This Home Here

Story
 
In the back seat of the car, my son flips through the pages of Dolphin Tale. Bug fell in love with the story of Winter and her prosthetic tale when the movie premiered. His obsession has reached a fever pitch since I announced we’d be taking him to Clearwater, Florida the day after school ends.
 
“Do you know who lives there?” I asked.
 
He thought for a moment.
 
“Do you want a clue?”
 
A nod.
 
“It’s not a person but it is a living thing.”
 
His eyes widened, a light flashed inside his skin, and he fell over backward on the rug. Lying there with his arms spread wide and his whole face beaming, he cried, “The dolphin!”
 
Now, he follows the story. From the back, I hear him slowly piecing the words together. “Sawyer was worried that Winter might not make it back.” These are word bubbles popping along a graphic version of the story. And that is my son, reading to himself.
 
Did you catch that? My son. Reading. To himself.
 
When I ask what is happening in the book, he does not respond. In the rearview mirror, I watch his gaze dances over the page. He is bent to the work. His focus is absolute.
 

Sport
 
When I pick him up at Chicken School, Bug is playing Uno with his buddies. “Ready for basketball, kiddo? Or do you want to finish the game?”
 
He has two cards remaining in his hand and is inches away from victory. Nevertheless, he tosses them onto the discard pile and hops to his feet. “I’m done. Let’s go.” He gives his best friend a pat on the head and tells him he won by forfeit. Then he races out the door.
 
The red barn has two hoops bolted to the side at two heights. We slip-jog down the hill to the woods to schlep up a trio of lost balls. On the concrete, Bug squats and leaps, sinking one basket after another. Airborne and streaked with sweat, he stands as far back as he can and hurls the ball with all he’s got. Pow. It’s in. Again, again. He walks up close, darts to the side, heads to the edge. Every angle. Low basket, high basket, sometimes just bouncing the ball off the rust-red clapboards to see how close to the pitched roof he can get it.
 
He does not say “look at me.” He does not even ask me to play, though I do anyway, moving all around him. He barely registers my presence. He races after the ball, brings it back, mutters a sharp “Yes” to no one when he makes a perfect swish.
 

Journey
 
Once home, Bug says he want to walk the dog with me. I grab her leash and we run run run down the cul-de-sac to the green corridor between houses. Grandma is putting the finishing touches on dinner but we are sure to be late. We bound into the fern-shagged carpet of the woods. Dry leaves up to our shins, mud in the creek.
 
The dog takes off up the hill and Bug leaps down into the ravine. “Do what I do,” he says. And so I scoot under brambles almost my belly even though going over would be so much easier. One after the other, we scale the eroding creek-bed wall, slip on the exposed vine, cross the creek on the fallen tree, back again, then shimmy down the tumbling rocks. Bug ducks and darts and clambers ahead, whistling back the pooch and making sure I don’t cheat. “You can’t just go over, you have to step on it,” he tells me. I double back and do it right. He sees a frog and shrieks with delight.
 
Up ahead, the dog grabs a mouthful of something white. She skitters away but we chase her down back towards home. She eyes me warily as I pry the bone from her jaws.
 
“Can you see what it is?”
 
“A head,” Bug says.
 
“Huh. I can see why you think that. But look here. You see that hole going down through the middle? And the wings?” I turn and lift my shirt from behind, bending so he can see my spine.
 
“Oh! It’s a backbone!”
 
“A vertebra.” I touch one of mine. “They’d be in a string like this, all down the back. Probably a deer?” Below his blue t-shirt, I press my fingers into his ridged line. “It protects the spinal cord that carries all the messages from the brain to the rest of the body.”
 
The dog is panting and watching my every move. I return her prize and Bug picks up a walking staff twice his height. He uses it to fly between stumps. He calls it a broom. He chases down an invisible golden snitch.
 

Art
 
I finish the last verse of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” as Bug finally puts down his legos and crawls over me into the bed. He props himself up against the turquoise fleece cushion and picks up his pen and clipboard. I sing my way through “Baby Beluga.” He has a calculator now. He puts 10 tiny tick marks into 15 small triangles, does a quick calculation and announces, “A hundred fifty people.” He pulls the page off, lets it fall, and starts on the next.
 
