, in a failed restaurant my husband and I opened. When I spotted it on sale, a picture of it proudly displayed as a focal point flashed through my mind. Six months later, when closing the doors had become inevitable, it jumped to the top of my salvage list.

“I want the clock, don’t forget the clock. Get the clock!”, words I repeated to my husband until he finally brought it home. An odd concern for someone who had just lost the bulk of their life savings, but time is always the biggest revealer of lessons, and I wanted a reminder of our lesson hanging on my wall each day. A lesson that will, apparently, always be 10 minutes behind.

The silver table clock appearing fancy in the aisles of Target. With zero family heirlooms to be handed down, it seemed like a good representation of my new fancy adulthood, at the age of 24. It first sat on the dresser, in the bedroom of our first home. Tarnished and on display in a new location, it is no longer fancy, but instead serves as a reminder of the moment my husband and I became synchronized, and our lives began the process of sharing the same time.

The clock on the wall in my dining room, whose previous home was above the fireplace mantle. The glass and wood shattered by a ball thrown in the house by a phantom player. I had always admired it for the weathered wood surrounding the sole surviving clock face. I ripped through that same wood and threw it in the trash, as I carefully bent back the hands to rest them on a time never to be changed, storing it in my garage until I found its new home. It now hangs overlooking holiday dinners, just short of making it to 1:00. 12:59 was its final fate, so close in moving forward, but forever stuck in the hour before.

The dark bronze perfectly round clock hanging at the end of our upstairs hallway, flanked by my sons’ bedrooms on each side. It always reminded me of a porthole. I hate boats but loved the nautical aesthetic of it. The hands haven’t moved in years, forever 7:42 in roman numerals. The passing of time still evident, though, by the changing boys walking passed it every day.

They and others, carefully placed throughout my house, resting in quiet disagreement. I have never been drawn to clocks by their time telling, but more by the representation of time told by each one. Maybe it is the reason I never feel inclined to wind their hands or replace their batteries. I have never needed a clock to alert me that time is moving. I would rather search for answers to the questions born when their time stops. How many hours, days, or weeks did it take me to notice their final resting spot? Was it evening or day? Was it a Tuesday, a Sunday? Was I sleeping or yelling at the dog to stop barking? Was there an obvious hint that the clock was slowing down? Oddly, I rarely read their numbers, yet for some reason, once the hands froze it was all I could ever focus on.

Years ago, my grandmother tried to buy me a clock. She had fallen, broken her arm, and came to stay with my husband and me. It was the first time our roles as giver and receiver had ever reversed. One night, I mentioned I would love a Grandfather Clock in the corner of my living room. When she healed 3 months later and was ready to return to her home, she gave us a check and, in the memo, wrote “for your Grandfather Clock”. My husband tore it up and told her we would never accept money for loving her.

I fell in love with him a little bit more that day.

My grandmother ticked like a clock.

She didn’t always, however, I held no memory of her silent heart. I was very young when she received a replacement heart valve from damage caused by a childhood bout of Rheumatic fever. She always said she could never hear her own heart although it always spoke to me.

Sitting near her as a little girl, I would carefully listen and focus on the click of her heart as the valve opened to allow blood in. Each time it opened I would silently count the pattern in my head to see if I could anticipate the sound of the exact point it would open again. Predictable, like my grandmother, it always ticked at the exact moment it was expected to.

Unintentionally, she became the clockwork in my ever-changing world. The force behind the moving hands, keeping time moving at a steady pace as best she could.

I remember the tick of her valve counting out the last seconds of my family, as she hugged me the night I knew my parents’ marriage was over, speeding up when she picked up the phone and asked my mother how she could do this to my brother and me.

The way it sounded when she asked the question, “How is your mom?”, even though she already knew the answer. The space between each tick taking a little longer as she tried to absorb some of my pain.

I remember the tick of her heart when I was sure it would break, riding next to her in the limousine from the church to the cemetery, on our way to bury my grandfather. I remember how it sounded in between her words, “I always thought I would be first. I never prepared to be here without him.” The realization setting in that I needed to begin my preparation to be here without her.

And as I became older, I began to resent the sound of my grandmother. With an absent face, the once comforting and predictable tick of her heart transformed into a constant, cruel reminder that the next tick was never guaranteed. It began to taunt me in its unnumbered countdown to the day it would not open. I no longer found solace in the anticipation of its predictable sound, but instead, began to constantly fear the silence provided by its ending. The silence that would limit the function of my own heart. The silence that would inevitably come while the hands on the clocks outside of my house kept moving.

In preparation, I began making a mental list of timely accomplishments I would need her presence for, followed by one-sided deals with God. A scheduled calendar of events combined with a prayer for a time allowance and topped off with a request to rewind her clock hands when needed, for good measure.

Unlike the clocks in my house, her valve tortured me with its continuous ticking. It echoed louder, as my list continued to grow in length. For each milestone and day that passed, another was added. When we ticked through see me graduate college, I immediately added see me get married, followed by be here for the birth of my first child. Quickly realizing relief never awaited at the end of any day on my list, only the yearning for another day – more time. I would never be satisfied. Time had become my greatest opponent.

The milestones I realistically knew were possibilities had come and gone, yet even as her valve acquired more clicks, I relentlessly continued to add days to our calendar. It became an extravagant indulgence in the possibility of time with no end in sight. I would never stop adding, choosing, instead, to simply adjust my requests to those with the greatest chance of defeating the clock. Arrogant victories in my competition with time. Keep her here for Christmas, let her see my youngest take his first steps, let me have one more birthday with her. I dared God to take her before I said so. Even when it became obvious time would ultimately win, I refused to surrender. I would not let go gently. I would fight for every last second.

I wanted her here for the big days and the little days. I wanted her here for all the times I didn’t yet know I would need her here. I wanted her here for the first day without her. I wanted her here for all of it: every minute, of every hour, of every day. I would never willingly experience one tick of any clock without her.

And when it became obvious God would refuse to move the hands of her clock back, I still battled for control. Defeated in extending her time, I surprised myself with a plea to cut it short. I grabbed time and wrung out the last drop with my final request – I begged God to take her, to let her die with the grace and dignity she deserved.

One week later, two weeks after my 36th birthday and 5 months before my youngest son took his first steps, I held her hand, whispered in her ear that she could go and I would be okay, listened to the final click of her valve as the nurse announced her time of death – 23:54.

6 minutes shy of another day, but a remarkable clock none the less.

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