First He Was A Gift

Postsecret flash fiction! I wrote the following over two days. Minor edits, no major revision yet.


First He Was A Gift

Every Father’s Day Chelsea emails me. For two years it’s been the only time I hear from her. The first Father’s Day, she sent a long email about our baby who wasn’t ours anymore. She picked a couple from West Bend to raise our son and we signed the papers because we thought it was best. The couple stayed in touch with both of us. They invited us to Matt’s baptism and first birthday. That first Father’s Day was a couple of weeks before our son turned one and Chelsea’s email was one long apology why she couldn’t see him again. I went to Matt’s birthday party alone and helped in the kitchen, clearing plates and pouring soda for all of Matt’s little cousins.

I get that Matt belongs to Teo and June. They’re great parents. Matt gets a regular life with a big lawn and family vacations. At his first birthday, June gave me a hug and started to cry. For the first few years, Teo and June sent me photos or called to say Matt’s first word was bird, which sounded more like “buh” but they knew he said bird. I saved their messages, showed Mom. At the end of my junior year, Teo met me for breakfast at a diner. They were moving back to California, near June’s parents.

“We’ll still call, be in touch,” Teo said, “We’ll fly you out if you like. You’re part of Matt’s life.”

I couldn’t swallow. I was afraid I’d choke on egg and biscuit. I took a drink of orange juice. That helped.

“I know this isn’t how you pictured it,” Teo said.

He doesn’t know how I pictured it. I was living in a house with five other guys who didn’t know I had a son. Chelsea didn’t answer my calls or texts anymore and only acknowledged Matt in Father’s Day ecards. Whenever I talked to Mom about Matt, she said I’d made the right decision. Teo and June seemed to be the only people who understood Matt is my son too. But he’s their son more.

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I Hope I Sleep Tonight: Laying Awake Wondering Why I Write And What You Think

I lay awake last night thinking about the Fahaheel essay. I wrote it two months ago, revised it last month and have turned it over in my head at least once a day since. Something bothered me about the latest revision. I crammed in too much. My ambivalence (occasional hatred) toward early motherhood, jealousy of friendships, scream for contentment. Framed by a beach I don’t want sullied by my litter. But I crammed that much in one piece because it all happened at once. I had babies and just about died of introspection. All my flaws and fears in block letter Sharpie. That first year with two kids was my most prolific journaling year and not by accident, the neat lines and black ink admitting truth, telling truth, hoping truth.

I was a mess. I like to remember I wasn’t all messy because that’s true too.

So I lay awake thinking why I write about insecurity and anger. Why I’ve got essays about unpretty sins like lust and envy. When we visited my brother and his family at Christmas, their church hosted a New Year’s service for people to share their testimony. What has God done this year? I remember a woman talking about how loving open confession is at her home church, how Christ-like for her brothers and sisters in faith to accept her after she confessed sin. And I remember a man standing and saying he’d been depressed all year and it never lifted and maybe that kind of darkness is the thorn in his side that doesn’t go away here on earth, but that even in the dark days, he knows God is faithful.

I lay awake thinking maybe I should stick with fiction. I like to make stuff up. It’s fun.

But I remain compelled to write my way through. Then I lay awake wondering if it’s a mistake to share my personal narrative. When I share anything from experience I deal with insecurity and fear. I rarely feel bold offering an essay to read. Sometimes I feel like I might throw up. Does nausea connote gravity, honesty? But I keep doing it. I keep going back to certain moments and relationships because I want to find something finished. Perhaps that’s why I lay awake at night, to root out conclusions to stories written entirely in the middle.

I enjoy marriage and motherhood. The past two years I’ve settled where I am. I can’t undo. I can’t redo. But I can be here. I laugh a lot more today. All the junk that started turning over years ago, still turns over but I’m (mostly) okay with the process. I’m (mostly) okay trusting God to refine me through whatever is right here where I am.

I’ll keep writing it all because I’d like us to be more like that woman who speaks her sin and finds forgiveness and acceptance and I’d like us to be more like that man who tells what it’s like to carry a burden you can’t put down yet.

There’s more. I remember those two people because I think that’s what we need more of: honest vulnerability. Not gluttonous over sharing but unashamed openness that asks us to check our pride as we write and revise, as we read. But I want to pair that with hope. My hope is Christ. My hope is all the junk gets redeemed, even if I can’t see how just yet. Years ago, I learned I don’t need to slap a tidy end on an essay. I need a good close, but I don’t need to teach you anything. What I’m doing here is finding a good close because it’s night again and when I lay down, I don’t want to lay awake wondering how I look on the page.