On Sunday nights, after I’ve tucked in the boys, after I’ve packed my bags for another trip, I write each of them a note. I tell Caleb that I love the way he takes care of his younger brothers, or that I love his inquisitive spirit. I tell Eli that I love his perseverance, or maybe I say that I love the way he whispers to me when I kiss him goodnight. Someone has to read my notes to Isaac and Isaiah; though Isaac understands the part at the end: “Love, Dad.”
If that’s all any boy ever understands, it’s still something, isn’t it? I tell Isaac that I love how he can carry on a conversation with anyone. Or I tell him that I love how ferociously he hugs me. I tell Isaiah that I love his giggle, or I love the way he holds on to me with his whole body.
Caleb puts my note by his papers as he does schoolwork, so he can glance at it from time to time. Isaac and Isaiah keep theirs in their backpacks, a scattering of curled pages growing thicker, like grounded leaves in fall.
I don’t know what Eli does with his notes, but I know he reads them. He is the one to ask, when we talk at night by phone, if my work will be done soon, and why it takes so long to find someone else to do it. Isaac asks how many days until I’m back, going over it again and again with me, time and days and schedules still elusive things to him.
The cold, graying sky has drawn close in Denver, where I am without a coat. I’ve turned up the heat in my room as high as it will go, and still I am cold. No matter how well you pack, you can never take everything you need. Or even anything you need. It is warm where they are, and my heart is where they are, and it’s good to be empty-chested in these cities that are not home, for these cities always to whisper, Not Home.