Last night I ran into Walmart to grab a few things for our dinner while John and the kids waited in the car. After zipping through the aisles, I breezed through the self-checkout. As I was loading my bags back into my cart I heard soft voices just a few feet away. Turning to look, I found two little boys hovering over the candy display. They were turning the bags over in their hands and talking to one another about it -- their faces just inches apart. Something about the back of their heads was just so familiar, so I stood there, watching for a moment.
Then he turned around.
The air was sucked out of my lungs and my heart pounded in my chest as I felt a mixture of elation and searing pain. I was staring at the face of one of our foster sons. I hadn't seen that precious face for nearly seven years, but it was the same little face, just on a much taller body. I stood there, frozen, just memorizing everything about him and then, his twin brother turned around. My heart could have burst in that moment. There they were, the sons I have loved every single day for seven years, standing less than five feet from me. I was breathless. And then their gaze met mine.
I smiled softly and silently begged them to recognize me as I looked into their eyes. Two blank stares met my gaze. Nothing. My heart broke a little as I realized they didn't know me anymore. How could they, though? They were 2 1/2 when they left my arms... and now they will turn 9 in less than two weeks. Still, I had hoped. These were the boys I had rocked to sleep every night for 87 nights. I had kissed their boo-boos and wiped their tears. When they got sick, I wrapped them in blankets and held them close. We laughed and splashed at bath time, we picnicked in the mountains. I was there when they first saw the ocean. But now I am a stranger in Walmart.
Their father finished checking out behind me and called to the boys. They quickly dropped the candy bags and followed behind their dad. I grabbed my cart and hurried behind them. Once outside, I stood and watched as they half skipped, half trotted down the sidewalk to the other side of the parking lot. The joy I felt at seeing them quickly melted into grief as they faded from view. It was over in a blink -- one minute they were there and the next they were gone. Again.
As they rounded the corner, I was transported back to seven years ago. Two little boys wearing two little back packs, half skipping,half trotting to the social services van. Through my tears, I buckled them in when one looked up at me and said, "It's okay! Jesus with me when I go bye-bye car." The van pulled away as we stood weeping in the front yard. That had been the last moment I saw them.
As they disappeared from view once more I stood outside Walmart with tears streaming down my cheeks, whispering to myself his sweet little words, "It's okay. Jesus with me when I go bye-bye..." We went home where I retreated to the laundry room and cried harder than I have in a very long time. Now I will do what I have done for the last seven years. I will love them and miss them and hold them in my heart forever. Because life isn't always wrapped up in a pretty little bow and some hurts do last forever. But they are infinitely worth the love and the blinks of joy.
This post originally appeared on laurencasper.com.