I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.
When you were a baby, barely one year old, your daddy tickled your tummy and he pinched and kissed your cheeks. Your mother sat beside you, opening your presents, smiling at relatives while you struggled to worm out of your high chair. Your sister ran around with curls bouncing like her head was a trampoline. You had that same face--the frustrated squint in your eye, the rosy agitation in your fat cheeks. Your roll-dimpled arms stretched out towards him while he teased you. The baby reached, her blue eyes focused, her pink, drooly little lips taut with concentration. So deliberate, so intense, even then--so serious, that tiny child in the pointy yellow party hat.
When you were a little girl, your hair was a brown waterfall down your back, and sunshine ringlets curled like mist at the ends. There were still cheeks like cherries, but now you had a precious smile with a gap, a cartwheeling little-girl body. You were quiet: in front of the camera you ate your apple, danced gleefully, silently in your witch costume, the devilish twinkle bright in the wide eyes of that cherub face. Your sister, who came out of the womb grinning, spoke for you, translated your language to the grown-ups. When they sang happy birthday you hid behind your chubby fingers; wandered away to do your own thing while cousins leaned in to blow out the candles. You were the picture of happy, of healthy, of pretty. Your mother still carried you everywhere on her hip.
Twelve years later you are standing in the doorway to your grandmother's living room, bare brown feet comfy on the white carpet, little mop-dog panting at your heels. You shift your weight to one foot so your hip curves out beneath your jeans. You've got those long tousled curls tossed up in a high ponytail; that modest gray sweatshirt pulled over your soft girlish body. The cheeks have adopted the womanly heart shape; there are piercings in your ears and perfume on your neck. Your ribbon-lips are pursed in that expression of silent contemplation, the observations of the years shipwrecked deep beneath the surface of those ocean eyes.
Some things never change.
I like it, you know--I like coming to your grandmother's house, just studying her face while she talks, and how her eyes and nose are yours. I like her mashed potatoes, her cabbage, her beef tips you refuse to eat and her banana pudding for dessert. I like how she talks for hours about your father's boyhood escapades: how he and his little friend climbed the water tower to the tippy top just to write their names on it; how he made a living in the first grade selling candy to the neighborhood kids; how he kept preying mantises and birds up in his crazy, nasty bedroom. Prettiest little boy you ever saw--she could write a book about him, she says. And while she talks and talks, I love your grandad sitting quiet--moving slow as a turtle, with his sweet face and congenial smile. He seems so old-fashioned next to her while she rattles on about Paris Hilton selling her poor little dog.
I like the pictures that tell the stories, your stories--all over the walls, the dressers, the tabletops. Pictures of you and your sister in white dresses as little girls; at the beach and at church and in this very house that must have always smelled like grandparents. I like watching, in the home movies, your mother's weight go up and down, her hair go through phases. I like to watch her move and hear her laugh--sweeter than your grandma's tea, I swear: your mother is pretty in a way that never ages, her laugh is precious in a way that just never gets old. You look a lot like her: in the mouth, the Irish chin with the dimple. She's got your quietness, your tolerance. And I love to see your father young: how handsome he was swinging babies around in his arms, blowing raspberries on your tummies. He wore short-shorts then, as 80s fashion dictated; his legs were hairy, his skin was tan. He was at his strongest; maybe his happiest. It makes me wonder why people change--how things change.
When did things change? Were the moments in the home movies split seconds of technicolor in your dark childhood world? Did I only see the good parts, or was there a fine line between the good and the bad days, the happy ones lost to memory and the stormy ones that still plague your nightmares? No one mentions the little tragedies in the innocent hearts; the real reason he wasn't there for kindergarten graduation. The smiles, the gurgling babies, the wrinkled old ladies and Thanksgiving dinners: just the backdrop before which the performance of your life took place. But beyond all this--what? What behind all these mini-versions of the people I now know: what's going on in their heads at that Christmas party, that moment your sister opens her newborn eyes, that day you're sick on the couch? No one knows the secrets that make people who they are. You knew, though; it was all there, in the look in your eyes: the omnisicence, the childlike discernment between good and evil. You knew everything, and it was real to you as the walls of that three-bedroom house where you played and where you often hid in terror.
What the videos teach me, though, is that something else was real, too, and that was love. It's in your daddy's warm voice when he calls you "bugga." It's in your grandmother's arms when she hugs me goodbye. Love is in dysfunctionality, in happiness, in every moment of everything that made you who you are.
I like watching the stars on the way home from the backseat of your sister's car, with Alanis Morissette on the stereo, the night as cold and dark as Titanic water. You and your sister reminisce on moments I was not present for as I sit in silence, pondering these things. After a moment, though, you turn back to me, smiling, to touch my hand. My heart beats a little faster and strangely enough I don't see you there anymore, my sixteen-year-old best friend, whom I met on a church choir trip a few years ago. Instead I see the little girl with big eyes from the house on Island Road: I have known her since her infancy. It's her; I know it is--look, her smile hasn't changed one bit, except for the addition of braces! And she's got that same look, the one that knows something I don't!
That little girl, I suppose, will always know something I don't, and this is what I love. Discovering her, the bottomless pit of mysteries. Tell me about your childhood. A glimpse of your life before I stepped into it; snapshots, pieces of the jigsaw that maybe one day I'll put all together and finally figure you out.
I hold the little girl's hand, and look at you: the single most naturally beautiful thing I have ever met. I watch the home movie and adore this little heart that transcends time; steps smiling, silent through the screen between us and reveals to me magnificent secrets I will never need to understand.