One day when Gabby was still a baby I was in the back of a cab descending down the steep hill of Beacon Street in Boston when I saw a mom and her young daughter at the corner holding hands. The sun streamed around them, lit them from above, and I couldn’t pull my eyes from them. I felt my heart squeeze tight, as I wondered if Gabby and I would ever look like that, casually holding hands at a street corner. Something inside told me it would be a while, if ever. That feeling inside made me nervous. I didn’t know where it was coming from. And I so yearned to be like that mom and daughter at the corner of Beacon and Tremont Streets. I didn’t know if it could be, but I held onto the wish, the longing, tucking that image into my heart and hoping we’d one day find ourselves there.
Gabby resisted holding hands for a long time. It was one way her developmental delays exhibited themselves. She had been late to walk, late to talk. And though now she was walking (and running), she was still hesitant holding hands. I can’t say for sure why, but I think she was afraid you’d go too fast and she wouldn’t be able to will her body to keep up. She needed more control than holding hands allowed. Sometimes you have to hold hands, of course, for safety (like when you’re in a cross walk). We always did that. But when we reached the other side of the street, Gabby would pull her hand away. If she didn’t need to hold hands, she’d avoid it.
It was a long time before Gabby wanted to hold hands.
I don’t remember the first time Gabby wanted to hold hands, the first time she slipped her hand into mine at her own direction, but I remember the feeling. It was like exploding fireworks of joy inside my skin. Like the first time a boy I liked first slipped his hand into mine, except better.
To this day when she slips her hand into mine, unbidden, or asks to hold hands, my heart skips a beat and I remember the mother and daughter holding hands on Beacon Street. At moments like that, I feel like I’ve made it.
Just last night as we walked home from the park, Gabby placed her hand into mine and gripped tightly. It felt like heaven in a touch. I listened to what she said; I smiled at her as we walked. But my heart was in our hands. In the moment, noticing how it felt to have my ten year old daughter reach for me, want to hold my hand.
That dream finally came true for me— Gabby reaching out to hold my hand. It happened for the first time years ago, but each time she does it, it stops me in my tracks. My heart seizes and remembers how long I yearned for a moment like this. We walk along, with the breeze in our hair, the cool San Francisco evening air enveloping us. But the warmth of our hands, together, it feels like a promise made so long ago, and fulfilled in this fleeting moment. I want to hold on forever. But instead I try just to live in the moment, to feel our hands together, to breathe in the air and thank God for this moment. This moment I dreamed of years ago in the back of a taxi cab.