It never failed. I was never surprised anymore. I walk out here with my fleece throw, my cup of coffee in hand, and sit on the bench overlooking the lake. Then, without question, there he is, always soaring high above the lake fog. I swear I can see the wink of his eye as he turns that white head in our morning meetings. Sometimes, although I'm wrapped in a throw and enjoying my hot wake-up juice, I can feel myself soaring with him like I am his mate. I like to think I am in some way. It's good to be nature's mate. I am his, and so it turns, he is mine.
I take another sip of my coffee and continue to watch my bonded one flap his wings once then twice and then catch the rising drafts that lift him into higher wind channels. He is so free and majestic as his white head, and splayed white tail propel him to heights that only he can endure naturally. I feel free myself as I watch him glide in the air with agile acrobatics. If I could flap this throw and join him in the air, I could fly to Heaven.
Maybe I'd see Grable there if I could.
Watching this eagle soar reminds me of what we had. Grable and I were such free individuals. He was the love of my life. Forever. And I'm not kidding. I fell in love with him when we were in kindergarten. See, I wasn't lying.
We were always together in school. Our classmates thought we were weird. My girlfriends thought there was something wrong with me for liking to be with a boy. When all of them thought boys had cooties, I saw something in Grable that made me realize there was more to a boy than that. His cooties were special.
We graduated high school, and after a quick summer, Tallahassee called our names. We got married halfway into our freshman semester at Florida State. No one realizes how hard it was keeping that quiet when we lived in the dorms. Separate ones at that. Thank goodness we had dorm mates that were understanding and gave us time alone when we needed it. If it weren't for symbols and code words, Grable and I would have been caught in precarious situations.
After we had graduated, we moved here to Cold Mountain Lake after building on the still waters. Now, as I sit here in the mornings when I look back at the house, I have an emptiness that only I see and feel. I only ever feel full when my eyes drift to one room. The room where Loribell sleeps. Our daughter. The only one thing that keeps me going because I see Grable in her. She'll be out here soon. She always finds her way.
Loribell's so much like me, but yet so much like her father she doesn't even realize it. Her lone spirit mimics my reserved nature, but her love for the openness of her surroundings come out in abundance to soak it all inside. That's her Grable side. It is definitely safe to say; she is a mirror image of both of us.
Loribell is much too young to know what I hide inside. I do a good job keeping myself sane when she is around. When she's not, well, I'm insane. I often do not realize who I am. This eagle helps to remind me every morning. This morning is no different.
It was a good thing I took the last sip of my coffee or I could have spilled it all over me as I turned to see Loribell standing naked on the first board of the walkway leading to the bench on the dock. I had to chuckle a little.
"Loribell, where are your clothes?"
"All of them?"
"How did you manage that?"
"Washin' my hands."
"Okay. confident Let's get you back inside and find you some dry clothes."
"But I wanna sit wid you mommy. Out here. See big bird."
"Loribell, honey, Big Bird is inside on tv."
"Not that big bird. That one," Loribell said and pointed.
When I turned back around, my eagle had perched on a pylon on the end of the dock. He was looking at Loribell and me. His big round body, straight with his chest stuck out prominently, showed just how majestic he was.
"Yes, Loribell, he is quite handsome. Now wrap this around you before you catch a cold." I said as I did my best to wrap my naked daughter in the throw.
As I did, my eagle bowed his head up and down. I swear that was his way of laughing. Just like Grable would have done.
"Now I sit with you mommy," Loribell said and tried not to trip over the throw making her way to the bench.
"Yes, but mommy needs more coffee. I'll be right back."
I looked back as I headed to the house and my eagle was clearly watching me go. I didn't understand. How could an eagle be that docile? Could he be that used to me since we always met in the mornings? Surely not.
I poured the second cup, and I stopped dead in my tracks the moment I stepped out the door. I could not believe my eyes. I just knew I saw things. I rubbed my eyes to make sure. When I opened them again, I saw the same identical thing. It was real.
Loribell was sitting near the edge of the dock, again naked, the throw now draped over the back of the bench, and she was playing with the eagle. Really. The eagle was playfully jabbing at her with his yellow beak while opening his wings like he was going to swat her touches away. I heard Loribell giggle several times at his little gestures. He wasn't trying to hurt her in any way. It was like he was tending to his own little eaglet.
