On going home (together)
I’d been preparing him for weeks, or maybe, in a sense, for the past three years. But that morning, I still knew I’d need at least a grande pumpkin spice to lull me into a sense of calm, because, well, I just didn’t know how it would go. None of us have any practice with this sort of thing, I told him; it was half to prepare him and half to be able to remind him, “I told you so,” if things went disastrous. But he would just look at me and offer a soothing half-smile, and take my hand. “I’m excited,” he’d insist, as I went on, pulling story after story out of my back pocket. I thought that perhaps they would build a foundation for him, and also help him see them the way I do.
I know, you know, that I see them differently. I see individuals, set-apart souls, who have been given by one great God to shape me and hold me and teach me. For me, it was never really about boys or friends; no, most of my life’s bottom-of-the-well heartbreak, my bursting-out-of-the-ceilings joy, my deep-down blues, and my roadside flowers of moments were wrapped up in these people. All my good stories include characters from my family. They hold my brokenness and my healing within their memories; we’ve been torn apart with each other and by each other and for each other, and then we’ve tasted the grace of sweet Jesus and we’ve helped to reassemble one another. And that’s the lens through which I see them: My whole life. Every bit, all threaded with them. But then I imagined how they see me, and to do that, I had to think about how he’s seen me.
He sees me dancing. He sees me drinking coffee, reading plays, typing articles. He notices my curls, my blisters, the stray marks on my hands from a feisty red pen. He looks at me, sometimes, as if I just penned the words, “If music be the food of love, play on,” or perhaps like I just solved a Calculus II problem, neither of which I have ever done. And, of course, he has the last three years swirling around his mind, which include all of the times I’ve made terrible jokes, but that’s only so much. But them–they see me differently.
They see a little girl; they still see a little girl. They see glasses buried in a book; they see ballet shoes somewhat gracefully sashaying across a stage. They see many, many tears, and they see snaggle-toothed smiles. They see Christmas mornings, and they see a grey funeral on a sunny Tuesday. They see a strong will that has kept all of them up arguing. They see storming off and slamming the door. They see a first car, a teenager trudging up the hill after a first job. They see me at the dinner table, pushing green beans around, even at age 17. They see my dorm room; they see me standing in the parking lot as they drive away. But even then, they saw their baby, everyone’s baby, the almost-last-one who still talks too much, even after all these years. But they’ve never seen me holding someone’s else hand, because I never cared to blend those worlds. I was afraid that nobody could ever see them the way I did, and I chose to protect us, just because it seemed safe. So in high school, any boys who came only came as far as the porch; all the others since then–even the important ones–never strayed from Tuscaloosa. Until now.
But on both sides, they were insisting it has to be done, and as a brilliant move on my part, I gave in. I think every inch of the day took me by surprise. They melded, and when they didn’t, they all just smiled at me. “We trust you,” they said. They offered him cake and jokes and they gave him a bed, and he took it all in, bit by bit. Later, he told me that I hadn’t had much to worry about all along. You know–of course he did. He’s like that.
In the middle of the day, they gathered this house full of people who have known me since 1991, and someone suggested pulling out home videos. “No, no, no, no, no,” I started, my eyes pleading with my mom’s, who sort of shrugged as if she doesn’t wield the wand in the house, when we both know she could easily threaten to withhold the cake. I stood the whole time, watching them as they all laughed, and his hand found mine. My resolve began to melt, because their motivation came into focus: They weren’t embarrassing me at all. Instead, they were just trying to show me to him, to offer a view from their side of the fence. In the most humorous way possible, they were saying, “Be careful with our baby. We love her.”
The good news is that they have nothing to worry about–of course they don’t.
Because when he looks at me, he sees me.