In my dream, he was about two. Maybe three. We were at the coast, in Maine. Probably Popham Beach, and he was wearing a fisherman’s sweater and climbing on rocks. He had blonde, curly hair. I remember at the time thinking how funny it was that I dreamed of a curly-haired boy, when my two children both had pin-straight hair. And in my dream, his name was Gabriel. An angel. It’s not a name I would have chosen. He was going to be a Thomas, or a John, or a Henry.
I never knew what happened. He was just gone.
And now, ten years later, I’m sitting in Sweet Frog with Ella. She, like Henry, is the answer to a desperate prayer from a mother that didn’t understand why. She sits there, waving her plastic spoon in the air like a conductor…swaying to the music and smiling. I think how I have wasted this last year with her…these few hours each day that could have been for just us. I wasted them with television, or movies or household chores. Always so much to do…
The song changes and I don’t recognize it, until the chorus. It hits me like a punch in the stomach and I am flooded with memories of him, of that dream, of that day when we found out. Memories of a little boy I never held, never kissed, never dressed, never even met. How can I miss a child I never met? Maybe it is the dream of him that I miss. The dream of what he was going to be like. The dream of how he would make us five.
What I want is to get out of that place…I want the music to stop and the hum of the ice cream makers to stop and all of the bright cheeriness of this place to be gone. But there is Ella…look how happy she is…
When she is done eating, we walk to the car holding hands. Well, I walk…she skips. And she talks and she twirls and she has absolutely no idea how low my heart has sunk. And this time, I buckle her in. I don’t ask her to do it herself. I give her a kiss on the forehead and drink in the smell of her hair, and sweat and sunblock and cake-batter ice cream. And when she whines about how hot it is and how sticky her hands are and how she got ice cream on her shirt, I don’t mind it quite as much.
It has been a long time since I’ve thought of him. I feel so strangely, deeply sad, and yet I’m standing there looking at her tiny little nose with all those freckles and I feel so thankful to have her…so in love with her and all of her quirks and even her whining and I know that life gives us lemons sometimes.
But she is the lemonade.