When my brain finally sent messages to my feet to move again, I was careful to go as slowly as I could. It was no use. As soon as I began heading to Loribell, my eagle decided it was time to fly. That prompted Loribell to stand and follow in the direction he flew. Her little legs scampered as far as the edge of the dock and stopped. I heard her crying "Come back! Come back!" However, my eagle just kept flying off into the distance.
"Come on Loribell, let's get you back up to the house and into some clothes," I said as I put my coffee down on the arm of the bench and picked her up.
"No buts young lady. You'll get sick out here with nothing on in this cool air."
"Mommy, I like nakey."
"Yeah, most children do."
"Big bird did too."
"Somehow, Loribell, I don't think Big Bird would condone your lack of clothing."
"Mommy, not that big bird. The one with me!"
"That was an eagle Loribell."
"Still big bird."
"Yes, Loribell, it is a big bird. He'll be back. Trust me."
"Loribell, honey, I almost promise so."
"Good. I liked that big bird. 'Mind me of daddy."
That's when it hit me. I don't know what took so long. I didn't want to believe it. I couldn't believe it. I just knew I was wrong.
I put Loribell down just inside the door and said, "Now go to your room. I'll be right there."
"Am I in trouble mommy?"
"No honey. Why did you think that?"
"Sending me to my room."
"To put some clothes on Loribell. Nothing else. Now git. I'll be there in a minute."
I watched her little naked body march to her room. The slapping sound of her bare feet on the hardwood floor echoed as she walked. I laughed a little as her bare bottom crossed the room and disappeared.
Then, as I turned to go to her room, out of the corner of my eye through the kitchen window, I saw him, my eagle. He was perched on the back of the bench facing the house, and I was sure he was looking straight at me. He bowed his head and flapped his huge wings. I swear he was thanking me for getting Loribell back up to the house.
"Mommy, dis better?"
I didn't want to take my eyes off my eagle, but I knew if I kept looking, Loribell would wonder. I turned and saw my daughter dressed clumsily. Her shirt was on backward, and her shorts were inside out, but she looked so cute that way. Loribell was still learning.
"Yes, Loribell, it's better, but I have to know, does it feel weird?"
“Then what do you say we fix that. Come here," and as I said that, my eagle decided to fly.
I straightened Loribell's clothes and brushed her hair. As I looked into her little face, there was so much of Grable in her features. I almost wanted to cry. I sort of did and didn't know it.
"What wrong Mommy? You cry." Loribell said as her little hand wiped a tear from my cheek.
"I'm sorry honey. Mommy just misses daddy."
"Why mommy? Daddy always here."
"I know sweetie. He'll always be with us in our hearts."
"Not that way mommy. Mean daddy is always here. I see him every day."
I leaned away from Loribell for a second and looked at her. I was shocked she would even say something like that.
"Loribell, what do you mean you see daddy every day?"
"Mean see him. Daddy comes to see me all the time. I talk to him."
Well, that explains why I see Loribell carrying on a conversation when I think she's playing.
"Talk to him?"
"Yes, mommy. He tells me to be a good girl and take care of you. Am I doing a good job? Daddy won't tell me. Even when big bird was playing with me."
"Loribell, I think your daddy knows how good you've been and just how much you're taking care of me. You take care of me more than you know."
Loribell smiled big, and I saw that head swelling. Yes, she was so much like Grable.
"Thank you, mommy. Can I play now?"
"You can play as much as you want. Go." I said, and Loribell ran to her playroom.
I stood back up and immediately looked out the kitchen window, and my eagle was soaring high above the lake in wide circles. I just watched. I had too. For the first time, I realized who I really was watching. When I thought I was wrong, it turns out I was really right. It was going to be a new morning when it came.
I didn't even remember going to bed when I woke up. I don't even remember Loribell getting in bed with me, yet she was curled up on Grable's pillow. I never could get rid of that. It was one of the many things I had to keep. It still smelled like him. It made me feel close to him. I was positive that Loribell felt the same which is why her little body was curled all the way on top of it.
