The flight was short. I held a bent magazine with my left hand and squeezed the metal armrest with each jolt of bumpy sky air. I watched their faces. I looked for the fear in horizontal bent pupils. But they twirled their hair and crossed their legs. My eyes searched for the emergency exit.
My three small boys at home and me, somewhere up here, never separated before by so many open hours and minutes. And I wondered how often I forget to tell them I love them. In between the borders and the grassy plains, I placed each imaginary hand into mine and prayed. No fever. No warnings. And I longed to smell their hair and clean the dirt from under their chins. I wondered if they bathed or ate the last piece of toast left hidden under their napkin.
I traced the outlines of small fish lakes, the river arteries running through squares, dividing them up into moveable checker boards, puzzles and plastic fences. My eyes, the translators, and my sometimes courage, throwing me in the air, pushing me along, over clouds and miniature ruins of skyscrapers and soda machines.
And then she appeared from the bottom edge of the rounded, corner window. Her city. This New York City. And I wondered if this first trip, novice film coating, could be rubbed off. She scared me. With her towering brick concoctions and buzzed taxicabs. Her rushed across the street, jaywalkers and high climbing window washers. She scared me. With her talent, and trend and posh exteriors. And me. So small, I could fit between your index finger and thumb.
I could tell you New York was great. I could tell you how excited I am that The Gift is spreading its wings a little further into the world, gliding gently over cautious streams and open fields of possibility.
But, to keep a book closed, to stare at the glossy cover and run your finger over the title gives little to the words that were sealed for so long between trembling hands.
It's in the making, the shaping and shifting, that turns pages and paper and words and hearts and hands. It's the making, the waiting, the wondering that gives a book its breath.
So I will try to be brave. Make these words the distance, the miles, the airplane’s wings. Let the words create the length, the perforated lines that connect the past and hold the power to tear each page out and let it go forever.
Because the real story is raw and it pulls the skin off of my fragile bones. The story of one small girl and one small boy. A Once upon a time…, searching for its hidden chapters. The real story is about loss and finding your way home in the darkest depths of the forest.
Because when you’re lost, the road is marked in ruins, abandoned temples of damage and the cracked walls of resentments. When pain is given permission to drive, when darkness controls the wheel, the light is kept out and the gardens of forgiveness, a blur past moving cars.
And the closed drawers inside my heart held the missing pen caps, the bent paperclips, the struggles, displaced and shoved between abandoned post-it notes with grocery lists never relieved.
And my jaw would tighten. Can they see it? The thin walls that shelter all of it. The tissue paper facade. And I stared out closed windows. and I waited for his eyes to return to mine. I waited for the walls to construct a place where he couldn’t go missing. Where I was his refuge, an island with gentle water shorelines. Where fear and hurt were no longer my guideposts, the tiny speed bumps that gave me pause. So I posted Missing signs for the hearts we once knew and I waited for a new spring.
I tell you this story because secrets corrode. They tear away at strength and hope. They use shame to wrap ropes around our hands and our feet, leaving us feeble and scared in a world where all we need is for people to be who they were made to be.
Because secrets tie the beautiful strings of hope into knots.
These secrets lived quietly on blank walls and whispered quiet warnings onto God’s will. Them. They. Those. Out there. But what secrets and shame don’t know is that love and grace, freedom and acceptance, are bigger and wider than their tiny little voices.
And a room full of darkness holds little power to the smallest stream of light, its golden glow spreading far enough to warm a soft cheek, to illuminate the path in front of us.
And those long lost hurts, the ones I tied to a string and let dangle from my life. I burned them on beaches and screamed their names into pillows. And I signed away ownership with hand scrolled contracts I made with the sky. And I waved goodbye to religion and filled a small boat up with its guilt and watched as its tiny sail became small against my heart’s red horizon.
And God met me on the shoreline and ran His fingers over the sun to shake the light from it's middle, to let the translucent memories hang there in the midday glitter, exposed and made warm by it's release.
I told myself it was all okay. I told myself the cracks didn’t show. I told myself I could grow in the driest of soils.
And what I found was a pair of scissors and a voice that kept whispering the same story and three sets of small eyes that needed to know the dark clouds weren’t the end of us.
So I sat and I listened and I cut and I glued and those same small sets of eyes, perched on the edge of my table, watched as one small boy named Will travelled the very road that laid before them. And I told them to believe even when I wasn’t sure.
