Declan, soaking wet, runs through the spouting jets of the fountain. His wild and tender innocence ignites a place inside me grown dry and sere, that he lights with his joy. It burns in my breast, brighter than the firecrackers we lit as kids. I’m so many years away from how it feels to be that alive, racing with joy into each unfolding moment and the next and the next, into the center of my own fire. 

The audience laughs and hoots but not from ridicule. Declan’s spontaneous play has reached inside where their young children still live and all of us are transported back in time. Can my heart hold all the love I feel for him? Will it break from joy and catapult me somewhere more real, more honest, where I say, “yes, this is where I want to be?” I want to be drunk on this love forever. I want to grab the world and bring it inside. I want to believe all of it is fine: the good, the bad, and what seems ugly. Can I go back that far, before I got taught what the world was? Will this beautiful young boy gradually be tamed and the only memory I have will be the video I took of him racing from one jet of spewing water to another in an impromptu dance of life? I want to play like that again—no filters between me and the moment, like a fuse that burns endlessly—no holding on.

When it’s time to go, he’s shivering but doesn’t want to leave. We pull him away. Enough, you are wet and it is dark and it is time to go home. He could run and squeal with delight until he drops. I love this little boy with all the love I was afraid I hadn’t given to my own son. In this way I am healed. In this way some huge shift has already grabbed me and refuses to let go. I am his Grandma GiGi.


Night Ride to Atlanta

May 11, 2012

When my daughter Jenny got ready to go back home to Georgia after she moved, she always left late, over my protests of “stay the night!”

Out in my driveway, she zipped out the windows of her jacked-up Jeep and put the top down. After goodbyes, hugs and kisses, she hoisted herself up into the cockpit of her macho machine, tied her hair in a ponytail, and put on her baseball cap. Laid out on the empty passenger’s seat were a pack of Marlboro Lights, a liter of Diet Coke, her cell phone and CDs ready to be slipped into the waiting slot, so the music could sway and jive her through the night. She’d already been up since morning and a fifteen-hour drive lay ahead. This was how she liked it—living on the edge, with the wild wind streaming her hair out behind her as she drove 90 mph down dark highways, rap blasting out and cigarette after cigarette her companions as she fled back into her own life.

Her Jeep’s huge tires propped her up above every car and I imagined truckers flashing their lights and blowing their horns. You’re one of us, nighttime babe, taking chances and gearing up, shifting down, flying back to the warmth of the South, leaving the memories.

She needed time to get her own rhythms back. The Jeep made it hard to hear the voices; her hair whipped around and slapped her awake. The wind twirled around her slim young body. It pulsed with life and promise.

Untethered from the past, from moorings that had grown too tight and memories that hurt—fifteen hours of forward motion would do it, would clear her head so she could breathe again. By the end of Virginia, the sun already coming up over the lowlands, she flew headlong down into North Carolina, Galax the next town.

I often wondered what that word meant. Sounded like someone had spelled GALAXY wrong, dropped off the Y, so crucial to the question we had no answer to.