“Eden, where the hell are you?” my mom called from somewhere downstairs.
I couldn’t tell exactly what side of the house her voice drifted up from as we had only been here a week, and this was by far the biggest house we had ever lived in.
When we arrived last week, I had stood in the doorway taking it all in as a theater goer’s first glimpse of the stage at the moment the red, velvet curtains are lifted. Eyes fixed on the curtain’s hemline as it inches up, ever closer to revealing the mysteries behind it I faced the front door with the same anxious feeling. My body leaned forward slightly as my feet remained planted, an inner battle of curiosity and trepidation. There was much history in this house, but unlike the history books in school that teachers claimed were of utmost importance to learn, this history was different. It was my history, and part of me feared learning it.
“I’m upstairs. I’ll be right down.”
I had been wandering around the house since I woke up this morning. The house intrigued me, not just because it was my grandmother’s house. This was the house my mother grew up in and as long as I had spent trying to understand my mother, I still fell short. I always fell short. This was the first time my mother had brought me to this house. She had moved away when she was nineteen, and as far as I knew had never come back.
My grandmother had never been a part of my life. We didn’t get together for holidays or special occasions. Through the years, I had received birthday cards with a little money always tucked inside and a handwritten message underneath the standard Hallmark message.
“No matter what direction you choose in life, the truth will always present itself. Know that I am proud of you.”
I never understood what she was proud of since she wasn’t around to see how I did in school, and I certainly wasn’t involved in any sports or extracurricular activities. As for direction, I had none. I guess now that she’s gone, I’ll never know what she meant by any of it.
The birthday cards always arrived late, but it didn’t stop me from checking the mailbox every day. I imagine it was hard for her to keep up with our many moves, so the cards stopped coming a couple of years ago.
I had a vague memory of briefly meeting my grandmother once. It was a cloudy day and the wind seemed to be exceptionally strong that morning, which is why I was surprised when my mother asked me to get dressed and find my purple windbreaker with the rainbow stripes down the sleeves. She said we were going to the park. That in itself was surprising. My mother had never been the kind to take me to the park and sit around the playground like the other women who sat on a nearby bench watching their little girls and forging an emotional connection of their own. Two little girls bonding over mud pies and the mothering of whatever doll or stuffed animal was chosen for that day’s outing. Two little girls forging a sisterly bond that would carry them through whatever playground perils were to be faced that day.
Funny thing is, it’s not much different for the two grown women keeping watch over them from a few feet away. Human nature is amazing in its basal need to connect with others. It seems especially true for mothers needing reassurance that they aren’t alone in their doubts, their fears, and their shortcomings. My mother was never one of those women. Maybe she just didn’t need to be reminded of such things…or maybe she was too afraid of being judged.
That day as we made our way to the park, our progress impeded by the force of the wind, every step took effort. As I looked up at my mother it seemed she struggled as well, but hers seemed more of an inner struggle. I wanted to ask why she had chosen this particular day to take me to the park, but like all my many questions, I didn’t allow myself to breathe life into this one. It was safer that way.
We arrived at the park and my mother told me to go play as she sat on the bench, looking around expectantly. We were the only ones there and given the weather I imagined it would remain as such. I headed over to a swing and settled in, leaned my head back, closed my eyes and began the back and forth motion that would eventually propel me higher and higher. I was afraid of heights, and with the wind behind me that day it seemed like I was going exceptionally high. The higher I went the more fearful I became, but with it also came a sense of freedom. I had a tight grip on the sturdy metal chain that held the swing, but in my mind I was reaching for the sky. And, in that moment, head back, eyes closed, wind all around me, I felt like nothing was beyond my reach.
I heard my mom call me, and slowly opened one eye to see a woman standing with her, both slightly turned in my direction and silently watching me. I slowed the swing to a stop and ran over to them still feeling a bit of a rush from my feat.
“Did you see how high I went?”
“Eden, this is your grandmother. She has to be running along, but wanted to say hello to you.”
I couldn’t catch my breath not sure if it was a result of my jog over or the words I thought I just heard.
“You’re the one who sends the birthday cards?”
The woman sat on the bench and reached her hand out to me. I looked at my mother and for a split second I thought I saw a tear in her eye, but she blinked and I wasn’t sure anymore. She looked at my grandmother, her eyes traveling down her outstretched arm to her hand, looked at me, then turned and walked off.
I took a step as my body involuntarily considered following her, but as I looked at the hand that beckoned me and the unspoken promise it held, I took a step back and put my hand in hers. She pulled me to her and put her soft arms around me. I sunk into them, surprised at how natural it felt to lay my head on her chest. We never spoke. No words were necessary.
After a bit, I could sense my mother standing to the side, and I knew we would be leaving soon. I also knew the woman whose arms held me wouldn’t be coming with us. And, just as that realization hit I felt her arms slowly lift and the warmth they provided lift with them.
My mother and I walked home in silence, both lost in our own thoughts. I replayed that park scene over and over that day and for years to come. I had wanted the wind to stop blowing, the leaves to stop rustling, the world to stop spinning and time to stand still. I was lost and found in that one hug, a thing people give away so freely as a greeting, a farewell, an apology, an expression of love. I had seen it often when kids were dropped off or picked up from school. I had witnessed it in the playground when a teacher comforted a child after a scrape. They were so often depicted in the books under my bed, always part of the story.
Sometimes, a story all their own.
That day, that hug was part of my story and I had wanted nothing more than to remain suspended in it, never reaching The End.