In my thoughts of childhood, I am perpetually seven. I was seven when I hugged the white house on 8th Avenue and said goodbye to hay fields and country roads; to Johnny Height and Mindy Plumpton, whose straight brown pigtails I both adored and envied. I said hello to sidewalks, green lawns and neat suburban blocks. My heart widened that year. I sat on my swing set in the dark and told God a great secret-- I would love Him forever. I would love people, too; the hurt ones, the lonely ones. This was the great awakening of my heart to inner dialogue and large questions. Also that year, I split open my chin to the bone, while racing bikes with my brother. For weeks afterward, I could walk past Grace Bible Church and see my blood dripped all over the stony sidewalk. Once, I squatted near it and covered the brown dots with my hand. I wished until my stomach hurt that I could go back, and not glance sideways at my brother's tire. At first when I looked at the blood, my stomach always churned like that, but later, as the story spread, I grew sort of proud of it. That’s my blood there on the sidewalk; that’s a piece of me. It seemed like years before the rain finally washed away the last spatter but when it was gone, I knew I had lost something. That year I wrote my first poem.
I wrote a letter to Marshall the year he turned seven. I was away in England for ten weeks, and I wanted to tell him about being seven. Micah turned five while I was gone, and Eliot was just one and a half. I have a photograph of him: blond curls piled high on his head and a bottle hanging from his smirking mouth. His eyes are clear blue and as often as I’ve tried to find him in that picture, I can’t. This child isn’t in my memory. I wasn't there. It was only ten weeks, and I needed to go. Still, I imagine a churning hole of sadness in his middle, as my memory faded like blood stains on the sidewalk.
Tonight, I lay down on Eliot’s bed to kiss him and tuck him in. He asked me to sing The Meatball Song, so I laughed and started in,
"On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese;
I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed."
He sang along with me until we came to the last line. He was quiet while I sang,
"It rolled down the sidewalk and under a bush
And then my poor meatball was nothing but mush!"
“That is such a sad song,” he said. “Do you know what I would do? I would run and catch the meatball and clean all the dirt off it and then I would put it back on my spaghetti.”
He asked me why the person in the song didn’t do that and then he asked me why anyone would write such a sad song and call it funny. I laid my head on the pillow next to him and smiled as he sang his very own continuation of The Meatball Song, which finds the meatball “pulling up its sleeves”, making its way back into the house and “onto the plate”, and wraps up neatly with everyone having a “happy day”.
It must have been a healing rain that November and it must have been enough, because Eliot is all flowers and sunshine.