I wend my way through the deep blue sea and Bug make an arc in fine blue ink. A box. Tiny wheels, a platform (which he spells out carefully) and trucks along the edges. His feet press into my side, squirrel under my back, find their cave. His eyes do not leave the page. With the morning sun, another day’s begun, you’ll soon be waking. . .
 
The song comes to its dozy close. Bug does not register anything different in the world outside of his design. He continues to add tidy, miniscule circles around the edges of the machine. “How does it work?” I ask.
 
Nothing.
 
“What are those boxes for?”
 
A pause. He rubs his nose. “People.” That’s all I get. Pen back on the page. His gaze is steady, tracing the leading edge of the ink.
 
Immersed, he has no need for conversation. He belongs exactly there inside his unfolding creation. Nested with his mama in a bed that works just fine, he is free to cross into the sanctuary of his imagination. His expression is both zeroed in and a million miles away. He’s found the sweet spot. He’s in the flow.
 

Dwelling
 
As I watch my little boy inhabit that generative wrinkle between ticks of the clock, I see how we live there together but in complete singularity. I cross that same threshold when dance fills me to soaring, when paper covers rock and its ink hushes the world. I know the place because it is where I walk under stars when my skin slips free and all I ever was and will be is night.
 
Story. Sport. Journey. Art.
 
Friend.
 
Song.
 
Clan.
 
We erect these places by the simple act of returning to them again, again, and shoring them up with whatever we dig from our pockets. When we come up empty-handed, we bend and scoop up fistfuls of breath. Of soil. Of our own flesh. Pack them into the cracks. Fortify our belonging.
 
We sing them open and fix our mezuzah on the door. We map their coordinates upon our names.
 
Here am I. Here are you.
 
We dwell in this Here we’ve chosen.
 
This here.
 
This, our home.

Deposed

It is almost 6:30 pm. Congestion on 66 West backs it up all the way to Falls Church. After a grind of a day, a co-worker saves me a metro trip by letting me hitch a ride back towards home. My car waits near the station, a stack of overdue library books in the trunk alongside a bag of clothes destined for Goodwill. Somehow I will have to make room for the giant sack of special Active Maturity dog food I hope Target has on the shelf because PetSmart is in the wrong direction. The dog’s bowl has been empty for nearly two days.

In an hour, friends will be gathering for Team Trivia at the bar. As for dinner? The leftover apple banging around in my backpack will have to suffice. As we sit in stop-and-go traffic solving the problems of the world, my phone rings.

Noisy air when I pick it up. Then, “Mommy?”

“Hey, buddy. What’s up?”

“Can I stay with you tonight?” His sing-y, plead-y voice spills into the car. Sweetness bomb. My friend rocks from the blow.

Continue reading “Deposed”

Hello Here

On the brink of leaving this home for the next (inshallah), and I still don’t know what I’m after. Place? Family? Community? Safety? The list is long and it changes with the breeze.
 
Ambiguous purpose calls for simple acts. I turn to my son and say, “Let’s go outside.”
 
These days, he joins me. This is new. It used to be a struggle, cajoling and begging before demanding or giving up. Now, he pounds down the stairs, “I’ll put her leash on! Here, let me!” He throws open the sliding glass door and calls her with his quasi wolf-whistles. She is suspicious of his intentions but ducks inside, unable to resist the word “walk.”
 
Flexi-leash in hand, Bug races down the driveway dragging the dog. She tosses a few desperate glances back at me but I’m no help to her now. Bug has finally learned to slow long enough to let her have a break for her bladder. It rarely lasts past the last drop so she forgoes all olfactory temptations gets down to business. They lope down the swath of grass between the fences. At the bottom where the year’s accumulated leaves lay in drifts, Bug snaps off her leash and she tears off into the trees. He squeals in delight and tramps after her, knee-deep in brambles.
 
The dog is the leader but doesn’t know it. Winding and snoofling through brown tangles, she takes us on a looping journey up and back down the hillside. Scattered clumps of daffodils poke their way up into patches of sun and purplish flowers unfurl from buried brush. Light threads its way down through dry spindles scratching the sky. I carry a plastic shopping bag and collect the crumpled cans and muck-filled Corona bottles that peek up through the leaves.
 
I follow Bug. Bug follows the dog. The dog follows her nose. We come upon a creek snaking out from under a neighbor’s chicken wire fence. Across the way is a clutch of bamboo as high as a rooftop. It bends against the breeze. The road beyond is near enough to keep me vigilant. Bug fords the brook with a single leap and slips up the muddy bank beyond. He picks his way through the deep green flutes, swishing them low. Feathered leaves stroke the water’s golden skin.
 
