Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Hug a Girl

The first time I grabbed Robert and hugged him we were in our old kitchen and it felt super awkward. He clearly didn't know how to react and I wasn't even sure why I did it, except that I was mysteriously starting to love him like one of my own, and that's just how we roll. We hug our kids.

Not long after, I told him I loved him and he got a little twitchy. "Thanks but I never say that to anyone. Ever." Fine by me. But it wouldn't be the last time I said it or the last time he just smiled in return.

A couple years later, we talk through the staticky jail video phone. Sometimes we all look gray. Sometimes green. Sometimes we can't see anything at all and he defaults to banging the receiver against the cinder-block wall. (Wonder why those phones don't work?)

I search his eyes every time for what's there. Is he okay? Is he in good spirits? Discouraged? Tired? Is he getting enough to eat? Reading his Bible? Keeping his temper in check? Does he miss his boys? His girl? Does he miss us? Give me a smile, Robert. I need to see those teeth. We're right here. We're out here loving you every day, praying for you, every day, thinking about you all the time. We're waiting. Not ever leaving. God's got a plan. Please believe. Please believe. I'm scared for you, too. I'll be back soon. I love you I love you I love you and the screen goes black.

He says it back now, all the time. He writes it in on yellow legal paper alongside kid-drawn hearts and loopy smiley faces.

It took going to hell, but he let us love him and he let himself love us.

I wonder sometimes if we would have ever gotten to this place without all the mess and the heartache and the jail. 

I've never hugged my friend Becky. We've talked, laughed, we've texted 'til our fingers bled. We've argued. We've cried. We've raised our voices at each other.

We haven't hugged once.

When I'm feeling extra brave and the moment is prime, I might squeeze her arm, just below her elbow. Like trust, hugs have to be earned sometimes.

I'm fighting to figure out how to show this girl that I'm staying. I drive and pay and do what I can to shine up her self-image.

Then days like today happen. I get short with her and tell her she's wrong. I condemn her for cussing the lady out. It never helps, Becky. You're burning bridges. I sigh, feeling well within my right.

Hours later I realize that I would have done the same thing if I were her. If what I knew was what she knows, I'd have cussed her out, too.

I say I don't judge, then go ahead and do it anyway, only I don't call it judging. I call it a "reality check" or "the truth". Something smart and middle-class.

Over and over again I realize that while we're essentially the same, our life experiences are very different.  Over and over again I'm faced with the opportunity to see how far I haven't come.

I wave a white flag in 189 characters. I'm sorry.

She doesn't text back. She makes me wait when it gets like this and I can't say I blame her.

This is the shove and drag. This is real life, the fragile roots of tenuous friendship. This is the learning of love; the inching closer to that elusive hug.