“You missed a lot,” Leslie says when I open the door to the apartment and set my bags on the floor so I can scoop Mariel into my arms. I don’t respond to the comment, but it smarts, even if she didn’t intend for it to. She’s only 12 and she’s literal- her statement is one of fact, not one intended to provoke a certain emotion.
We have Skyped at least once a day, waving and blowing kisses to each other across two countries, two cities, two computer screens. But between those sessions, life keeps happening. Synapses keep firing. The world keeps getting explored by hands that are no longer those of a baby, but those of a little girl who is growing quickly.
I give Leslie a present- a bright pink t-shirt I bought for her at the airport gift shop. I tell her to call her mom over, as I have a present for her, too; I missed her birthday, which was the same day I flew out. I have become one of *those* people, the one who can’t find the time to get to the market to buy an “authentic” gift and who, as a consequence, is relegated to spend more money at the last minute on a present at the airport.
There isn’t time for regret or any other bittersweet emotion; the choices we are making in our lives right now were choices we agreed upon together, and we have done all we possibly can to minimize the effects of our sacrifices. Be here now.
Leslie and her mom go home and I lie on the floor with Mariel while Francisco talks with his son, who is in Australia. More distance. More opportunities for regret, if we were willing to let it seep in. Mariel picks up Goodnight Moon and says “Night night, night night,” and I begin to read to her. She holds the book on one side and helps me turn the pages. “Good night mush, good night bears, good night chairs.” The book is odd- more than 60 years old, I think, but I wonder whether it was ever really entirely comprehensible- the blank page, for instance, accompanied by the text, “Good night nobody,” and the garish colors.
It is the first time we have ever read a book cover to cover; before tonight, she has always been impatient, grabbing the book from my hands to flip through the pages at her own leisure. Tonight, she reads along with me and points to objects- the lamp is “light.” The rabbit is “rabbeet.” The bowl of mush is “cookie”–close. Just enough, like everything else.