It's 6:30 and the kitchen is a wreck. The sink's piled high with dishes, all the plates unscraped. The dinner I'd been proud of for a hot second ended with barley still tough on the burner and chicken juice that didn't run clear. We'd nuked it, but it only made it dry, and Ruby hadn't known chicken had blood in it.
But the asparagus! Let's linger there.
We lace our shoes, throw the kids' bikes into the way-back. Ruby grabs her library book, the one that caused so much trouble before dinner. I've never before seen a kid burn with jealousy over a library book, but life is for surprises, and some of them are lame.
Cory's supposed to be an introvert. It shimmers up to the surface at times when he zones out-of-range in small talk conversation. It seems we have different ideas about active listening and rules of engagement. But when it comes to camera gear, he wants all the dirt. The kids scatter ahead of us, pedaling hard, the boys' hair pushed straight up by the wind. We walk and I talk. Half-way around, a couple smiles at the chaplain. Everywhere we go these days, he's recognized. I blame the beard, but then again, I
would. I blame it for a lot of things.
The air hits from a new direction as we round the bend. I pull up my hood, grateful to be anonymous, grateful for the buttermilk clouds and my kids, three specks of electricity throwing rocks into the pond, so far away that I only half-trust they're actually what I'm seeing. I know they're looking out for each other. I know the wild, skinned-shins way of childhood.
"Did you know that song?" Silas asks as we drive away, the handlebars of Calvin's bike shoved right up against Ruby, who doesn't notice a thing with her nose stuck in her book again. (It's still a touchy subject.) Si sings a few bars, but doesn't know the words, and I know he's got the tune right because this kid was made for music. Still, I can't place it. "Sing it again," I ask, and he climbs the octaves as though they're a clean, straight line.
I'm not sure where my seven year old had his ear tuned, if somewhere in Korea there live two songbirds with silky hair and a knack for seeing inside someone's heart. Maybe when he looks long and quiet at the daylight out the window, they're singing in the dark, and he feels it. I don't know. But he remembers important things like Adele. He likes the lady singers, the ones who can sing high and low. His brain processes things in warp speed, jumping tracks without cause, splitting and pitching and landing in a song he heard one time. He's always whistling and humming, singing things back to us without words. Tonight, it's clear. Of course we need to hear it together, right now in the van while the sun is half-set and we're racing the clouds to the other side of town.
The video plays on my phone while she starts low. Have I ever told you about my love for mixed-race couples? It pre-dates my mixed-race family by decades, a fondness I never saw as a promise.
Ruby puts down her book and we fall into the melody while Cory steers our ship.
My eyes well up.
We bump over the tracks, past the jail on the corner with its razor wire. We turn the corner and like eack time before this one, I remember the day I learned this was "gang-house row". I don't know if it's true and I honestly don't care. But I always stare hard. Which houses?
It doesn't matter.
The chorus times evenly with the freight train screaming down the tracks, one just as loud as the other, not competing at all, while the cool wind whips my hair. This is the soundtrack to my entire life, steel-on-steel, horn in my ear, singing along with the ones in the back. I feel every heartbreak I've suffered and dealt. I feel the ones lying in wait for my kids. They know pain now, but they don't yet know the half of it. They don't need to know that they will one day have their hearts ripped out by someone who has loved them. They will wound someone they love. They'll sob. They'll be forced to move on. They will endure the throb of unsaid words, shoulder questions that won't be answered.
But they will keep on moving.
And with any luck, the ones they hurt, the ones who hurt them back, will be the ones who heal them.
It's well past dusk, and the streets are dark. A man runs toward us down the sidewalk. I'm not sure if it's a good run or a trouble run. Then I see them, half a dozen kids the ages of Calvin and Ruby chasing after him with broad smiles, barely lit by the glow of our single headlight.
The arched windows of the gymnasium are lit in gold and everything becomes art. Brick and stone, patchy grass, splitting wood, the bare arms of children after winter's long yawn. The sagging porches whisper defeat, but the lamps lighting them tell a different story and that's the one I want to read to the end.
Hello from the outside.
My eyes still brim and I'm grateful the song is long. My kids are learning the words and I know I'll never be done telling them I'm sorry. Maybe it's the first kiss of spring that's doing me in. Maybe I'll recover. Maybe tomorrow I won't guzzle life like it's my last chance, or I'll spin back to a heart that doesn't feel the low pulse of beauty in what looks to the untrained eye like despair, or regret.
I hope not.
This life is a mosaic of jagged edges made smooth as a whole.
This is our place, and we choose it every day. Tonight, I choose it with my windows down, the house smelling like chicken grease, the mess that waits and the mess I bring. I choose the bedtime squabbles and the phone that keeps ringing past dark. I choose the hard Yes's and the harder No's. Why wouldn't I?