But before she had a chance to reminisce, her son spoke again, not to her, it seemed, but more to the moon traveling beside them, hanging low in the sky.
“She was beautiful,” he murmured, “as usual.”
And over the next two years, he never missed a dance. The mother thought at first it was because this quiet middle child was developing surprising, rather impressive social skills, and that may indeed have been part of it.
But as time went on, she realized that the only real, important reason for attending the dances in the church social hall came at the end of each one, as a the boy would slowly separate himself from the pack of friends who had spent the past two hours in a frenzy of goofy spins, leaps and twists.
His courage at a peak, the moment would arrive when he would quiet himself and approach her. She would nod, and for three minutes, the mother knew, as she watched from the back, what looked like the awkward shuffling of two pre-teens holding each other at arm’s length was nothing less than an eternal, perfect waltz to the boy.
As the years went by, nothing happened not that much can, anyway, when you’re twelve. The boy went through a stage of note-writing, but then settled back and waited, trying to be content with friendship, but aching for a something more he could not even name, but which emerged in poems words painting a dreamy landscape in which an angel reigned with eyes only for him.
He grew, he played sports, he read books, and he even performed in a play. He went to the movies with his friends, played basketball after school, and fought with his brother and sister.
And at the end of seventh grade, there was one last dance.
The day before, the mother and son took a trip to the store. The mother made her purchases, then turned around to call the boy, only to find him standing in line behind her, pulling money out of his wallet and paying for a small item he quickly stuffed in his jeans pocket before she could see.
“What is it?” she asked as they walked to the car.
The boy looked past her. “None of your business.”
Startled into a state close to rage, the mother cupped the boy’s chin and glared into his eyes.
He stood, just half a head shorter than her now, a month away from thirteen, his glasses perched at the end of his nose, braces peeking stubbornly through firmly set lips. She thought she could sense him actually growing, leaping forward to the next stage of life under the hand she placed on his shoulder.
Just a few months back, the mother had been seated in a classroom, listening to the boy’s religion teacher speak at the school’s open house. She would be teaching morality this year, but something moved her to take the slightest of detours.
“Your children will be falling in love this year,” she warned, “and please don’t demean it.”
She continued. “Puppy love, we call it, but there’s something really … holy … about that first crush.”
The parents shifted in their seats.
“Don’t worry,” she assured them, “I’m not saying you make this something it isn’t or let them date. No, keep them locked up until they’re 30, at least.”
Relieved, strained laughter from the parents.
“But these first crushes, I’m convinced, are really and truly a type of love; it’s the first time these children are moved to reach outside themselves and to think in terms of making another person happy, instead of just themselves.”
“That feeling remember how it is? It makes the world look beautiful and new, like the way God must see it all the time, because he sees it through the eyes of pure love.”
The parents fell silent, remembering, perhaps. Regretting. Hoping.
As did the mother now, her hand now resting gently on the boy’s shoulder.
“Is it for Jennifer?”
“Are you going to give it to her tomorrow night?”
A nod, imperceptible. His yes softened and he lowered them to the ground.
“What if … it doesn’t turn out like you want?”
“I’m ready for it,” he murmured bravely, eyes boring into the scuffed tips of dirty white sneakers.
“Show me,” the mother insisted.
The boy dropped it out of the sack into her palm. The little gold angel pin glowed softly under the lights. Although it had cost but a mere dollar or so, the mother knew she was holding something precious. It was everything love is: generosity and hope, trust and joy.
But love is woven through with pain, too the pain of Jesus on the cross, the pain of the woman in labor, the pain of unfulfilled longing, risk and disappointment.
And so the mother knew, because she knew what would happen, that she was holding all that, too.
She wanted to take it away, stuff the little bauble in her purse and not allow her son to hand his young pure heart over in this way, and at that moment, she could have, easily.
But she didn’t.
She gathered every single joyous moment when her own world had appeared bathed in love’s light and every tear she’d shed for love, and handed it all over to the boy as she gently placed the pin in his open, trembling palm.
She had to, of course.
Because she loved him.