J doesn’t want to go. Though she usually looks forward to sleepovers with her grandma, this time she clings hard to my legs and looks longingly into my eyes.
“I want to stay here with you,” she says.
“Come here for a minute,” I say, bringing her back into the house as her sisters and grandma load into the car. I rip a small corner from a piece of paper, draw on it a bubbly floating heart and write the simple message I love you inside because sometimes the simplest are the truest. I hold the words right up in front of her face, fold the paper and place it in the palm of her hand.
“When you feel sad, or miss Mama, just squeeze it extra tight. My love is right here with you even when I’m not.”
Her mouth turns up a bit at the corners as Gaga’s car pulls away from the curb, and she waves goodbye with a closed little fist.
The next afternoon, J runs in the door smiling, hugs me around the waist and opens her hand. Tenderly she unwraps the small square, and the paper is visibly soft from her palm, nearly tearing at the creases.
“I still have it, Mama,” she says.
And it’s the love I need, too. The one that continues beating even when it feels far away. The one I keep reading to remind me it’s true. Unfolding and folding again until it’s truly mine.
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