holding

The man sitting upright in bed across the way turns out to be not a man, but a gray hard hat on a high table and there are lessons there about seeing and about the narratives we tell ourselves, but those are perhaps for another time.

On the morning before I leave for my travels, I wake – my own bolt upright moment in bed – with this: I have difficulty holding, being held. I do not get up right away, so turn the phrase over several times in my mind as I lie there. As I watch M. sleep for a few moments, as I check the time (6:00 am exactly).

I rise, walk down the hallway to the bathroom, where the light has burned all night.

A few years ago, my son’s preschool held an orientation meeting for the parents of new students. We sat in small chairs around a long table as the school’s director went through the expected list of agenda items: the school’s philosophy and expectations, the opportunities for parents to engage themselves and so forth. One of the items concerned strategies for easing the transition to the new school.

“Drive to the school a few days before. Park the car, walk up to the door with your child,” was one suggestion. “Talking about the school is so abstract to your child,” he said. “You’re thinking, will he make new friends and will he be able to open his juice box, but your child is thinking: ‘Will there be a floor there?’”

We laughed, but this has stayed with me. The young child’s ability to understand a new situation. What the child can and cannot hold in mind, in memory.

My son was nearly three at the time. A few months older than I would have been when I made the trip from Gimpo to Laguardia on a cold night in March. I was met by a woman, a man who with their few phrases of Korean said: “I am your mother, I am your father.” I wonder what I could possibly have made of that at the time.

I drive to the airport in intermittent rain. Skies smeared gray and white. The trip unremarkable except to say that this is the first time in years I have traveled so far on my own. I sit at the gate, waiting. A woman in a purple sweatshirt takes a small ball of purple yarn from her purse and begins knitting. I am aware that I don’t know what to do with my hands.

What draws one person to another? What electricity? What softening of the heart? We do not choose who we love, a man once told me but I wonder by what mechanism we find each other, the people who dislodge that has laid dormant in us, familiar but forgotten. I will ask this of M. one night in our bed and he will say: “Something about being with you felt like coming home.”

When I land it is late. The night is warm, a light breeze. Blue-black sky. The cab driver is silent as we hurtle through the night, past parking lots, past low buildings, their lights still burning, past trees and trees and trees.