It was pouring rain.
We ran into the church, my mom and me, my dress clinging to my ankles, my shoes filling with water as I side stepped puddles. The church door flew up under my pull, and then, silence. The lights weren’t even on yet, just a quiet, glorious church. We walked slowly up to the front, found a pew, and waited. I was nervous. I hadn’t spent time with Levi’s dad and his family in months. It’s always quick exchanges, short text messages about logistics. I felt them before I heard them. A rising in me, an awareness of his father I’ve always had. And then, the door creaking, Levi’s giggle as he shakes off the rain, his brother at his feet, pulling his suit jacket. They stopped at the back of the church, and his dad adjusted his tie, tied Levi’s shoes, straightened his collar. Then they walked forward to meet me, just as the priest came to find us. Levi, beside his father, an exact replica of him. The boy I’m raising, a copy of the man I once loved. But then Levi furrows his eyebrows and takes a breath and suddenly his face is mine, moving just the way I move mine. The priest leads Levi to make his first confession, and we’re standing there, his father and me, as the lights click on abruptly. His wife comes down the aisle toward us, beautiful in a coral dress, her eye make up how I had wanted to do mine, but I had run out of time. Their daughter, in her pretty white dress and furry sweater, smiles her gummy smile up at me, then walks over to my mom, takes her hand, and that’s that. We laugh, breaking the tension, the invitation to relax. “Everyone loves Twyla,” Levi’s dad laughs, and I can feel my shoulders drop, releasing whatever they were holding. Mass begins, and we sit in the first pew. Levi’s head is leaning against his father’s shoulder, and his fingers are entwined with mine. He is the perfect combination of the both of us, nestled on the pew, his body perfectly shielded by us. He’s nervous, but excited. His little brother keeps crawling across the pew to whisper “butthead” in Levi’s ear, making Levi have to fight to keep his high pitched giggle in. I’m trying not to breathe, not to move, not to do anything to disrupt this perfect moment, Levi’s first communion mass. I feel a wave of thanksgiving wash over me, so thick in its embrace I wrap my arms around myself and sigh. When it’s time for him to go up and receive, his father takes his hand and leads him to the side of the alter. I turn to grab my phone, but I am struck still. I can’t take my eyes off my son and his father. Suddenly it feels like all the moments, all the years it took to get here are before me. Tears spring into my eyes as my son kneels on the alter, his father’s hand on his shoulder, as he receives Jesus. Levi turns a slight shade of red, a smile creeping across his lips he simply cannot contain. They turn and begin walking back to the pew, and the church erupts in applause. They sit back down next to me and his dad pulls Levi into a bear hug, whispers in his ear how proud of him he is. Levi untangles himself from his dad and wraps his arms around me, I can feel him holding back happy tears. He leans into my ear and tells me he remembered to say Amen. And I am proud. I’m so proud of my son. I’m so proud of my son’s father. And in this moment, sitting beside my son and his father’s family, I am proud of myself too. I notice his dad’s eyes are bright, and he’s holding Levi’s hand like a lifeline. For a brief second, I have a desire to know what he’s thinking, to listen to his heart. But as soon as it comes it is gone, and I recognize it for what it is. The people in our life carve out spaces in us no matter what. Life is a series of shared moments, all bottled up inside us, making up our story. He was a part of that story. And he still is, just differently. His father is looking at his wife, and I do not feel any pain. There is relief, there is gratitude. She is smiling, proud of Levi, proud of the man she married. I feel it rising in me then, a feeling of rejoicing in their marriage, for what they’ve built. This makes me want cry again, so I breathe deeply, welcoming this feeling with everything in me. Her and I make eye contact, and her expression mirrors mine; a love for Levi. In that split second, we are family. Not a blended family, not a detached family, not a family faking it, but a true family. In that moment, it was never going to be any other way, this would have always been how it unfolded. God took our sharp edges and made them smooth. The rest of the day unraveled in a dream like state. Lunch, all of us. Levi’s father with his children, crawling all over him, his patience, his calm. His wife, telling us stories, planning out the summer with me. Levi’s joy an electric current running through us all, impossible to ignore, contagious. They pay for the meal, declining my mother’s offer. Levi’s dad looks my mom in the eyes, says, “you took care of me for so long, let us do this small thing.” She has to turn away, I know the tears are there. He saw her, in her sweetness, her selfless heart. He spoke words over her that healed many years of confusion. Just like that, a wound disappeared. I don’t think I’m supposed to feel this way towards Levi’s dad and his family. I remember what it used to feel like. Well, I remember the memory of it. My body doesn’t remember, can’t recall the actual feelings I used to fight with. I didn’t think I would be pulled closer to loving them, I always assumed the gap between us would get bigger, and then eventually, too big. But in place of all the what ifs there is a woman and her children that I cannot imagine life without. I don’t realize it until I’m sitting there, mid bite, talking about the places we’ll move to once Connecticut closes in on our beliefs. I see Levi’s father, being the best I’ve ever seen him. Loving his family deeply, caring for them. He is at ease, peaceful. And his wife, having left everything behind, fighting her own demons to sit there with me and seek my good. When it’s time to leave the rain has stopped, and the sun has begun to push its way through the cloudy haze. I feel that way too, like something in me is rising, a light, brighter than any of the darkness. Levi’s little brother gets into my car with Levi, and they refuse to leave each other. So we make our way to our friends house, our beloved Kristin and Sam, who are always ready for us, chaos or peace. We eat ice cream cake and play in their living room, the kids running and laughing around us, Levi’s dad laughing even louder. I can feel the joy on my skin, in my mouth, in a thickness around me, leaving me feeling almost drunk on it, moving slowly through time, not wanting the day to end. We spend almost three more hours there, telling stories, talking plans. I make Levi’s stepmom laugh hard, and I feel a sense of pride. A desire to be liked by her. Like I want to go grab a coffee and continue talking, laughing, pouring the pieces of our life into a hot pot and making something beautiful out of it, like blown glass. There is never a comparison to her, never the inward dialogue of insecurities - who is more beautiful, what does she have that I don’t. None of that. There hasn’t been for years. In the beginning it was only torment. I acted in rage, I was distraught, beside myself. But those days don’t exist to me anymore. There isn’t a trace of it left. There’s too much grace, too much goodness. It’s days like these I remember that even though it’s so hard, somehow God has made it so good. That’s not to say it hasn’t been lonely. To be the parent still longing, still so many things unfinished, it leaves an ache, to watch the ones we loved move forward, fulfill dreams that still swirl around in my own heart. Finally, on our way home, Levi sat silently in the backseat. I heard him whisper it, as he looked out the window, watching the clouds move quickly in the sky. "I miss daddy." I knew this day filled him like it filled me, so I let him sit in silence, processing it all. At bedtime, when we say what we’re thankful for, I said I was thankful for a day with daddy and daddy’s family. Levi sat up in bed, looked at me. “You are? You’re thankful for that?” "Of course I was", I told him. I told him I had the best day talking with his stepmom and playing with his sister, and hearing daddy laugh so hard. Levi snuggled close to me, his voice soft. “I’m thankful you were thankful for that.” It’s been three days and I still feel a sort of giddiness when I think of Sunday. It must have been the grace of the sacraments Levi received, bathing us all in goodness. For the first time, I feel like we are all family. Levi’s family.