it had been two months, two incredibly long months since michel had passed. he had been an amazing man, someone who would have taken the shirt off of his back if he met someone who needed it more. he was the man who could always find a reason to smile, who knew every word to every lullaby— in french and english— before he had ever laid eyes on his daughter. he had been ruggedly handsome, roughly around six feet tall, and had the most piercing green eyes, ones that he passed down onto our daughter. i suppose i never really paid attention to how she had not only his eyes, but that crooked little smile of his, too, and the way she would hide her face when she was truly delighted. she would somehow find a new way every day to make me remember him and how much he loved her, how much he loved me.
it had been a year in a half since i'd gotten the job at the research lab in the bay area and we had packed our things to move across the world. michel had been more than happy to let me chase my dreams; he was sure that he could find a nearby hospital to apply to. he loved his job as a nurse; it never surprised me much. he was a nurturer, a healer at heart, and it just seemed to suit him so well. sure, it was a little more difficult when seraphina was still a baby and he had to work twelve hour shifts, but we'd made it through no worse for wear. he always said that i'd let him chase his dreams and so, it was only fair to let me chase mine. so i accepted the job and we were leaving paris, waving goodbye from the plane window.
moving a two year old across an ocean is not an easy task, but it was something we were able to work through. it had helped that i was able to put her back into a routine trip made every saturday morning to the library. luckily, the home we'd bought in potrero hill had one that was within walking distance. every saturday morning, we would get up, each give michel a kiss on the cheek as he sat in his chair with his morning cup of hot coffee and the morning paper, and make our way out into the beginning of the day, holding hands and chatting happily about the animals sera would see in the trees, or running across the street.
the very first time we went, we had luckily arrived in time for a children's book reading done by one of the librarians and sera had been overly thrilled to be there in time to listen. she had padded over to the group of gathered children and plopped down between a couple of them, sitting up in eager anticipation as the woman on a stool before them grinned, looking down at the crowd of smiling little faces gathered before her, even my two and a half year old who had somehow managed to scoot her way to the front. i watched from the back, leaning against a book shelf as the woman, clad in a sleek but appropriate navy dress and a loose hanging scarf, straightened up and crossed her legs, setting the book she had been holding up on her knee as she opened it.
the way she read to the kids was nothing short of entertaining; she would sometimes prop the book on her thigh so that she could wave her hands around to accentuate the fluctuations of her animated tone and the way her dreads swung loosely over her shoulders. her eyes were so bright behind her thick rimmed spectacles and sparkled with an adorable intensity. she was so invested in an animated children's book that it was almost admirable. she probably could have picked up a phone book, read it aloud, and made it seem like the most interesting thing in the world.
it started becoming a weekly occurrence that sera would simply not let me forego, even though the readings were only on the last saturday of every month. we would walk to the library, and sera would scale the library in search of the excitedly animated librarian, who we had come to learn was named cosima. when she would find her, with me trailing not too far behind, she would constantly ask if she could read her a book, any book. "cosie, another story, si vous plait?" she would always ask cutely, with a look that no human in their right mind could honestly deny. somehow, every saturday, cosima would make the time to read sera a story and sometimes, even two, with those same vivid and excited motions every single time. it was watching those one-on-one moments between them that gave me this strange feeling in my chest. it made me proud and at the same time, there was a sense of awe in watching them, sitting on the floor next to one another as sera leaned toward the woman to see the pictures and take in her gestures all at once. there were even times when cosima's voice would drop an octave to impersonate a monster that would elicit an incredibly sweet and adorable giggle from my daughter, one that almost always made my heart skip a beat.
it was after michel's passing that i came to realize how vital it was to stick to a routine, primarily for sera's sake. she handled the loss of her father in her own way; she was only three and a half and so, his absence tended to elicit a lot of questions from her, questions that i found too difficult to form answers to. how could i explain to a child that her father had died of cancer no one had seen coming, or that he was never going to be around to tuck her into bed again? i couldn't, it was impossible. so, the best thing i could do was keep everything else as normal as possible.
we didn't miss even a single saturday, but the cognizant book keeper also didn't miss a beat. after their usual story-time, she had given sera a couple of picture books to look through and clamored to her feet, making her way over to the table i had been perched at, watching the two of them, apparently with a bit of a hollow look in my eyes. "delphine," she managed quietly, snapping me out of the trance i had been in; initially, i hadn't even noticed her standing there, but my head jerked up and my eyes met her amber ones.
"sorry," i muttered quietly, clearing my throat. she placed herself in the chair across from me, the concern etched very obviously into the creases of her brow.
"don't apologize. is everything alright? you look like you haven't slept in days." at this, my eyes wandered to hers and my throat tightened; i wanted to cry, to admit to someone other than myself that no, everything was not fine, but despite the several conversations we had carried over the years, i did not want to burden her with my tendency to be over-emotional.
i cleared my throat again— a nervous habit— and pressed my lips together. "her father… my fiance… he passed away last sunday. she's not quite old enough to understand yet, and so… so i thought bringing her here could be good for her. if i didn't, i'm sure she would know something was wrong. perhaps it's best for her to stay… blissfully ignorant, at least to an extent." i could notice almost instantly that the other woman's face fell and the sorrow she felt was obvious in her expression, written out so clearly that she didn't even need to speak it.
she reached out and cupped her hands over mine on the table. her touch caught me off guard and i do not doubt that i looked startled as i found my gaze staring back into hers. "i won't apologize, because i know that you have enough people saying that they're sorry for your loss, and that sorrys can get a little stale." there was a gentle sense of understanding in her words, and her gentle touch. maybe she knew what loss was like, perhaps not in the way i did, but there was something in her demeanor that felt, to me, like empathy. "but i will tell you that if there is anything you need, you know where to find me." it was that invitation that was bound to shape the way the rest of my life was going to be, i just could never have known it at that precise moment in time.