Friday, May 21, 2010


We met Mihiretu a year ago tomorrow. Anniversaries always work on me. Even the quality of light at a particular time of year has the power to bring me precisely to the day in question. Intellectually and subconsciously, I hash over that time and what's passed since. My dad was diagosed with cancer in the fall all those years ago and at some point every September, still, usually when the Blue Angels fly overhead during Fleet Week (my dad was an Air Force pilot and loved all things plane), I find myself feeling melancholy. And by melancholy, I don't mean depressed. I mean melancholy, that sweet spot between sadness and, what is it, nostalgia?

And so, for the last few weeks, I've found myself in Africa. Hearing the calls to prayer, the moos and bleets of cattle, the lilt of Amharic voices, smelling the heady Ethiopian concoction of berbere, paprika, and ginger drifting from kitchens, the scent of burning animal flesh wafting from fields, seeing the rubble and chaos of that developing world, the people brown and lean and, given the slightest opportunity, smiling. I miss it. I crave it.

And as I wander through the rural South and the teeming capitol, I come again to a little boy. His hair is freshly shaved for our arrival, revealing giant ears, the lobes pendulous and luscious. He stands uncertainly in the orphanage play yard and when we greet him for the first time, he is overwhelmed. His eyes are glazed, his left arm is held limply against his side as if atrophied, his mouth is open and a drop of saliva rolls down his chin.

I think back on that boy now, that boy whom we didn't know what to make of in the moment. And I know that he was retreating inside himself, the only place he had to go. He was protecting himself from another change, another heartbreak. And now that I know that boy, now that I love that boy, I can barely stand the memory.

When I think of him now, facing his mother's death and his placement in an orphanage essentially alone, making his way through those long months until he again had a family, it's hard to bear. To imagine that boy, that gorgeous, spirited boy, in the big world without a mother or father to shelter him, without someone loving him, it kills me. Much more now that I truly know him than it did when I first met him.

He and I were laying in the reclining chairs in the backyard yesterday, enjoying the temperamental spring sun, listening to the sound of bagpipes drifting from a neighbor's house. We decided that we'd like a drink to enhance our experience. I chose kombucha, he chose orange juice. We returned to our chairs and chatted a little, about the music, about our impending move back home to, as he calls it, "the chicken house" (we have chickens there). We were sitting in the sun, he and I, talking, laughing, but mostly just sitting side by side sipping our drinks and it became so clear to me how far we've come in a year. Yes, we have farther to go before his trust is complete but we're darn close. And all my days of doubt and darkness, wondering why the hell I embarked on this project in the first place, seem to be behind me.

He is my son, that boy. And I am his mother.

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