Thursday, January 24, 2013


Today I poured the cereal, packed the plastic drill for show-and-tell, wrote the query letter, practiced the spelling words, roasted the cauliflower and watched gymnastics practice with a red paper bracelet wrapped tight around my wrist.

It's the kind of paper bracelet that won't fall apart if you wear it in the shower. It crossed my mind to cut it off before I hopped in. But I chanced it, it survived and now I don't know when I'll take it off. I want to hold on.

They handed one to each of us yesterday afternoon then sent us through the security gates and into the heart of the jail. For months I've sat in the waiting room with the rows of chairs bolted to the floor and the video-phone booths. But I stepped across that threshold, walked alone with Cory down a long stretch of institutional gray, everything a hard edge, everything an assault on life and joy. A knob of heartbreak lodged low in my throat, and I kept on walking.

Yesterday was my sister's birthday. It was also Robert's 19th birthday. Through the best-ever turn of events, we were granted a face-to-face visit with him, so we scooped it up and ran. 30 minutes to sit in the same space with him, study his face, hug his neck.

We walked into a small room, they locked the door behind us, and we walk back out four hours later.

I loved this boy from the first time I met him, on his 17th birthday, wearing short sleeves in the snow.
I loved him more when he sat on the other side of our dinner table and passed the mac & cheese.
I loved him when I took him to the dentist for a check up. 
I loved him when he disappeared for 7 months and I worried about him every single day.
I loved him when he came back without an explanation. (I loved him when I realized I didn't need one.)
I loved him when I drove him to his boys the day they were born.

I loved him.
I love him.

But I knew I was in trouble when I locked eyes with him a courtroom. I knew there was no going back when I had all the facts and none of them mattered.

With every letter, every call, every minute spent looking at him through the janky jail video phone, that love went deeper. With every unexpected tear I sobbed for him, the happy ones and the sad ones, the anchor sank.

So we said all the things we needed to say, and we said them with nothing in between us. We said some hard things, lots of honest things. We talked about ashes and beauty. We told him the truth about our love, and though it hadn't been a secret, we all felt the crisp edge of brand-newness ricochet off the walls of that little gray room.

He gave us some things in return, things that stay sacred. His love rained down on us in the form of trust, trust as raw and infant and beautiful as the trust of our other three kids when they knew that they were ours and decided it was good.

They brought him a dinner tray, let him out for a bathroom break, and every time, every single time, the officer looked at him like he was special because he is.

He showed us his biceps, his tattoos. He leaned in when it was important to listen, his dark eyes steady as the walls around us. He entertained us, impressed us, cracked us flat up.

We made our promises and he made his.
He hugged us so hard. (no tazers!)

I will never make sense of the brutal life he was handed. I'll never lose faith in the God that preserves a boy's joy and spirit in spite of all of it.

I don't know what I've done to deserve my perfect-for-me children. I'll never understand the way God can gather a family from the far-flung corners and wedge us so tightly together that it physically hurts when one of us is missing.

The future looms blurry and uncertain, but in the precious gift of four bright hours, everything that almost existed snapped into focus and found its home.

In those hours, in that dreary cinder-block room, our child was born.