Juicebox Confession: Weaving stories, family and blueberries

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I can barely hear her through the squeals of our children. We pause our conversation to answer the small but mighty voices asking us question after question. The bodies attached to those voices bound off and dart between blueberry bushes. The oldest girl in the lead, closely followed by my friend's daughter. My middle daughter is last to chase after them, laughing harder than I have seen her laugh in a long time.

We return to our conversation, our words following a deeply familiar and comfortable pattern, accompanied by the rhythmic plopping of blueberries dropping into our buckets. I glance over my friend's shoulder and see my husband two rows down. He is talking to the swarm of little girls that had just left us and gathered at his feet. He adeptly navigates their presence and the bushes while wearing our infant in a carrier. He says something and the girls all laugh and run off, he smiles and bounces to resettle our baby.

The entire scene is easy. The bouncing, the playing, the conversation, the silence. The words we speak and the emotions we share, they are all easy despite their enormity. My friend and I talk about life, a recent and profound death, where we had been, where we were going. Our conversation flows between us slowly, calmly, producing fibers that we weave into our shared story. Our laughter comes naturally despite our mutual grief. We hold emotional space for one another, allowing ourselves to feel what we need to without fear or judgement. Easy.

The girls run by again, in birth order, each running in a way that I could have identified as their own. My middle daughter leaps at my friend's daughter and tackles her. The oldest doesn't miss a beat and melts into the puppy pile they have formed, rolling around all arms and legs and giggles. Seeing them together just makes sense. We have been friends for over twenty years, the girls lives have been woven together since before their births.

Calling them our friends seems inaccurate. She is my sister, my soul sister. No shared ancestry but a lot of shared history has created a family that I cherish more than I could ever tell them. So, to make up for my inability to express my gratitude for this chosen family, my children call my friend "auntie" and her daughter their cousin. They are our chosen family.

A little over five years ago I lost a pregnancy. We had seen the baby, a faint heartbeat, and had all the hopes and dreams expectant parents develop in the moment they find out a baby is on the way. Those hopes and dreams were stolen when the news of our loss was delivered to us by a teary eyed doctor who knew our yearning. As I laid on my couch, my body not wanting to let go, my friend called with news of her own pregnancy. She didn't know I was pregnant; she certainly did not know I was waiting to miscarry. I received the news with equal parts happiness and devastation.

Months later, on the day I had been told would have been my due date, my friend delivered a healthy and happy baby girl. That sweet baby was the medicine we needed. Her arrival softened a day that had the potential to be painful. When I see my children with her, I don't see the gap left open by our loss. I see how she fits perfectly, how she has been woven into our family story.

The small gang of girls runs a circle around my husband and they head to the car like a marching band of chaos, squeals, and giggles. My friend and I slowly follow them, picking our final berries and wrapping up our conversation. A feeling of deep contentment and gratitude for my family washes over me. I can hear the children's sounds bouncing off the surrounding hills and there is no denying the joy in it. The amount of history that is in the creation of this group of people I love so very much is deep and complex. However, the feelings I have for them are simple and easy.

People are complicated beings. We are flawed in so many ways and if we focus on those flaws for too long it can overwhelm us and leave us feeling alone. But, if we allow those flaws to be just one fiber of the tapestry that makes up who we are, that makes up our stories, than we can realize the beauty in it all. We can realize how just one person can help contribute to the healing of another in a way that no one could predict. If we le those flaws fall out of focus, ever so slightly, things can become so much easier.

I owe a debt of thanks to my friend's parents for being two of the fibers in my tapestry. Without their existence and I would not have had the life experiences that led me to the family I have today, the family that I built and created. There will not be a day that I am not grateful for them, their family, their home, and their presence. Welcoming me into their home, so many years ago, created a chain reaction that would eventually lead to today, to a friendship that may be the easiest and longest relationship I have ever experienced.

My friend and I climb into the overly packed car and my husband slowly drives through the orchard, every bump eliciting squeals of delight. It is a relief to hear them happy, to see my friend smile.

"Thanks for going blueberry picking with me everyone!" I say looking behind me at the three girls, all stained blue and smiling.

"Thank YOU!" they respond in unplanned unison right before falling into a fit of more giggles.

Their connection to each other, my connection to my friend, this tapestry that we have woven from our lives, flaws, adventures, pain, joy, fears, it is easy, and for that I will forever be grateful.

Michelle Stephens can be reached by emailing JuiceboxConfession@gmail.com The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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