I have a time capsule. It’s nothing like the ones they put in schools or space shuttles, but it’s as grounding and poignant. And it’s not really a capsule, but a file folder. A slender one at that. But inside remains the things that remind me to this day where I was at one point in my life. A point that I don’t visit often, but is marked onto me as gently and distinctively as the stripes and swirls on a butterfly wing.
In treatment, we were allowed visitors on Saturday afternoons only. Other than that, visitors were not encouraged. It was a reminder that we were there for one purpose and one purpose only – to get well. To heal. To be in a safe place. Social visits on a regular basis don’t foster that kind of environment. So of course many of us guys approached Saturdays either with trepidation, loathing or excitement. Some men had no one visiting them. Some had a loyal girlfriend or wife to pass the time with. Some just had mom or a sibling. I was grateful to have the people that I disappointed and hurt come to see me. I wanted them to bear witness to my doing well, even though I was still frightened and unsure of my own future. I had come into treatment shaking and vibrating, still ill, emotionally broken, and still reeling from my DT’s and thoughts of suicide. I knew that I didn’t have many chances left. Strike that – I knew that I had one chance left, and I was at it. I feared the worst, but having people see me was a distraction I invited.
I had my son come by one time, with my wife. My boy was 3 1/2 years old at the time. Where I saw a dim place full of suffering men trying to get better, my son saw a place that had large trees growing in the backyard, where branches seemed to reach up forever and tickle and break apart the clouds. His little eyes saw things of pleasure that his 40 yr old dad could not see. I hadn’t seen or felt pleasure in a very, very long time. One thing that did bring me pleasure were the pieces of art that my son would create, and delivered to me on those Saturday visits. At the top of each painting were the words “To Papi”. ( “Papi” is what he calls me. It’s Spanish for “Dad” – sort of like “Pops”. I loved when he first said that word to me. I still love it now). I also had cards of well wishing and notes of hope and inspiration. I had pages of prayers and other trinkets of love that my family brought to me on their visits. I felt love like I hadn’t felt it before. It was like sliding sunshine under my door. I kept everything in a clear file folder, neatly tucked in my one drawer, between the clean socks and my Big Book.
I would lie in bed at night, just before lights out, and flip my way through my growing file folder. I would admire my son’s finger painting, tracing his tiny finger marks with my own, as if trying to feel his touch through the hues of colours on construction paper. I’d look at his grinning face in pictures, trying to recount the day – was I sober that day the photo was snapped? Drunk? I tried to hold onto his smell, his weight in my hands as I played with him in my memory. I also thought of how I could have lost him. I thought of what was going through his mind when he saw his dad, his Papi, getting put in the back of a police cruiser. His Papi, who had driven drunk, with him in the back seat. His Papi, who cherished his boy with all his heart, but had put him at the most danger in his young life. Papi. I would cry after lights went dark, just wishing that I could turn back time. But what was done was done.
That was almost two years ago. I sometimes run into my time capsule. Like today. I don’t hide it, nor do I keep it out. It just lands where it needs to land, and I come across it whenever I am guided to come across it. It reminds me of where I was, where I needed to be, where God had decided I needed to land at that time. It’s a reminder that I cannot go back, and yet, I cannot be rooted in the past. It’s a short stack of long love. It’s a landmark in my journey. It puts me in the moment of where desperation meets compassion and where guilt and shame meet forgiveness. And I have the note. The note that my little boy dictated to his mother for me, his absent Papi. The note shown here.
That note never fails to bring a tear to my eye – not only for a boy who only saw the beautiful, stretching trees in the backyard of the rehab amidst the pain of others, but who saw a father he missed and adored amidst a man who felt broken. That note is innocence, forgiveness and hope frozen forever in time.
The writing may not be his on that paper, but it has his eyes, his fingers, the crease in his smile and the love in his heart etched all over it.