To my Yoselin Rubi Grace, on an important day -
It was three years ago yesterday I first held you. Three years ago last night since you cried through the dark hours, weeping your loss onto hotel sheets and your parents’ clothes, and finally melted onto my chest in exhausted peace at four in the morning. Three years ago today since we woke to each other’s eyes in the dim mid-morning.
We spent our first week together in a foreign place, a new family. We learned the sound of each other’s voices in a land where no voice spoke our language. We learned each other’s smells in a city that was pungent with diesel and trash. We learned each other’s skin in a country where your mom and I were a minority instead of you.
You came home with us and met your family. You met our friends who are now your friends, and our cats who are now gone, and the adoring baristas at our coffeeshop that has since closed. You rode in a car seat for the first time, and smeared spaghetti in your hair, and learned to crawl, and then to talk. You walked for the first time in a purple dragon costume on Beggar’s Night, and I was afraid you wouldn’t remember how the next day without a tail to balance you.
At three years and eight months old you get compliments on the clarity and vocabulary of your speech, in which I take pride. You show precocious insight and intuition, enough to make your mom and I nervous and wondering. We’ve had talks with you about the crucifixion, about euthanasia, about your adoption, about science. While I’m pretty sure you didn’t understand my explanation of mineral replacement and fossilization, you gave rapt attention. You accurately and clearly use words like ingredients and uterus.
You hold onto facts and names and words with an acuity I can’t account for. I can ask you people’s names I’ve legitimately forgotten and you provide them. At a year and a half old you named your doll after a foster sister in Guatemala whom we had never talked with you about, and your mom and I looked at each other somewhat unsettled. You left Guatemala at eight months old. How could you have remembered?
A few weeks ago you sat in the back seat of my four wheel drive and we spent hours driving around the county surveying flood water. At points we held hands from front seat to back as we sometimes do, for the sake of the courage of us both. I told you I almost drowned in a flooded creek as a little boy and Aunt Shan pulled me out, and you talked me into going back to the bridge where it happened, twenty minutes away, and you made me repeat the story more times than I can count. You do this; you have me retell stories you already know so they become history to you, your own as much as mine.
I stepped out of the car in the chilled rain beside the bridge and got you out of your carseat. We walked to the edge and stared down into the swirling brown water, my heart quickened and my throat dry. That rock there, I told you. We went through the story again. I’m sure it has grown over the years even in my own mind. I didn’t tell you about twenty years worth of night terrors, as they are not your cup of tea. You clung to my neck and somehow knew more than you could.
There are times you reflect wonder to my adult mind. Times when you discover for the first time something that has become a common fixture of existence to me, and in your eyes I imagine how impossible beauty must seem to one who hasn’t learned to reduce it to component parts, how fortunate our senses, how knocked-tipsy God must have been at the birth of the universe, all that matter exploding outward into the infinite like paint thrown to the wind and resolving over eons into us and the stars and the flower you just found beside the porch steps. You laugh at things I’ve forgotten are absurd.
There’s a line on the new Arcade Fire album that says I want a daughter while I’m still young. I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty before too much damage is done. But if that’s too much to ask, send me a son. I can’t explain to you why I wanted a daughter’s hand to hold those years ago. I know a boy can know beauty and learn gentleness and the languages of the heart just as well. But I knew four years ago if I were only to walk with one child through these windblown Ohio fields of tall grass and Queen Anne’s Lace and point one child’s face to the constellations, I wanted a daughter. And now that I have one, I want no other. You’ve asked for a sibling, and your mother is ready, and yet I find my heart is fixed. It may change. It has changed before.
It is a certain fact I will harm you, Yosi; I will fail you. As a grown woman you will bear scars with my name on them, times when love had claws and was other than love. I am sorry. I am insecure; I am selfish; I am foolish. I am sorry. Know that I will never mean to hurt you. Know that I would swear off life and liberty to keep you happy. Know that being your father is the most significant and worthwhile task I have ever undertaken.
I have learned much from you already. You’ve reminded me that we never call people dumb or stupid. You’ve taught me that our words matter, that there should be nothing we say carelessly; that trust and understanding are not synonyms; that faith like a child has less to do with belief than it does with wonder, humor, confusion, frustration, delight, curiosity, and joy. Or maybe I just described true belief. I still don’t know.
What I know, Yoselin, is that I love you. Simple, undecorated, and obvious, but it’s the best I can offer you.
Three years ago this morning you sat on my lap and I fed my first baby as my heart trembled and I thought I would be sick. I was terrified of the freedom I was exchanging for you. I had just traded my life for fifteen pounds of the Kingdom of God that couldn’t feed itself without me. Your mother flitted about the room at home in her domesticity, and I sat and said nothing as my heart quaked. I watched you, your fingers trying to take the spoon away, peaches smeared on your lip, and your brackish eyes found mine and I knew I would never again say my own name without referencing yours. Our hearts were tethered, and the stretch would leave me wounded some day. And I decided it was worth it. We choose love at the start, and I chose it then.
Te amo, Beanie. Or, as you used to say, I love you so much and so much and so much.
Linking with Emily today.