When my son Andrew was 15 he began to slip away from us, to spiral down. I didn’t know how to stop the progression from the boy to whom I read bedtime stories to the distant, illusive adolescent I could not read at all.
So I got him a dog.
She was a 7-week old, affable, yellow lab pup my sister had bought from a neighbor of hers. I thought Andrew could love the dog in a less complicated way perhaps, or he could be loved by the dog in a manner more simplistically faithful than the distracted imperfection of my mother-love. Or maybe, I wanted a way to say the words, “come,” and “stay” in a house where everyone seemed to be leaving or gone
Not long after my son’s 17th birthday, he decided to strike out on his own, with our permission, to reinvent himself in New Zealand—or perhaps it was really to find himself there. Across a continent, across a sea, across an international dateline—he moved so far away that his today was my tomorrow, his spring was my fall.
“Oh no!” his grandmother said when she heard we’d let him go. “He’ll fall in love with some New Zealand girl and never come back!”
And he did. He fell in love with a girl from the South Island, a girl of Scottish descent who is part Maori as well—for all I know her ancestors stretch back across the millennia to the mystical Moriori tribes of the Chatham Islands—the tattooed people whose horses raced along the shore at dusk but left no hoof prints in the sand.
The dog I bought my son for his 17th birthday is 14 years old now and cheerfully hanging on.
And after 14 years gone, after the birth of his own infant son, my son is talking about moving back to the States for a time.
And he’s going to marry the Scottish Maori girl next month and I won’t be there on the south island of a- two-island nation, 14,000 miles away, to witness this.
If, when he was born, a seer had predicted: This boy, this only son, will marry without you present,” I would have mourned my early and untimely death—because I would have assumed my demise is all that could have kept me from standing by his side at that moment.
But when do we really marry? It’s not at the ceremony though we say it is. It is sometime long before, or in some cases, long after. We marry in some unacknowledged moment when our love lets us know we are safe, or mirrors or demands a better version of who we are, or the light illuminates the green in his blue eyes, the impossible gold in her ash brown hair. It’s in the moment of unexpected confession or laughter that brings us to our knees; or the demonstration of compassion extended to someone else, that makes us pause and think,
“I could grow with you forever.”
And we say, Come.
Write about someone at a distance, real or emotional. What happened that caused them to leave? Who let go? What has happened that might be bringing them home? What is at risk? How is this person’s return both a blessing and jeopardy? What invisible tension will they carry as they walk in the door? What do you or your character stand to lose as a dream comes true? Something. Because without conflict and risk, you have no story.