in the end, we do not choose love: love chooses us

Last night, M. plays a show in Boston while I stay home, nurse my anxieties.

We eat together, quietly, the kids and me. I roast the last of our beets.

There is homework to be done and W. and I do it, kneeling at the coffee table. He lets me play music from my laptop while we work.

My friend sends photos of M., of what I am missing, to my phone. “The lighting is so good,” she says.

Here at home, I leave the lights on – the front porch, the entry hallway, the one over the sink in the kitchen, so that when he comes in – late, so late – he can find his way. I stay up as long as I can, waiting, but these days, that is not very long at all.

In the days after hearing news of death, is it not as though death walks with us then, like shadows? Everything impermanent, fleeting. I reach out to hold on to everything I know, love – an instinctive old fear. I send notes to people I have not seen in some time. I make phone calls. And lists of more calls to make. My actions are transparent, I am sure, but it calms me to perform these small tasks.

I come to the adoptee literature late. As my first marriage is ending. A particular cruelty: we are in stunning Napa Valley, my soon-to-be-ex-husband and me, for a family wedding and while the relatives tour vineyards, sipping pinot noir, I am holed up in our suite with a stack of paperback books. The titles embarrass me, the rawness of them unseemly: Journey of the Adopted Self; Coming Home to Self; An Orphan’s Quest; Motherless Daughters.

I keep the shutters closed tight against the breathtaking views so I can throw myself across the wide bed and weep without shame. It is unthinkable, it seems, to grieve so in the face of such beauty.

“Separation of any kind can feel life-threatening,” I read. And so it does, really – then. And also later, in the early days with M.

After days spent together, his leaving would make me desperate. I’d find myself, kneeling on the kitchen floor, my head in my hands – panicked, heart racing, as the door closed behind him.

“This is not a way,” we’d both agree in the morning, after I’d begged him to return, “to start a life together.”

But in the end, we do not choose love: Love chooses us. And so he returned, day after day, and we learned to carry the old fears, share the weight of them between us. And there are days now – many days – when they are barely visible.

At the wedding, my daughter throws rose petals from a basket as the bride and groom walk behind her, their feet barely touching ground.

She is the age that I was when I arrived here from Korea.

I wake in the night and M. is still not back. I hear the rain and think about him driving the van on the slick highway in the pitch dark. Finally, the door creaks open and I pull the pillow close, settle in. I can hear him moving around downstairs – the recognizable, reassuring sounds.

He comes upstairs, finally and sits beside me, lays his hand on my cheek. He tucks my hair behind my ear. This gesture – small, familiar, done a hundred times before – now, in the dark night, after a day of longing, is an unimaginable relief. I drift off like that and in the morning, before I slip out of bed, I lean in close to hear him breathing.

I put my hand on his chest to feel the warmth of it. I bring my head down, my ear to his heart. The whole spinning world in this moment is just this: the nearness of our bodies, the heat of his skin, the breath in his chest – rising, falling, and rising again.