“I’m in the bamboo jungle! There is a tornado coming! Get out of the storm, Mommy!” I duck across and hide with him in the cool dark there. Cars roar just feet from our back and I holler the dog back from the roadside. She bounds into the creek, splashing us with wet silt.
 
When it is time to go, we gather leash and garbage and assorted leafy treasures. I urge. Bug dawdles. The dog drips. Eventually we shimmy into a dry creek-bed and follow the tracks of raccoons and deer back to the trail into our neighborhood. Just as we start up the hill, we turn and see a strange sight. In all our years of walking here, we have never come across such a thing.
 
A boy.
 
He is making his jerky way over the buried roots up to a log that bridges the dry trench. His black hair and pale skin trace a ghostly curve over the hillside. He looks up and sees us. I wave. He pauses then waves back. Bug and dog and I are poised on the forest edge ready to go home.
 
“One second, Mom,” Bug says. And he is off. He plows straight through the weeds and pricker bushes and heads straight uphill. The boy leaps off the log, starts to climb, and then slows. Bug is talking to him. He turns and responds. In a blink, they are deep into it. By the time I have gotten the dog turned and have approached the pair, they are discussing the bamboo forest and the forts up on hilltop that some older kids built years ago. “We come in here all the time,” the boy says.
 
“So do I!” Bug cries.
 
They talk pets. Neighbors. Teachers. Movies. Books. The boy is into the Warriors series and Bug is reading JK Rowling. I hang back and marvel at their ease. They compare notes on the best scenes from the last Harry Potter movie. Bug seeks and seeks a common footing. The boy, a few years older, is happy to oblige. They giggle about an explosion at a quidditch match then giggle some more when the dog grunts and tries to lick the boy’s hand off.
 
The sun is sinking and it is past time for dinner. Bug manages to tear himself away. We plod back up the swath of grass. Bug watches the boy return to his own porch and join a group of children there. A grown man sees us and waves a big Hullo. I return the greeting.
 
“We come in here all the time,” the boy had said. We had never seen him, yet here he was. We have paid attention to this place for years without looking for anything. The dog’s nose has been a truer guide than our own intention. Only in today’s purposeless looking do we stumble upon what we didn’t know we’d been after: a person who shares our place and a similar way of wandering through it.
 
My son’s bold delight stuns me. Even with no idea what he will find, he bridges the distance to meet what glances against his sense of wonder. Call it innocence. Call it courage. Whatever it is, in our new home (inshallah), may that wide-open not-looking to guide us to what we seek.
 

Found Music

He says, “Tell me something you believe in.”
 
I stretch my neck and glare at the treetops. “I used to believe in the healing power of walks.”
 
He does not let me get away with this.
 
“Come on.”
 
After an interlude of mild hysteria, the insect chorus finds its pulse. The breath inside the night soothes the places in my belly where worry has left bruises.
 
“I believe,” I say, “in the wide open sky.” I cannot look at him.
 
I believe in hiding in plain sight.
 
Also, I believe in the mind’s resilience. I believe in speaking truths despite doubt and speaking questions when compliance would be more expedient. I believe in care. In tending to the body’s needs first. I believe that people are doing their best, even when the evidence suggests otherwise.
 
I believe in reincarnation.
 
Sometimes I believe the heart can take the lead.
 
I believe in language and its ability to re-write what is real. In releasing memory. In surrendering hope. I believe that inhabiting the here and now is the only path to serenity.
 
I believe in seeking out the beautiful. In moving towards conflict. In stepping away from the familiar, if only to know the wide-open terror of true limitlessness.
 
I believe in fasting.
 
In speaking to the future self when the present one comes up short.
 
I believe naps, hugs, and vegetables are better medicine than medicine. I believe that touch usually beats another conversation.
 
I believe that everything I believe is fleeting. That everything I hold dear matters far too much to me and not nearly enough to anyone else.
 
I believe in letting go.
 
I believe in belonging to the world but being owned by no one. I believe in claiming the world but possessing nothing.
 
I press my belly to his and listen to the trees. “I believe in cicadas,” I say.
 
“They couldn’t care less whether you believe in them or not,” he says.
 
For the moment, I believe in love.
 
The moment opens like wings.