We are walking side by side through a patchwork of sunlight and pine needles. The sun is high and persistent, and the air is humming with a chorus of insects. Mosquitoes mostly. It is dry, no rain in sight, and the scents of baking pine and cedar waft back to us from farther up the trail. You slouch next to me in your usual way, and I resist the urge to tell you to stand up straight, even though I can hear my own mother's voice screaming it in my head. I like you this way—so comfortably yourself, without a care in the world. I like the easy way you laugh and how long your arms feel when you wrap them around me. I like seeing myself in the slump of your shoulders. A girl like you should never be rigid. Straight backs are overrated.
I am griping about your sister again. She's behind us somewhere. Probably still sitting in the car. I can't now recall what set her off this time, only that it is annoying and unreasonable in that way adolescent mood swings often are. It is my right and privilege as a mom to occasionally complain about my children, sometimes one to the other. You, your sister, your brother—you give me so little grief. Sometimes it feels as if I am stretching to my limits to pluck that bit of soured fruit from the farthest branches, to shine it up and show it off in a circle with other mothers. "See how messy he is. How she won't listen. How this one is a picky eater and that one talks back." Behind our grumbles, our hearts are smiling. We delight even in your supposed character flaws. Your imperfections lend texture and meaning and flavor to my life. Secretly, I never want them to change.
So there we are in the Texas pineywoods on a summer afternoon. Or maybe it's spring. In any case, it's hot. And your sister is fuming in the car. And you are commiserating with me about the unnecessariness of it all. Knowing she will catch up ... eventually. Knowing it is our secret rite to have this conversation about her, without her. Knowing that conversations just like this one happen between you and her about me, or between me and her about you. Each one a love letter in code.
How we adore one another. How even the opportunity to complain about one of you is an everlasting joy to me.
The boys are nearby—your father and brother. They are crashing through the woods loud as elephants. Their stride does not match ours, but they hover close, stomping and joking and shouting in our periphery. The nearness of them is a comfort, even if their boisterous energy shatters the peace of the forest. We have brought sandwiches from a nearby grocery store to eat by the little pond, and a bag of chips to share. I pull memories about this place from the silvery recesses of my mind labeled childhood. I remember being here. Once before. I must have been four or five. I share these stories with you under a low-hanging limb. I give them to you and your brother and sister like birthday presents. The little girl inside me comes alive with remembering. You are her three favorite playmates. She has waited a lifetime for this afternoon to come again. She has waited a lifetime to play with you.
I can't stop thinking about this day now, how it sings with ordinariness. How it sits, wedge-shaped, in the mind like a slice of perfection. The sun. The trees. Your slouch. Her anger. The boys. The pond. The child in my heart. All gems in the treasure chest of the life we shared. Even the way I took it for granted—your aliveness, your presence—is a pearl nestled in the folds of my bruised and broken heart. How do I get back there? How do we get back there?
At the time, it was just a day. One of a thousand ordinary days that came and went, that I full well believed would continue coming and going without incident. Now, it is my version of heaven, the hope of my afterlife—that I can spend eternity reliving this day over and over again, with you, with each of you.
Around me, a million people are living days just like this one. I watch them shuffle by, faces set on faraway worries—the luxury of caring about minutia because all that you really need and desire is already close at hand. They have no idea. They have no idea. Should I tell them? No, I think not. How could they ever believe me? What would I say anyway? Hold on. If you blink a nanosecond too long, you will miss this and the liquid gold that it holds. If you look away, it will be gone. They may be gone. They are doing nothing wrong. They are exactly as they should be.
If you can find a way, and I can find a way, meet me inside the pines and the pond and the love someday when my body fails. I will tell you the stories of that place under a low-hanging limb. We will wait together there for your sister to join us by the water, for the boys to come crashing through the boughs. We will wait together there, my love, forever.