She tells me this many times.
That weighs heavily.
I know that it is partly not true. I don’t come separate from all of the rest—Little Man, family life, extended friends and family—and I know that this, too, is something that she wants. She says she has the coolest uncle and the sweetest aunt and the cutest cousin. She says she has never had a grandfather, and asks to see her American grandparents quite often. She tells stories of family life like she has lived here forever. She just doesn’t know what that means. She only knows that how it has shaped me is something that she needs, too.
But there is also a responsibility there. I don’t want to fail her, to disappoint her. I am only a person. I am deeply flawed. I feel unlovable a lot of the time. I don’t say it right; I don’t do it right. I am all awkward and pointy and I fall and fail and flail and, and, and… oh my. It is hard at times for me to understand how anyone can look past my missteps to see my heart.
And yet here she is. She says that she has been told she has a brain that doesn’t stop. She reads a book in a day. She doesn’t accept the face value of a person. She speaks with wisdom she doesn’t even know she possesses. She uses sarcasm to cover a well of emotion.
I know this girl. I connect with this soul.
I say maybe she wasn’t born in my body, but I think that somehow a little bit of my heart was born into her heart and we were just waiting all our lives to be together. And she says that this is true.
One day after a misunderstanding, I sit on her floor and listen to her tell me her grievances. And she says that if I was anyone else, she wouldn’t be speaking to me. She would have walked away and not looked back. Relationships are destined to be broken. She counts out the pain of that on her fingers, each one a name teaching her that love doesn’t last.
And she looks at me. “But to you, I still speak. I think it is because I have to. I cannot stop speaking with you.”
And I say it is because we are family. We are forever. And I will use the rest of our forever to prove it to her.
She tells me that her grandmother says that a friend is wonderful, but you also need a mother to whisper out the most secret of secret things. A mother is the one who listens and the person who truly understands.
And she stops and looks at me. “I don’t think I need a mother. I am too big for this. I had a mother, and now she is not here. But I think my grandmother is right. You are not my mother. Never my mother. But I tell you first. All things. You understand me. You are….ummmm……”
No one outgrows their need for mother-friend. And so here we are. Undefined and intimately known.
A few days later, I ask her if there is a name she wants to give me. A special word—maybe Russian??—that maybe means what it is that we are?
“What?? You no like your name?” she asks me sarcastically. “You no understand to what I speak when I say this name? You confused? You forget your name sometimes?”
And I laugh and say no, but many people use my name. And she is not anyone.
“I don’t say your name the same as everyone. You know the things behind. You know with what I say this name. I know also.” A shrug. It is decided.
I am mother-friend. Mother-not-mother. Unspoken and known.
Later, she tells me her mother’s name. There is power in speaking it. There is identification of personhood, as daughter-of. There is affection, and pride, and deep sadness, and hurt all wrapped up in that name. Only this woman can claim ownership to the name of mother and all the things that accompany it.
Oh, the beauty of this gift laid at my feet. The surrender. I want to weep, to hold this girl forever.
Instead, I quietly said, “I think….I think I would have very liked your mother before.”
“I also think so,” she whispered.
And we silently welcome this woman into our circle. Words start to spill out and she tells me of other things, and of life in all its joy and terror.
I know my name. My name is Companion. My name is Listener. My name is Empathy. My name is Needed. My name is Undefinable.
My name is unspoken because that is often the way we hold the things that matter.