I see Wong chewing over thoughts, so we lie in quiet for a minute. I'm prepping myself for the next leg of the valley's conversation; it's loose slag, skittering chunks of slate hiding blackberry coils and potholes. And all ridiculously steep, leading uphill.
"Wong, I think it's time you try something. I know it's hard just to think about, and even harder to try to do, but it's important to forgive your dad for hurting you."
It's a ridiculous and blatantly unfair suggestion to pose to my son. This kid, who has had just months over half his life being with both parents and the most recent near-half of his life being with one parent. Wong, who doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve but in a metre in every direction around him, exposed to the wide, sharp toothed world. Wong who - should George knock on the front door tomorrow and ask to see the boys* - would throw himself into George's arms and cry, no doubt saying "I missed you!" But maybe not. Maybe now, after years of disappointments and distance, Wong would be just as likely as Hatro to hang back, scowling in distrust and distaste at the person who gave them the cleft in their chins, their blue eyes, and in Wong's case, his soft, comfortable belly.
Wong sniffs again beside me, and I'm pretty sure I've hit the bottom of the valley's floor, using my chest as a landing pad. There's an ache deep in my ribs, twinging with every word I speak, biting hard every time another tear gallops across Wong's face. In the valley deep in my head, I can see a fluttering twist of ribbon tied to a string, showing me the direction I'm meant to go.
Right in that second, I'm doubting myself. Doubting I'm doing the right thing, despite the insistent and gentle push I'm getting to keep talking. Because I of all people know that you can't just 'get over' someone not being there anymore. I don't know what it's like to lose a Dad suddenly from your life, even if that suddenly takes years to completely happen. I know what it's like to lose a Dad, but not like that. Who am I to tell Wong that forgiveness is the next step?
Actually... who am I NOT to?
If I'm trying to live my life as a disciple of Christ, to willingly choose to have faith in a future wholeness in the midst of injury and destruction, to share my testimony and understanding of the atonement, of courage and gratitude, there is no way that I can stop talking to Wong now.
Even if my stomach and heart are obviously making plans to exit the building as soon as possible. I consider my words, with the insistent push becoming more compelling, and has morphed into a supportive warmth, like someone holding my hand in theirs as a comfort and wordless assist.
"Forgiveness is an important part of being able to look forward, not back." I softly explain, holding Wong's hand in mine. "I read a quote about forgiveness lately, and I think it's brilliant, and applies right here. I can't remember who it was by, but the quote basically said 'Forgiveness the the giving up of all hopes for a better past'^. Forgiveness is hard, Wong, I'm not going to lie. Sometimes it's easy, but sometimes it's so stupidly, crazily hard. And it can take a long, long time to happen. But if you try to, it's a huge weight off you. Off your heart and your head and your thoughts."
We lay there together, him chewing on his bottom lip, me watching the dimly shadowed profile of his face and sending up flares of thank you thank you thank you gratitudes as the conversational valley's paths grew more comfortable and less emotionally damaged.
Wong sighed sadly, then states "I'm going to call him George from now on. He's not my Dad, not really. He hasn't been for years." I'm lying still, but suddenly feel unsteady as if standing on the edge of a cliff, nothing below my toes but air. I'm surprised that it hurts to hear him state his decision, despite him bringing it up several times in the last couple of months. I'm sorry, I think, and yet again I'm not sure if I'm apologising to God for the mess we're still wading through, or to Wong for being unable to stay married or simply for the pain he's felt and is still fighting. Maybe I'm apologising to myself, for not having made my emotions as hidden away and safe as I'd hoped.
I shrug, hopefully casually, and squeeze Wong's hand. "That's totally your decision," I reaffirm, "and your choice. It's up to you."
"Hmmm" he replies, and squeezes my hand back.
Another minute passes, then I nudge him. The string is leading me up, straight above my head. Time to scale the next set of boulders. "Wong, what's a broken home?"
"Um... us, I guess."
"Are we?" I ask him, turning my head to look straight at him. "I'm interested - what's broken?"
I'm not defensive, not cadging him into a particular answer. I'm wanting him to work out his reasoning, and not fall back on news bites and drama-fed extended family.
His eyes narrow as he concentrated, and I see the whites as he suddenly exclaims "We're not!"
"We're NOT broken!" he continues, happy realisation lighting his face. "There's nothing broken, is there Mum?"
"Nope," I agree. "Sure, for a while there we were all hurting, and there was a big rip in our lives, but when you look at it, tell me - what's our family?"
"Us three" he immediately replies, a definite shading of 'duh, Mum!' trailing unspoken off the end of his words. It's in that instant, stretched out beside him, that I realise that Wong really does see our family the way I do: just the three of us, no holes, no gaps, nobody missing. It's a quick squirt of joy, chasing the taste of difficult words from my mouth and relaxing my muscles in relief.
