(Right now it feels as if each moment contains a secondary pause in which to second-guess or simply take note.)
I watched as Ben reached out and very tenderly pressed his hand to Lochlan's head. Ben's abrupt peacefulness makes him patient and loving and sweet. His eyes linger over me, over Loch and he bends down and kisses my forehead slowly and then for good measure he kisses the top of Lochlan's head too. Slow days give them a chance to find their places on the same page, it gives Ben a chance to practice his tenderness, it gives him time to show us who he is instead of who we think he is. The picture we hold in our hands is not the same as the one in our heads. He is generous, open, and loves to be silly, his wounded brown eyes softened by his oversized goofy grins.
Lochlan sheds his false outsider confidence, opening up once he feels safe enough to do so. I watch as he smiles softly towards Ben's touch before dropping his eyes to me. He has settled back into his leadership role within our collective, common sense and comfort coming first, a well-oiled machine of a man who allows for whimsy and honest effort equally, simultaneously. He has an enormous capacity for navigating this unconventional life, expending as much affection to Ben as he has to me in the past while. His arms keep this together. His endless, flexible embrace draws in and out with the moon, a tide on which we float, the compass by which this house finds its bearings.
I watched the unequivocal joy in Sam's eyes as he pressed his hand on my shoulder, praying spontaneously for me in the sanctuary as I brought him the cookies he adores but won't request. I told him I already received the best gift anyone could ask for. My children are happy, healthy and both have living fathers. I want for nothing else. Sam's enthusiastic bliss is contagious, bubbling over onto everything and everyone, his mouth perpetually stretched into smiles that remain endless. His mood will carry all of us, I hope, straight through until daylight. Just as soon as he has finished all the cookies.
I see the battle for composed control in Caleb's face as I present to him early, cleaned and brushed and shining, a generous, pretty smile fixed in place. It's my own effort to step out of our endless past and into the present to invite him to spend Christmas day at the house. That he will not be under any microscopes, that all of the boys from the other house will be around and Henry wants Caleb there. I don't want Caleb to be alone, and frankly the only way this whole bucolic, utopian creation is going to fly is if we all work a lot harder to get along than we have. Please come, I whispered and I watched as he tried and failed to keep tears at bay and finally resorted to nodding vigorously before breaking into a a huge shaking grin of pure relief. He puts his arms out and I hesitate just briefly before throwing myself into them. I'll make things easier, he promises my hair. I pull back. Good, I tell him and head back over to remain on my side of the new line, drawn in the rain on the pavement in faint chalk.
I see the uncertainty in August, as I knock softly on his door and after a short while he finally opens it and I can see that he has been sleeping, again. In the middle of the day for no reason. I ask him if he is feeling okay and remind him that we are getting ready to head out to dinner and that I hope he is still up for it. He catches my diplomacy and chooses to blow it wide open, telling me he knows he's been useless lately and he's going to try and participate more. I let him off the hook anyway by telling him I'm so excited he's coming with us. That I want to see his face more and he frowns because he knows he's such a ringer for a ghost of Christmas past and I shake my head. No, I miss YOU. You aren't around much and I feel like one arm is missing when that happens. He smiles with glassy eyes and shoos me out so he can change.
I see need in Daniel, who finds this time of year so incredibly difficult and makes his hugs twice as hard and conversations four times longer just to avoid being alone with his feelings. I see him fighting harder than I usually do to keep a relaxed and completely contrived Christmas cheer going at full speed until Schuyler pulls him in and without speaking lets him know that he is here. No matter what. I see the way they talk without saying much and sometimes get no more than five feet away from each other in a day, looking for each other the moment they let go.
I see the steady strength in Duncan, who is relaxed and aware of everything in a way no one else ever truly is, bringing up the back behind Lochlan's charge, content to sip coffee, write his poetry and encourage the rest of us almost unconsciously to glory in our new and old traditions alike. He is uncannily tuned in while seemingly perpetually tuned out, missing nothing from within his own head, content to spend hours by the fire, pen in hand, absorbing and neutralizing the moods of an entire household. He's the charcoal filter for our fishtank souls.
I see the sporadic rise and fall of Padraig's chest as he sleeps, a little more easily every day as we get further out from the worst days of my life and the youngest ages of my children. For a while I wonder if he didn't sleep as little as I tend to, his tired eyes betraying a patience he wore like a shield sometimes just to muddle through. He jolts suddenly, startling both of us but doesn't awaken. I reach out and hold his hand and he settles quickly, holding my fingers firmly, a little boy with big boots and a beard needing comfort from his dreams. I wait patiently until his breathing changes, and as PJ shifts position again he releases my hand. Only then do I move.
They will all tell you that my emotions rule this house, the barometer by which each day is played and spent in turn but I think their unique, beautiful hearts are what show us the way, points on the map that shows my own soul the path home.