My sister, Elizabeth, called around 4:15am, waking me from a dream about spiders weaving a web around me.
“Can you watch Jeremiah for me?” she asked, her voice faint, like she had been crying.
“Of course…what’s going on?” I sat up.
“He’s at your door,” she sniffed.
“What?” I stood up and walked to the front door.
“I’ll be back later.”
I opened the door as she pulled away, Jeremiah standing in a sleeper with a stuffed frog in one hand, his lip quivering.
“Hey, Buddy,” I bent to pick him up, and he wrapped his arms around my neck. “I got ya,” I soothed, grabbing the diaper bag.
I wasn’t a mother then, but I had family and friends who were, so bottles, pacifiers, diapers, and tantrums were things I was used to. We went inside, and I turned on the kitchen light.
“No,” Jeremiah screamed, waving his free hand in the air.
“Okay…okay,” I turned off the light and rubbed his back. “We can sit in the dark.”
He pointed to the sofa, so I crossed the living room, sitting on the plush sectional. I thought he wanted to run across the cushions, jump up and down, laughing as the wood creaked like he had all the other times they visited. Instead he clung to me, putting his head on my chest. His body was tense, a sharp shiver moving from one end to the other. Each time I held him tighter until the shiver was gone. He stared into the darkness, rarely blinking, quietly contemplating, I imagined, the events that led him to my house. And I couldn’t help but wonder myself. I was the younger sister, and I had always seen Elizabeth as smart, fun. life-loving, a pillar of strength. She was the one I called when I had good news, when I needed to vent, and she was there to listen, not judge. I never really considered that she might be overwhelmed, that under her cool exterior she was drowning, hoping someone noticed.
After about thirty minutes, Jeremiah’s body began to relax, and his grip on the stuff frog loosened. He tried to keep his eyes open, but sleep forced them shut. I lay him on the sofa next to me, putting the frog next to him. In his bag I found a knitted blanket, one Elizabeth had knitted, and spread it over him.
“Tuck me in,” he said without opening his eyes.
I pushed the ends of the blanket under him so that he felt snug, so that he felt safe, and I waited for him to fall back to sleep before I called my sister.
“Hey,” I said when she answered. “Let’s talk…”
At first she was quiet, promising she was fine.
“I’m listening…no judgment,” I said, and she exhaled before revealing details of her life she had never shared with me: the chaos, the vulnerability, and the peace. And I just listened, affirmed, tucked her inside love so she felt safe.