I succeeded in not disturbing her as I folded the covers back and slid out of bed. Yes, the coffee was calling me. Yes, the throw was ready. Now, was my eagle? What was I thinking? Of course, he would be ready. He always was. Why should I even question that at all?
I grabbed my favorite cup, and my ritual continued. I never tired of it, not when I had so much to look forward to in the mornings.
Before I even had the door closed behind me, I saw him. He saw me. The keen alertness of his senses was impeccable. He eyed me, and his flying became more acrobatic. Yes, he was showing off. That was just like Grable. Even in spirit, he knew how to make an entrance.
I sat on my bench, coffee cup in hand with the steam rising and mixing with the lake fog somehow. It was hard to tell which was which. The air was thick with the smell of calm, fresh water, sort of like that of a cool mist being dropped slowly from the heavens.
My eagle just kept soaring and occasionally dipping lower where his feet almost touched the still waters of the lake. I sipped my coffee while I sat and watched. We were both at peace here, and it showed.
I stood up and walked to the edge of the dock to where Loribell had stood and waited. That got the attention of my eagle. He turned his graceful white head and looked straight at me. He changed his angle of flight and headed right towards me and in one swoop, landed on the pylon where Loribell pointed at him. He just stared at me.
It was not a mean stare. It was a caring stare; a look of "I've got your back, don't worry."
I actually was scared to move. I wanted to get closer, but I didn't want to startle him. Somehow though, something deep inside told me he would stay perched. I took a couple of steps and stopped. My eagle just watched. I took another couple steps. Still, he stayed. I knew I was safe but didn't want to push it either. I stopped.
"I know why you're here. Grable. He sent you to me."
My eagle turned his head as I spoke. His eyes, however, never came off of me.
"Grable knew I needed a symbol. He knew that I needed to know somehow he was still around. You're that symbol. You are my saving grace."
My eagle flapped his wings a couple of times and bowed his head then vocalized loudly. I wasn't scared. I knew he was answering me.
"Grable knew just what I needed. You're his freedom also. His one way of letting me interact with his spirit. You're the one way that I can see Grable is still around." I said, and I felt a wisp around the back of my neck. Then I felt a tug on my hand. I immediately wrapped mine around the little one that grabbed it.
"Mommy, did you feel that?"
"I did sweetie."
"Daddy here. Beside you."
I felt another cool wisp at my side. It intertwined with my fingers.
My eagle once again vocalized and then moved his head up and down.
"Holding hand. Can you feel it, Mommy?"
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I felt Grable's touch. When I opened my eyes, my eagle had his wings stretched out and his head low in gracefulness.
"Daddy say he love you, mommy."
"Oh Loribell," I started but had to pause for the tears, "Tell your daddy I will always love him."
"Mommy, he can hear you."
Then I felt the wisp of coolness form around my hand and squeeze. For the first time in a very long time, I felt the love of my life. Again.
"Daddy say not cry, Mommy. He don't wike it when you cry."
"I can't help it, Grable. I've missed you so much, and you've been here the whole time, and I've never noticed until Loribell told me she's seen you and talks to you. And you send the eagle, my eagle, for me to know and I just didn't understand until now."
"Okay daddy," Loribell said and hugged me around my waist and legs. She didn't hug me like herself though. It was the hugging feeling of how Grable used to hold me.
I smiled and felt all warm inside the way I did with Grable. He really was here. My eagle was still here. He watched intently while Loribell held on to me. No, while Grable used her to hold on to me.
Then suddenly, the feeling was gone, and my eagle took off. Loribell let go of me and asked, "Better Mommy?"
I looked down at our daughter and smiled as I reached to pick her up. She wrapped her arms around my neck as we watched our eagle soar. In circles, he swooped and climbed and dived and danced in the air with such gracefulness.
"Daddy look happy when he flies," Loribell said as she hugged my neck with more grip.
I patted her and answered, "Yes, he sure does. Happy and beautiful, Loribell. Just like you."
"No Mommy, just wike us."
Our Eagle agreed as he swooped down in front of Loribell and I. There was no doubt, who was the most beautiful in our minds and heart. He just proved it.