But at that moment she had known, with a certainty she would never feel about anything else in her life, that it was right, that she wanted this man in her life. Something inside her said. He understands. What it’s like to be different.
But when she came to his office he had not even recognized her. Hers had been just one of the pale, pretty faces, indistinguishable form the next, and though he would never fully realized it, this was he first reason he came to love her: because she had blended in so perfectly, because she had seemed so completely and utterly at home.
As she chattered, breathless, her hands fluttered until he caught them in his and hey lay warm and still, like resting birds, and then she pulled him to her again. It was as if America herself was taking him in. It was too much luck. He feared the day the universe would notice he wasn’t supposed to have her and take her away. Or that she might suddenly realize her mistake and disappear from his life as suddenly as she had entered. After a while, the fear became a habit, too.
Just days before, hundreds of miles away, another couple had married, too—a white man, a black woman, who would share a most appropriate name: Loving. In four months they would be arrested in Virginia, the law reminding them that Almighty God had never intended white, black, yellow, and red to mix, that there should be no mongrel citizens, no obliteration of racial pride. It would be four years before they protested, and four years more before the court concurred, but many more years before the people around them, too.
In kindergarten, he had learned how to make a bruise stop hurting: you pressed it over and over with your thumb. The first time it hurt so much your eyes watered. The second time it hurt a little less. The tenth time, it was barely an ache. So he read the note again and again. He remembered everything he could: Marilyn kneeling to lace Nath’s sneaker; Marilyn lifting his collar to slide in the stays. Marilyn as she was the first day in his office: slender and serious and so focused that he didn’t dare look at those eyes directly. It didn’t stop hurting. His eyes didn’t stop watering.
She had been afraid so long, she had forgotten what it was like not to be — afraid that, one day, her mother would disappear again, that her father would crumble, that their whole family would collapse once more. Ever since that summer without her mother, their family had felt precarious, as if they were teetering on a cliff. Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it. Anything her mother wanted, she had promised. As long as she would stay. She had been so afraid.
And Nath. When at school people ask if he has siblings: two sisters, but one died; when, one day, he looks at the small bump that will always mar the bridge of Jack’s nose and wants to trace it, gently, with his finger. When, a long, long time later, he stares down at the silent blue marble of the earth and thinks of his sister, as he will at every important moment of his life. He doesn’t know this yet, but he senses it deep down in his core. So much will happen, he thinks, that I would want to tell you.