Mama and I practically started our relationship by saying goodbye. The image of her standing on the train station platform in Rabat, tears streaming down her cheeks, as my train pulled out and took me away is indelibly seared in my mind. The way she turned her face up to the sky and stood on the sides of her feet, her hands hanging straight down at her sides like anchor chains.
Since then, with our families on opposite coasts and her work taking her overseas, I long ago lost count of the times we’ve bid each other farewell, choosing instead to focus on the joyful reunions that follow. And I’ve tried to guide 3B toward that as well–how happy we’ll be to see each other again, what game will we play when we’re reunited?, who will he see while I’m gone?
He is, of course, far too smart for that.
I can’t say that I’m nearly as smart as he, but in the inevitable constant shuffling of bodies through life, like stones in a riverbed, a place has worn smooth in my psyche where all the goodbyes have passed by: those I said when going to school, then off to college, then back home from college, then off to work, then out of Morocco, then away from my child for the first time, and then away from my dog for the last time, and then away from my next child for the first time.
They are not any easier to walk through, but by now I know where to put my feet, when to shake hands, how long to hug, what to say and when to turn around one last time to look. Sometimes I just have to go through the motions to get through it.
And sometimes someone adds something new that threatens the balance of the whole dance. At the other end of my journey from Morocco through Gibraltar to London and then home was Mom. She was waiting, as ever, at the airport, with her car keys in one hand, the other hand in her pocket and a smile from ear to ear. As I got closer, however, I saw tears well suddenly in her eyes. A look of surprise and perhaps embarrassment crossed her face and then, in a blink, those tears were gone.
Perhaps I think to highly of myself. OK, I almost certainly think to highly of myself, but a feeling flashed across my heart: She’s glad to see me alive again. She’s glad that I made it home.
In that moment, I held a tiny sliver of the love I would later feel for my children in my heart, although it was fleeting, like one brilliant white slice of light reflecting off the perfect diamond of love I hold now. And I started to cry too, but then, in a blink, that was gone.
But I had realized how glad I was to see Mom, to embrace her, to tell her my stories, to have her cut me off to tell me the latest local news and to be reunited as if I had just come home from a day at school.
Today, I don’t know what it was, but I finally started to understand how perhaps Mom felt when she put me on that flight out to London months before I returned.
This isn’t the first time that Mama and 3B–and now Mama, 3B and Jewel–have gone ahead of me on a vacation due to my lack of leave or scheduling conflicts. In the past, I’d take them to the airport, come home and work for a week, then pack up Barky and myself and drive to meet them at the farm. We’ve usually done this for the 4th of July and Christmas weeks, and this year is no different.
Except that it’s all different.
I’ve gotten over losing Barky, but I’ll never forget him. At times like this, I keep thinking of him, and then remembering that I don’t need to remember to bring his bed, his leash, his collar and his food. I remember again that there won’t be anybody in the backseat to talk to–even if he was always sleeping anyway.
And this time, perhaps because of their age, or because I’m more tired than I’ve been in years, or because of the way the rain was slanting across the runways and the naked skeletons of trees were standing starkly silhouetted against the slate sky at the horizon–this time was different.
I was aware of the rougher, slightly tangled texture of 3B’s beautiful red hair as I kissed his head while he, for the first time at an airport, hugged me again and again and showered me with kisses. He told me that he’d miss me and that he loved me and blew me kisses.
I was aware of the silky, fine blond hair that veiled Jewel’s eyes with a golden glow, and of her cheeks, porcelain doll smooth yet as soft as a pillow and as warm as a kiss. She looked back around the edge of the stroller as they entered the jetway–Mama, Jewel and 3B–and as 3B looked back one last time and blew one final kiss to me.
I was aware of the warmth of Mama’s kiss on my lips as they all disappeared around the corner.
This scene plays out many mornings as I leave for work, although not at such a frenzied pace and all the surrounding hubbub of an airport that seemed at once to be overwhelming and nonexistent while I was so intently focused on my family. But something was different. Tangibly different.
And no matter how well rehearsed life has made me for this moment, I was wholly unprepared. I knew the steps, but I couldn’t move my feet. I stood rooted to the spot and stared after them long after they were gone, long after it was time for one final look.
I realized that I had not talked with 3B about how happy we would be to see each other, nor had he said it to me as he will sometimes echo back at just the right time our words of comfort to him. Something was different. We couldn’t talk about what was to come. We were too consumed, mesmerized and yet untouched by the luminescence of the moment we were in, as if wicks in candles, transfixed by the flames.