Whenever you come across a moderate size decision, you have the ability to message any of your future selves and ask them what came of their decisions. One day, the doorbell rings and there is a girl-scout waiting outside. Your phone chimes, it’s a message from yourself; it reads “Please, don’t open it”.
I wasn’t sure how long I’d been able to communicate with the future. As a little boy, I’d written letters and placed them in the creek out in the back of my house, and gotten replies back the next day under my pillow. As I got older I began to suspect my parents, but the more I questioned them, the less likely it seemed. So i continued to write, asking about how I’d look, or who I’d marry, or how many children id have, or if the girl I liked liked me back.
“Handsome, a little too arrogent.” “You won’t marry.” “One.” “Yes”
And it guided my life. Successfully. Letters turned to emails, emails to texts, and so on. Bigger life decisions needed more specific answers. How big of a downpayment do i need for my first house?
“Don’t buy a house yet, wait until after you’re fired from this job”
“The next job is double your salary, prove yourself, and you can do it.”
“Don’t date him, he’s married. You’ll get dragged into the drama.”
I became very successful, with a cozy home, with exactly the two bedrooms id been told to get, with a big backyard Id been talked into, planning for a family I was still unsure about. My parents had passed in my mid 20s, and I was an only child, a little spoiled for that fact but still lonely. Which I supposed helped me to continue corresponding with my future guide, stubborn to accept bad outcomes and desperate for familiar contact, despite their mysteriousness, and distance. They never spoke first, only answered questions…which is why it came as a surprise one autumn sunday morning, when my phone alerted me to the first unprovoked message they’d ever sent me. I was shocked, staring for eternity at the confusing message.
“Please…dont answer it. ” The vaguity concerned me. Whilst pondering it, the bright chimes of my doorbell sounded. My stomach sank and my hands shook. I couldnt resist peering out of the peephole. Shock after shock today, the caller was a small girl, with an impossible cloud of curls suspended around her freckled face, her deep brown eyes staring up into what she had no clue to be my own eyes.
It was a little girl. A headstrong little girl, from the way her chest was puffed out and the straightness of her back and the loft of her head and the fire I could almost feel. Her little blue tunic was too big, obscured by the comically large pen board she carried.
Against my better judgement, I opened the door. The tiny spitfire wasn’t the only one there, to my amusement. Six more tiny girls were huddled behind a tall, primly dressed woman. She waved apologetically as one shrieked at my presence and began to cry.
“Sorry, you’re our first stop,” she laughed as she comforted the sobbing girl.
I shrugged, “Girl scouts?”
She blinked. “Oh, I suppose we look like them, don’t we? No no, we’re the-”
“WE’RE SELLING COOKIES FOR OUR HOUSE. BUY EM, KID.” The little one at my feet sure knew how to sell. I laughed a gestured to her clip board, and she enthusiastically chucked it at my chest. “THEYRE SO TUMMY. ”
The woman laughed again. “You mean yummy, Naomi.” The girls eyes sparkled and she just nodded, affirmatively. I looked the sheet over. “Ross District Girl’s Home”. I glanced at the woman.
“Are you a…”
“Foster care, yes. There’s also a boys home as well, about a mile south from here. We do a fundraiser every six months or so, and split up by age, I’ve got the first graders out today. You’re new to the area yes?” I nodded.
“Great, well we do lots of bake sales, little fundraisers, door to door, things like that to keep our house running and to get the kids out of the house for a bit. We do a carnival in December too. ”
“Impressive. ” I looked back down, and Naomi had vanished.
“Shit.” The woman clapped her hand over her mouth as the girls laughed and acted scandalized at her swear. “Did she run inside? Could we..?”
I extended a hand, “Be my guest, I dont have much but some granola bars you kids are welcome to.” Five little girls rushed in as their gaurdian rolled her eyes. The sixth held tight and they entered.
As the children chowed down, she thanked me. “Thats very sweet.”
“Nah, I love kids. Love to have some myself eventually.” I marked a few things down and handed the board back to her. “3 of each, the office will love these.” She gaped at me.
“Thats…over three hundred dollars…are you sure?” She sputtered.
I shrugged, and pulled a carton of milk and some glasses down. “Kids are expensive. I’d be happy to help more if you need it.” She raised an eyebrow at me and extended a hand.
“Charlotte.” I took it and shook.
“Wilber.” And she couldnt begin to contain her laughter.
