“So tell me about Will,” he said from across the table, and everything about and leading up to the moment was unusual: the way I’d kissed the male three-quarters of our family goodbye at church and set off across town on foot solo; the December sun beating down on me while Christmas songs played through my headphones; the quiet of a two-adult Sunday lunch; the bottle of rosé sitting between us. The company: one of my closest friends since our meeting in New York a decade ago. The question: an opportunity to discuss Little Brother, so rare in comparison to queries over The Kid’s well-being and my own progress reports on him. LB’s wellness is cared about, but not obsessed over. I battle guilt over that difference even as I often assume his happiness myself.
So I talked about LB: about his brashness and sensitivity, his boldness and shyness, his gentle reminders, when we’re focused elsewhere, about his presence. His specialness. My concerns over the potential of him feeling left out, less noticed.
We talked about that, then everything else. We laughed, and shared, and drank. It was soul-healing, being with someone who’s known me through time zones and across countries and through realness and over phone lines. So it had to go on, naturally, for six hours.
These spots are coalescing: the visits and the new people and the web of interactions and support and beauty that is making this place home. They’re each growing bigger and touching each other: old friends meeting new over a Thanksgiving dinner, my first big project in our Australian kitchen being a turkey for ten and a TOTAL SUCCESS, but not without the help of those friends, or their company. And when we gathered before the meal for what is customarily a prayer, I just said I was thankful, for all of them, for how we got here, which…is still a prayer. I forgot to serve dessert, so we had wine instead, the kids playing inside, the men around the table, and me with the only other woman in the lot, sharing life and our gratitude for each other.
The next morning I was hungover–of course–and the boys piled into our bed, the mattress overflowing with people, and it all felt like too much. The same kind of too much as a few nights before, when TH was at a work dinner and so I let the boys fall asleep with me, one on either side, their bodies pressed against me and my hands full of them, so little space for myself. “This is just too much,” I had thought. “Too much…” and I realised the word I was looking for was love. They love me too much for comfort, too much for space. What a wonderful problem to have, frustration and gratitude dawning simultaneously but less and less equally, because the love…it changes me.
It’s the only thing that changes me. The trying-for-a-better-attitude, the fear, the rule-keeping, none of it works or ever has. Now, when bad news happens–when a policeman pulls me over for turning left ten minutes before it’s allowed, or TK’s therapist calls to let me know he’s taking another position next year–the range of emotion, from irritation to grief, it doesn’t dissipate; if anything, it’s more intense because my heart is more open. But the question afterward–what am I going to do?–it’s gone, replaced by a new one: what are YOU going to do? I ask it to grace, to God, to the love that got us here in the first place. That has never stopped showing up. That fills my bed with family and my deck with people and my life with friendships. It fills my hands on Sundays, the blessing at the end calling me to upturn them, the weight on them, every week, mysterious…but not inexplicable.
And this love that is within and beneath and before everything, it shows up seemingly unexpectedly, but the surprise tends to wear off the more you look for it. My friend who, when she asked how Thanksgiving dinner went and I told her about the red wine explosion from my mouth all over my bathroom, instead of head-shaking responded with “I really do love you” alongside a laughing-crying emoji. Then there’s TK, who says it so rarely in comparison to LB’s constant attestations. The other morning, when we were the only two awake, he sat up, turned to me, turned back to the window with its view, and proclaimed, “I love you.” Apropos of nothing. Apropos of everything.