And each shadowbox of The Gift, an offering, an outstretched hand to these little men that rode the waves of uncertainty, holding onto the sides of the boat when the storms raged, when all they could see was the hole at the bottom and the water rising beyond them.
Because sometimes we have to hear the story of us, of this love, whispered over us, spilled with ladles of grace and compassion. Found in the places we forgot to look, in a softly lit studio surrounded by tiny pieces of cut paper stuck to the bottoms of our shoes. In the places I tried to hide. The love note that quietly slid behind the dresser, discovered on a day when I needed it the most.
These stories weave bounty with their spidery fingers reaching past and into the words of other stories, becoming intertwined like sunday crossword puzzles. FEAR borrowing its E from HOPE, hope borrowing its H from HEART.
Give me your words, so I will remember, so I will no longer be hardened by the callouses that grow around the perimeter and bend it's translation towards night.
There is this tiny grave inside me that continues to dig well past the bones, into the deep sediment of anguish. And I move my hand over the loose dirt, patting it flat, marking it for identification. Suffering. Grief. Love. Reunion. All buried together within the well of memory. Connected by thin wormholes of light.
I wait for the soft whisper voice to become my own. I wait for the frequency to exceed my fears, for the rattles of hurt and uncertainty to be drowned out by the lyrical hum of love.
And the soft voice whispers,
“Did you know I was there? I was there when your heart was long and stretched between days stapled with grief. When there was wide open wounds that felt burned by the sun, the light that glowed taunts for a darkness you couldn't hide.
I was there when the dark shadows rushed past you and stole your breath. When the floor bent like rubber and his breath was gone."
Give me your hand and I'll show you the world, cupped in one heartfelt song.
There is an opening, a ceremony of abandonment when my hands let go of the wheel. When my eyes water only for the time lost in control, when the passenger seat waits for me to trust again. And turbulence is caught by the hands that silence the wind.
And there were these eyes of blue and green and brown, that watched me cry and joined with me when my tears weren’t enough. When I had shed it all, they had more to give. A circle of “me too’s” joining hands under the ceiling of an Our Father.
Because somewhere in celebration there is gratitude. A gratitude so deep it holds onto the roots of thought and memory. It pulls the strings that keep each soft petal in motion, each leaf in tact.
Let's dance with the sand between our toes and the ocean a quiet audience, clapping with each collapsed wave of submission.
And there is this gift. Not the kind with store bought bows and satin streaming ribbons, perfumed and encased in textured boxes. There’s no tissue paper to soften the journey. There are no medals or ceremonies or New York street dinners.
This gift is the very thing I left buried in the backyard of my heart, taped and bound in the tangles of secrecy. And this day, this book, this life, now free, wears no bows or ribbon or camouflage. I no longer need the embellishments to see this love made real.
Because this gift, you see, these broken legs we’ve hobbled about on, are the very same legs, cracked and splintered, calcified and made stronger by all of its weakest places.
I may always be scared, somewhere. But fear will become the memory, the past that only creeps in to surprise me mid sentence. When "I forgive you," becomes the last step off the shadowy cliff, with you, the tiny silhouette, falling face first into trust.
And here you are. The boy I thought I lost. Not on a silver steed. Draped in princely robes. But, here, alone, stripped of dark memories and days forged in our mess. You’re here. Still here. Holding my hand.
To sit at a table in New York City across from this boy, 17 years later, 12 father’s days past, I hold a hand that let go, a hand that gave up it’s grip so that it might fit better into this clasp.
I stood in a city that once filled me with fear. The talent. The knowledge. The confidence and depth. That somehow it might swallow me up in all of it’s bright, repetitive burning neon and long leg gallery openings.
But their faces were warm and they invited me in. There was no pushing or shoving. It was a city remembering, drawing a new dream into a blue lit sky. And the mourning was honor and a softness made the hard edges fray, letting the wind take back its melody.
I stood in a city that once filled me with fear.
But instead, I stood beside him and I was tall. Not by size or knowledge or talent or depth. But because he was there and his coat was off and my small pitter patter heart got carried away in his.
And as the plane lifted into the sky, I followed the shadow on the ground. I watched as the black cutout grew smaller and smaller as the plane rose high into the blue canvas. And as the shadow disappeared, it took with it this last moment of fear.
And the gift was how far I could see.