“No kidding!?” She howled, “Oh you and me are going to have some fun, Wilber.”
“Will is fine,” I winced. She shook her head. “Nope, you’re my new best friend. Wilber. Great name.” She sat the girls in a row and began to call for Naomi.
We searched the house, easily finding her in my office. My office was my pride, the wall covered in pictures and maps, red strings tacked all over, souvenirs from other countries, plane tickets from where id gone. This tiny girl was stared in awe of it all. I was flattered. “Hey.” Charlotte said softly.
There was such a calm over her. Like she’d had an epiphany. She looked twice as small in the dark room, her entranced faced illuminated only by the rather dramatic lighting I displayed my treasures with.
“This is the world, huh?” She said quietly.
“A lot of it, sure.”
“My mama said she was gonna find a way to give me the world. You went and got it, huh, kid?”
“Not all of it.”
“My mama couldn’t give it to me…she had to go. So I gotta find someone else to help me. Huh, kid?”
“Its a wonderful thing to have.”
I was compelled. I sat side by side with her in that little room, weaving stories about China, and Africa, and Mexico, and Europe and all the places I’d seen, all the places I wanted to see. Eventually all of the little group was there, snacking and listening. I showed them the lunch I’d had at the Eiffel tower, the brightly lit streets of Tokyo nights, the majesty of Machu Picchu, the castles of Scotland. I told them to go and see them, no matter what it takes. And suddenly, they were leaving. Time to go, time to return back to reality, time to return to a spouse that probably shouldn’t know Charlotte took seven little girls to eat a snack inside a strange man’s home. I caught her by the wrist and stared. “I want in.” She laughed nervously, “What?”
“How do I do what you do?”
“Well you have to be a social worker for one…but we do let potential parents volunteer during the adoption process.”
“I’ll do it.”
From that day forth I committed my whole heart to that foster home. I broke my back playing with the kids, cooking meals and loving them. I showed up to work more sporadically. I didn’t care. These kids were so smart and wonderful. Kaya loved to paint and she was amazing at it. Elizabeth sang, and Martina knew math even I couldn’t do. And Naomi was loud and boisterous and loved everything about the world and learning about it. She and I became best friends, and I gave up my cushy office job to return to teaching English. We spent so much time together, even Charlotte got sick of me. So sick in fact that one day, she got to joyfully hand me a thick stack of approved paperwork to declare that she was officially kicking both me and Naomi out of her home.
And that was that, my life began to revolve around this little devil child who tore up my house the first day she stayed there as we celebrated by eating way too much ice cream and blasting the music way too loud. This spitfired seven year old who told ghost stories to her stuffed animals under the covers and pretended to not notice as I listened intently, as she’d make her dolls scream in response to the twist. This tiny, wide eyed wonder, who began to sob fat tears the day I handed her a ticket and a passport and told her that we were going to Peru. The girl who traveled with me all over the world and brightened every corner of the earth, and brought meaning to my spoiled, lonely life.
Naomi loved mangos, and the beach, and she would spend nights staring at it when she was older, on the coast of Hawaii, or Jamaica, or wherever we were. She pretended not to notice me watching, admiring the young lady my daughter was becoming. She drew every shoe she ever owned, and she drew it in the country she got it in. That was always my first gift, shoes to show where she’d stepped foot.
Naomi never brought up her mother, or that she died from breast cancer. She wouldn’t have known, and couldn’t have thought to remember the day that the love of my life was told at 15 that she had less than a year left to live. Naomi, my crybaby was silent, and comforted me as I wailed for my child who it felt had just come into my life.
“If I have a year, we better make it a great one, huh kid?”
That year we climbed Mount Everest. That year, we visited every Disney resort in the world. That year turned into three, and when my baby walked across the stage of a graduation of strangers, she was so beautiful, even through the sallow, sunken cheeks and paled eyes, and smiling despite her oxygen mask as she took a diploma she’d earned outside of the high school her peers attended, by living life. She went into the hospital that night, smiling.
“Dad…I think you did it.” She crooned, spreading her shoe drawings over her lap, her ‘sketchers’ she often joked.
“What’s that? ”
“You gave me the world.”
My daughter died two weeks later in the hospital, surrounded by her friends from all over the world, who had come to see her graduate, and stayed when her condition worsened. I sighed and pressed my cheek to her still warm face and said my wet and shaky goodbyes. I tapped my phone, the first message in years to them.
“I answered the door. It was worth it.”