In the damp Sunday mornings when the neighbors are asleep, I sit on the deck + watch children race by in rubber flip flops and cotton shorts and make a list of all the things I want for you.
It is the kind of list you make when you love someone before they exist.
It is the kind of list you make when you spend half your life holding your breath for fear she might someday know heartbreak so real it quiets her sun and blankets her smile.
It is the kind of list you stumble over in wedding vows.
It’s in those moments, where you are sleeping soundly in some other part of the country, that I find myself happy.
That is the hardest part of living in a house you’re not ready to call home. It is not the loneliness of dinner for one or breakfast on the ash-covered fold-up chair. It is not crossword puzzles on Friday nights or bathrooms that don’t clean themselves.
It is the fear of all the things you can’t know. It is holding everyone and everything you’ve ever loved in a chain around your neck and begging it not to strain you, beginning to trust that not all bad things happen while you are somewhere else.
It is the honesty of a life well lived without you.
It is the happening of all the things on the list you make on a damp Sunday morning, and the knowing that none of those things ever happened because you dreamed them between spoonfuls of Golden Grahams but because the person they were dreamed for wanted them too.
The person they were dreamed for wanted them, too.
For days, I’ve been failing to find the right words to say something simple: it hurts when everyone you’ve ever loved is somewhere you can’t picture them and you don’t know if they’re where you expect them to be in that moment, that year.
You have whole lives picked out for them, lining them up in crisp rows like ruby red pumps and dirty green Chucks. You want them to know the heat of the driveway beneath their feet. You want them to smell the salt from the ocean and the sweat from their labor. You want them to taste homemade applesauce with a dash of cinnamon.
But you don’t know if they’ll get that. And you cannot swerve their car into the right lane with just enough time to exit this next dangerous path. You have to let them miss the turn or catapult into a gridlock. You have to let them mess up, knowing it won’t be a mistake because they’ll land somewhere altogether unexpected.
You won’t have seen it coming.
You won’t have approved it on your checklist for their future moments. Squashed between graduating college and getting married, they’ll move halfway across the world to a town you’ve never seen, so it’ll become impossible to imagine their back hunched over the kitchen sink, head ducked in concentration when they scrub that same saucepan you always used for grilled cheese.
You won’t know whether they like it there, whether they’re standing in their bathtub wishing the walls weren’t so grimy because they just want to fall against them and sob for a tomorrow that resembles yesterday.
You’ll want to ask if they’re OK, if they get by, if the rent is too high or their eyes are too tired, but you won’t because you have to let them fly.
They’ll tell you, you know.
They’ll tell you if it gets too bad.
You whisper that mantra in the moments when you fear the worst, when you stop with your cup of tea halfway to your parted lips and eke out an “oh” so hollow it reflects the newspaper clipping telling of a girl who didn’t know when to say she wasn’t OK.
You’ll hope you always taught her it was OK to say she wasn’t OK, that you would much rather spend your last dime on a plane ticket for a weekend working things out than a little black dress and a pair of black pumps and a black umbrella and a dozen red roses that always did make her eyes brighter in the rain.
You’ll have to let her fly. You know she’s got to fly.