Stop the presses and close the doors and play all the slow songs about promises and memory. The leaves are on the ground, dusted with snow. All the people walk away. Planes take off and there’s nothing to do but watch. You can’t see the moon tonight. No one is home. The stores are all closed and the letters were either lost or not written. The building’s abandoned, the window is broken, and no one in this whole wide world gets long division.
I broke your heart tonight.
We were sitting in an Italian restaurant and the tablecloth was red and white. Maybe, somewhere, an old woman wrote a poem, a collage of memories that would otherwise disappear forever. I said, “I saw your report card. What’s going on with you? Since when do you get such poor marks?” and two big tears raced down your cheeks and splashed in your bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.
When you were born, after your mother fell asleep, I cradled you in my arms and whispered promises to your stunned pink face. I like to imagine that my hushed words started a little fire in the darkest dark from whence you came and that you might one day hear them again when you were cold and needed warm hands and good thoughts. I will protect you. I will protect you. I will protect you.
But who am I—how can I possibly stack up—next to this concrete world of broken promises, lifeless pink bunnies, and long division? Long division is hard, man. It doesn’t make sense. What makes sense when you’re 9-years-old? I mean, what’s it even MEAN to ask how many times this goes into that? How many 3’s go into 18? Falling leaves and slot machines? One handful of jelly beans? More to the picture—not what it seems.
I promised to protect you but then banished you to a world where they do long division, where pet fish die, where everything’s conditioned by the ebb and flow of ceaseless flux, and there are boys. And then, tonight, with just a couple callous questions, I broke your heart and made you cry in a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. It’s hard to keep the path through the forest after dark. Are we on the right one? Or are we even on a path at all? It happens so easily and quick to lose one’s way in the weeds and thicket. And my God it’s cold.
But if you keep walking, slowly, with your hands out in front of you so as to avoid smashing into a tree, I believe that eventually your pupils will constrict on the distant flicker of a tiny little fire that, by virtue of its being an orange smear on the dark, will seem to say Over here! Over here! And as you walk toward it, your muscles will slacken, you will begin to relax, and your hands—your defenses—will drop because you will then be able to see the trees and they too will seem to wave you in and cry Welcome!
And now, too, the clouds will have parted and you will once again see the moon.
The fire, a hub, reveals many paths in all directions and you’ll be able to choose your way home in the morning. But, for now, sit by the fire and get yourself warm again. Stick out your hands; let it lick your fingers. Do you hear that? The way the fire cracks, pops, and hisses. Relax. This is how it whispers. Welcome to the world, little one. I’ve been waiting for you. I have always waited for you. The world is big and scary and easy to get lost in but I promise you that I will stay here, burning, in the very core of the darkest things and the most broken hearts, to keep you warm and light your way. I will protect you. I will protect you. I will protect you.