I was driving the curvy backroads home. It was dusky; when shadows and substance do their slow dance into darkness. I stopped listening to the radio years ago. Melodic distractions these days seemed like a rude shove to personal philosophizing. Reflecting on an amazing day, actually a full week of accomplishment, I was suddenly jarred back into the task of auto manuvering by a mass in the middle of the road. Dead Possum? Rabbit? I swerved sharply to keep from splashing road kill guts and brains onto my undercarriage. I slowed quickly, glancing back to make sure I had missed the mess. The red glow of my brake lights illuminated a rambunctious child’s window tossed large baby doll. I don’t know why, I had never pulled over for any road detris before, but, stopping, I engaged my emergency flashers and walked back to pluck the doll from a fate of certain smashing. I stood there too long. In the middle of the road. Stunned. A live was baby now sitting up in the road. It wasn’t crying, more like grimmacing. Shirtless, dirty and only in jeans and a smelly dirty diaper, it reached for me, it’s fingers kneading the air.
Headlights flashed in the distance. With no time to consider my options I grabbed the baby and ran to my car.
How does a baby end up in the middle of the road? I opened the back door and laid him [or was it a her? At this point I had no idea which] onto the seat. In the dim light of the car’s interior lights, I began my inspection for clues. No road rash, scrapes or cuts. Just a beautiful blue eyed child that stunk to high heaven.
Why would someone leave a baby, a baby for God’s sake, in the road? I, or anyone driving this road tonight could have killed this child! Should I search nearby homes? No. Any parent who would be this neglectful or intentionally murderous should never see this sweet one again! I would drive home, send my wife for diapers and together clean him up, maybe feed him, then call 911. Why wasn’t he crying? Since I didn’t have a baby car seat, I swaddled him into the rearseat seatbelt and jumped in to head home. My brain was shorting out with disbelief and questions. Barely one mile down the road, then, “Hello, Dad.” What the…? In the rear view mirror were two dimly visible, familiar eyes. And a backlit, almost haloed child’s face. “Hey…who are you!?! Where did you come from? Where’s the baby?”
To which came the reply, “So glad I found you. Thanks for the ride home, Pop.”
The rearview mirror glowed from those eyes. Emotionally cooling. Confusion and fear encoiled me but my core was calm. “Where did you come from little guy? How is your little brother, back there?” …thinking he may have hopped into my car while I was loading the baby. Two lost children. Now I was a kidnapper.
He clarified. “It’s just me. How long til we get home?”
Nope. Not making any sense whatsoever. “Wait, you are telling me that you were the baby and now, in less than a couple of minutes you are 5 years old? What kind of game is this? Where are your parents?”
“We are me, Dad. And you are it. You and mom are all I got.”
Head shaking, voice cracking, “We don’t have any children, little guy. Really what’s going on, where do you and your brother live? I’m taking you home.”
“You prayed, right? Last night? And for years before. You and mom asked for a child. Well, I’m here. But we don’t have much time. Hurry.”
Sense making wasn’t happening.
“Listen…uh…What’s your name?”
“You haven’t given me a name yet. Who do you want me to be?”
“Really kid. This is getting weirder and weirder. I don’t get it. I almost run over your brother in the road, then while I’m helping him you jump in and start with this…I’m pulling over and you had better have an good explanation for this…”
I pulled over into a country church parking lot, jumped out and flung open the back door. One child. No baby. Impossible.
“I told you, I found you and want to go home. What’s so hard about that? We don’t have time to sit here. Go. Go. Go.”
It was the same child. Or a 4 year older twin. The baggy jeans and smelly diaper were gone.
Now, this child was dressed in a pair of boy’s overalls and a clean t-shirt. And he talked like an adult. His words were more than that. They were commanding and bossy.
“One hour, a lifetime. What are we going to do with it, Dad?”
So what do you do when a 5 year old who was a baby only moments ago tells you that he is the answer to you and your wife’s prayers for a child, but that you only have an hour to spend with him and that you need to hurry?
My foot pressed the accelerator as far as conditions would allow. Home would be a safe place. Home was the place we could sort this out.
“So, little guy, I am supposed to give you a name? Let’s use Preston, that’s a name Dana and I had discussed when we were daydreaming together about having a child.”
I glanced up. He smiled.
“I have no idea how this is happening, Preston, do you?”
“I have answers, Dad. But your answers are different than mine. Other people’s answers won’t work for you. They only suggest possiblities.”
These were words I would hear from an old sage, not a little boy. I continued to grapple with his words,
“Why are we in a hurry? You said we only have an hour, what do you mean?”
“If you knew that you only had one more hour to live, would you live it differently?”
“Do I only have one more hour?” If this prescient first grader…wait, this kid hadn’t had any school at all, he was just immediately imbued with the English language and an old philosopher’s mind…maybe he knew other stuff.
“We do. So what should we do? Where do you want to go?”
The eyes in the mirror looked a little older everytime I looked up.
“I prefer home. We need to figure out what’s going on.”
“Dad. Your heart keeps beating, even though it doesn’t know why. Your little dog, Jack is at home, but he doesn’t need answers to be a happy dog. He just relaxes into your care. Maybe we can take a detour, and look for your place to just be you, without having to have an answer for everything. Turn off right here.”
It was a road I didn’t remember seeing before; the sign atop the post, Irene.
***Peace in the Pieces***
If we were in a hurry, why were we taking this detour? I thought.
Preston anticipated my question,
“We need to discuss this baby thing. [He had aged again – now with eyes almost level with mine in the rearview and a voice that cracked with adolescent uncertainty] You will love me like you never loved anyone or anything. But I can also break your heart like nothing else.”
“Well, it looks like it’s going to be easier than we thought. At the rate you are growing, you will be a grown man by the time I get home,” I quipped.
“Then some, Dad. When you are 64, you will wonder where time went. It will seem like it was just like this…flashes of memories that have me all ages at once.” He explained.
“Why am I getting this roadshow tonight? Is it going to be that bad? Premonitions have been my friend since I was the age you seem to be now, Preston. They prepared me for the death of my mother and my best friend. Are you going to die young, too?”
“We all die too young, Dad. We were made for the ages, like our maker. And we will go on living beyond the transitional breath if we breathe the new breath like the first breath here. You have. I will. But I’m not here about that, you must find peace in the pieces of life you get to see tonight. You will forget all this happened until you need it. Then you will thank me, and him, for this. We love you. Even when it looks like we don’t that day. We do.”
We had topped a ridge and the night sky burst through the cloak of the trees into a brilliant display of stars and a full moon.
“He did that for you, too, Pop. To show you his abilities. If he can do that. And me. He can take you through anything.”