We were driving (again) somewhere (where?), and I was too young to ask. But we stopped by the side of the road, pulling on to the gravel on the berm. My father had us get out, my sister and me, and asked us to pull at the milkweed pods that were opening in the heat of the early autumn. I remember just barely (or do I imagine it?) the dry weeds and sticks at my ankles, the whirring crickets and cicadas that sang in the grass.
Later we saw the pictures he took, the pictures he saw in his mind’s eye as he pulled off to the side of the road: young girls in the long yellow autumn light, sun on their hair and their faces in shadow, milkweed glowing incandescent in their small hands.
One morning we woke to a world lost in new snow. It was deep and heavy, and it lined the trees and the ground and the road. School was cancelled, but he tried to get to work anyway, willing the car on the two routes available– both of them roads that climbed up out of the valley where our house was. He tried for a long time: first one way and then the other, but it was no use. The snow was too thick. The roads were impassable.
He came home. He changed his clothes. And then he took us sledding– all three of us– down those impassable roads. We hiked up and then sledded down I don’t know how many times, and no cars ever came and no snow plow. Just the four of us: our laughter, our squeals, the silence of the sled and all the world in white.
I hunched over my homework at the kitchen table, drenched in a pool of frustration. He was the one to go to for math help, and he was the one at my side, asking me questions and not giving me answers. I couldn’t answer his questions, and I couldn’t see the numbers through the tears. The frustration leaked off the page of my math book and ran toward my father: why wouldn’t he just tell me? Why did he have to ask?
Pause. Sniff. The questions came again, quietly. For a merciful second, my vision cleared and the numbers stood up straight, ordering themselves. I could suddenly (who knows how?) see it: it was so obvious, so easy, so logical. The humidity evaporated and in no time at all, I was dropping my math book into my bag. He had long since returned to reading in the living room.
They picked us up at the airport, the almost three of us: me and baby William- not yet two- and this little one on his way, four months (give or take) in the womb. We had flown to them from Raleigh to England, and I was tired to the bone.
He had me sit in the passenger seat, with my mother and little William behind. A beautiful day in England’s midlands: all green and trees, narrow roads and hedgerows. I reclined the seat, my whole self heavy with exhaustion. But, “Look!” he said to me, “Look!” “See,” he said, “how beautiful it is!”
“I know how we know He is real,” he says to me. It is late. The children are tucked in and the light, once again, is fading. He is talking to me, but he is seeing something different, something he has seen before, something I have watched him see: that hope he has, the one he has passed on to me. “It’s in first Peter,” he says. “First Peter one eight and nine.”
Later I look it up: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an expressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
We were coming back from a visit to the neighbor’s house, there where we spent the summers on Long Island’s east end. The light was dissolving behind the trees, and the leaves were whispering about us or something glorious as the five of us made our way home. The road was familiar but disappearing nonetheless, and he was talking about time and how it works or might work. He posited that, were we to try hard enough, we might be able to memorize this walk, this time, when it was the five of us walking home on this summer evening. He asked us all if we would try, sometime in the future, to get back to this time. If it could be done, he said, then we must all agree to try it, so that sometime we would all be there together– just then– like that.
Who is to say that it would never work?
I’ve tried it before, and not for the last time.