Zaviera shrieks and burrows into the blankets. She is two bright eyes and a wild mess of hair. She whimpers. Sol sits up, pushing the covers away, his Little Professor face stern, “Zaviera, you need to shush, we’re trying to say prayers. Stop whining.”
“She’s scared Sol,” I explain because this isn’t something he’ll immediately process. He just hears the noise, the interruption to his routine. “Well, tell her to be quiet scared,” he says, frowning.
“What’s wrong sweetheart?” I slowly pull away the blankets but she burrows deeper, mumbling something. After a few more back and forths like this, Sol attempting to expedite the extraction of information from his sister, “Zaviera, just tell Mommy what you’re saying, she can’t understand you!” Zaviera creeps out of the blankets, her eyes wide, and whispers to me, “There was someone in the pillow laughing at me!”
I repeat it, just to be sure I understand her correctly, “You heard someone in the pillow laughing at you?”
She nods. No joke. She is convinced.
Zaviera isn’t often convinced, or convincing for that matter, she is most often simply ‘carried away’ - by the moment, the emotion, the idea, the game, the story she is telling herself (or her food) about the world.
“I heard it, Mommy,” she does a re-enactment of events. Puts her head tentatively down on the pillow, as if she is afraid a hand might reach up and grab her, and then she points to the pillow, “In there, it was laughing.”
“It’s okay,” I say. “You’re with me. Nothing can get you.”
Next to me, Sol is going on and on about the impossibility of a laughing pillow and I can feel Zaviera shrinking inside of herself, so I quickly shift gears.
Sol quiets down immediately, routine restored. Zaviera snuggles beneath my arm. I throw in a line about watch over us and keep us safe hoping to send Zaviera into her dreams without any laughing pillows chasing her. At which point the small heater in the room roars to life, Sol and Zaviera both jumping up, their eyes wide.
“Why did that turn on?” Sol demands. “Why did it turn on now, all by itself?”
It is late. I am tired. I am feeling reckless and inspired by Zaviera’s laughing pillow, so I say, “That was just God letting us know our prayers have been received.”
Sol with flawless comic timing responds, “That doesn’t sound like God to me. It doesn’t sound like God at all. That just sounds like hot air.”
After I stop laughing, I find myself swept away in a discussion about the ways people communicate with God, how they listen, why they pray, and how it is different for everyone, that you have to figure out your own reasons and your own way of communicating, when Sol interrupts me because he has come to an unexpected understanding.
“I hear God’s voice in music,” he tells me, his face serious, his hands in the air to show me the instrument. “When I am playing an instrument at school, sometimes it’s the instrument talking and sometimes it’s God.” And then his hands drop out of the air. He rolls over on his side, shoving his back into me, his feet squirming into my legs, and announces, “I’ve made myself tired talking about this.”
“Me too,” I say, patting his back. He is asleep the moment his eyes close but I stay awake for a long time afterwards, thinking about the conversation and the way Sol’s mind continues to stun me.
When I was Sol’s age, I had my first lucid dream. I can conjure it in my mind nearly as vivid as it was then. In the dream, I was walking in a tiered garden overflowing with flowers and herbs organized around a statue of the Buddha. I remember clearly the statue had one hand resting in its lap, the other raised in the mudra of wisdom. Thirty years later, I am still unable to put into words the experience, other than to say I was in the presence of God.
When I write, no matter how dark the subject matter, I am brushing up against the edges of that garden, and that, more than anything else, is what drives me. It is a form of prayer for me. What I’ve always wanted for my children is that they find their own version of the fragrant sunlight that informs my days, a garden of their own they can wander through and a language of faith only they can hear.
As I rest in the dark thinking about the laughing pillow and the musical instruments that speak to my literal-minded son, it occurs to me that my children are already listening, they are discovering their gardens all on their own.