Across the shifting sea I voyaged, to far ports and distant shores. I went not to forget, but to remember. To remember the way I was as a child, not the way I had grown to be as a man.
I wrote her a letter and sent it on the first ship we crossed. Brief, I told her my intent, and left it at that. To find myself. To learn to love. To remember.
After a year of port to port, island to island, praying to God each night and rising for her each morning, we arrived at the small Caribbean Island, Eye of the Mother. Named so for the pile of rocks atop which, at the crest of the topmost cliff, presided a stone chipped statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her arms, poised as if waiting to rise to her maker, were spread wide toward the earth, and her gaze was bent to the wide island vista. I climbed the crumbling stone path that led with crude steps to the foot of her shrine, and paused to contemplate her face.
But I soon grew nervous. Hers was not the innocence of inexperience, and I could not hold my own beneath it. Instead, I noticed that one of her fingers pointed distinctly to a patch of earth, and idly curious, wanting to escape her eyes, but finding comfort somehow in her presence, I investigated as an excuse to stay. Beneath her finger was an orange patch of earth – prime molding clay. Suddenly inspired, I dug with my fingers and took out fistfuls. I poured my water bottle into my hand and with the mixture began to shape and mold.
Presently, I know not how long my task engrossed me, I suddenly found a child sitting on the cairn of rocks and contemplating my actions with wide eyes. Delicate pale wisps fluttered around her face, stirred delicately by the breeze.
“What are you making?”
I glanced down at the sculpture in my hands. A woman. It wasn’t her, like I thought it would be; nor my mother, which might have made sense; not even a replica of the Virgin standing above my head. I handed it over to the child, who took it with her tiny hands and looked it all over.
“I’m in love with my best friend, you see,” I told her. “I’ve always wanted to love her, but I don’t really know how, so mostly I’ve just demanded her to love me. But she told me a story – a story about why she refuses to love me…”
“What was the story?”
I had poured over the story of Ruth ever since setting sail, and I knew it now by heart. “Once upon a time, a girl named Ruth married a handsome man named Elimelek–”
The little girl erupted into giggles. “That’s a funny name!”
I smiled at her. “Yes, I suppose it is. Well, Elimelek had a mother named Naomi who was a very wonderful and holy woman. But soon, Elimelek died and Ruth was a widow. Ruth now had nothing to do with Naomi, no connection to her, you see, but the girl didn’t see it that way. Instead of drifting away from her, Ruth clung even closer and chose to love Naomi more than anyone else, even more than her friends and relatives.”
I blinked. “I don’t know. I guess they were both lonely – they needed each other. Anyway, because Ruth loved Naomi so much, she was able to meet the love of her life and marry him in the end of the story.”
I laughed so hard tears came into my eyes. “No, he died remember? The new guy was named Boaz.”
“They all have funny names!” she laughed. “Are you Boaz?”
She stuck out the sculpture at me, now deformed beyond recognition by the fondling of her tiny fingers. “And she is Ruth, the girl you love?”
I sighed deeply. “Actually, no. She is a woman I don’t understand. The woman Ruth loves. She’s Naomi.”
The girl wrinkled her face at the sculpture, confused and dissatisfied with my tale. “Are you going to marry Ruth?”
I hadn’t admitted my desire to myself – all through my searching, I was too confused. And now, standing at the foot of a mother, I was too afraid. The little girl before me seemed to represent my friend as a child, and the Blessed Virgin was her new mother. One was too young, and the other, too old. One too bereft of experience, the other loaded with too much. If I dared to presume to ask for her hand, would innocence repel me? Would experience condemn? I feared it.
“You should marry her,” she finally pronounced when I was silent too long. She declared confidently. “Naomi wants Ruth to be happy…. Right?”