"Actually, three and a bit, including Mini" he amends, then calls to the dog who - in usual fashion - ignores Wong as he's not standing in the kitchen with something tasty to offer.
"I don't think we're broken", I confide to him, pulling him close for a hug and to kiss his forehead. I kiss just under two stubborn pox marks, and wonder for the thousandth time if they'll stay as scars. Constant as stars, I muse, until the scars fade to just be part of who we are.
"We're not broken," agrees Wong, "we're awesome though. Though Hatro isn't as awesome as I am. And we're not as awesome as you" he reassures me with a wet kiss to my cheek. "I love you Mum." Another kiss lands.
"I love you too sweetie." Another hug, and I roll wearily off his bed.
Onto a shoe, a book and a roll of sticky tape obviously filched from my office stash. I tell him he has to tidy his room before TV tomorrow, to which he agrees and asks if he can record his latest delight, a renovation show. Negotiations ensue, regarding homework scheduling, putting away the washed dishes and a question about his music lesson. We're back to our regular lives and conversations, even as the sweat and tears dry on our necks.
It wasn't a planned conversation. In my head I'd been surveying the ground: placing little wooden pegs with spits of colour coding on a manicured lawn, laying out the string how it would all play out, half-hopefully scheduling it in for the weekend when I wouldn't be so tired, as easily overwhelmed. But that's the thing with parenting: sometimes [read, 'usually'] the conversation arises when you're not expecting it and putting it off just isn't a feasible option. So you sigh, sometimes out loud, sometimes with a growling kind of roar in the rough corners of your throat, and kick the pebble that starts or continues the conversation, and you follow it down. Even into the Valley Of Things Unhoped For Yet Revisited [Maps STILL Not Available].
I lean over, kiss against those two pox again. "I love you" I remind him, as he throws an arm around my neck and pulls me in for a quick throttle of a hug.
"I love you Mum." I watch as he rolls over, a contented smile smooshing his face upwards towards his already closed eyes.
For years I've been worried that we would always be broken, that we'd be staggering around off balance seeping or gushing vital fluids and dreams. But slowly, painfully, eventually, the holes have plugged, scabbed over, the furious red scar tissue grudgingly fading until we barely see it anymore. Sometimes we get poked in the tender, patchy places and we crumple, or snarl, or simply weep from the reminder - yet again! - that we are still mortal, the scars are still there, that we still hurt despite telling ourselves not to, to not be so stupid as to let ourselves - myself - feel again.
My family is three. Three and a bit if you count the dog. We were broken, each with ravaged interiors that nobody knows the awful, horrifying extent of - even each other. We don't even know what Mini's life was like, before us, just that it had its own measure of pain and broken hearts. But we're together. And we're good. Even through conversations I hate having.
Maybe that's the point. I can remember - and cringe while doing so - all the painful, awkward, heartbreaking conversations I've had with the boys over the past years. I can remember because I was THERE. I know I've dropped the parenting ball repeatedly, even kicked it into a corner or out a window a time or seven as well. Then I picked it back up, only rarely to throw it deliberately at Hatro' or Wong's head. Those awful conversations have seared my heart as a mother, again as a fatherless child, yet I have then watched stunned as the heat has transformed my love for my sons to something even deeper and more formidable than I thought possible.
I'm not going to win awards for parenting, and I'd be mortified to be nominated. (Can you say "Pity vote"?) I want to live my life in relative obscurity, coming home to the boys who give light and crazy and bizarreness to my life. Even if some nights results in all of us going to bed early, with me reading the scriptures standing in the hall between their bedrooms, none of us able to see each other because we're all fed up with each other and the day. Even if I'm choking out words and prayers while my brain shrieks at me to JUST SHUT UP ALREADY!! Even when I'm saying for the kazillionth time for someone to put away the toaster/toilet paper/attitude before there are serious electronic consequences, mister. Even then. Especially then. Because in being broken, we've become stuck closer together, and stronger, more than string or words or sticky tape can tie us.
We're not broken. We are three/three and a bit. We are awesome.
*There is a part of me that acknowledges that should George knock on the door, I would be overwhelmingly tempted to do some knocking of my own. Which may or may not result in his inability to then ask to see the boys, or to see them through blackened eyes. I have forgiven him, and continue to forgive him, but I am still also itching to open a can of WhoopAss.
^ Actual quote is "Forgiveness is the release of all hope for a better past." by Buddy Wakefield, in his poem 'Hurling Crowbirds at Mockingbars (Hope Is Not A Course Of Action)'.