Saying Goodbye

On Saturday morning, we woke up for our final hours in the foster home.  I spent those hours torn between needing to run around the house packing and wanting to just sit and take in the scene around me.  Baba, Jaja, and Baba’s mother could hardly tear their eyes away from Elliott, and he took full advantage of his captive audience.  He giggled and charmed and delighted.  He has been making them laugh for 18 months, and it was almost as if he knew this was his last chance.  Jaja, the photographer of the family, pulled out his camera and snapped shot after shot.  We wanted to give them space to take in these final moments, so we retreated upstairs to pack.

And then all of a sudden, it was time to go.  Baba, Elliott and I were taking the bus into the city, and it only came once an hour.  Alex and Jaja were transporting our luggage by car.  In the flurry of the rush out the door, I hugged Baba’s mother, who kissed my cheeks and wished me luck in Polish.  I already miss her.

Baba and I set off for the bus stop, pushing Elliott in his stroller.  We arrived and stood with the other chilly travelers, and I breathed in the frost-covered scene around me.  It was like something out of a storybook.  I took a few steps away from the stroller.  As much as I wanted to be with Elliott and Baba, I felt like I was intruding on their goodbye and wanted to give her room.  She fussed over his hat and his mittens and tapped her finger to his nose, which made him giggle.

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When the bus arrived, we piled on.  I stared out the window at the low, stone, frosty buildings flying by me.  I wanted to memorize it, to drink it all in.  One day, I want to be able to tell Elliott all about the tiny, time-forgotten village where his life began.  I snatched a few glances at Baba.  She isn’t one for public displays of emotion, but from the corner of my eye I could see a sad smile on her lips, and a tissue pulled from her coat pocket to dab at her eyes.

The ride passed too slowly and too quickly, and soon we were trekking down the busy, cobblestone streets of Wroclaw.  Even only living here for a week prior to moving to the foster house, coming back felt like coming home.  Jaja had dropped Alex and the luggage off at our apartment and driven to the bus stop to collect the three of us and drive us the rest of the way.  The drive was quiet – me in the front with Jaja, Elliott on Baba’s lap in the backseat.  Even Elliott seemed solemn, like he could sense the heaviness of what was coming.

We pulled up to our building and I jumped out.  Baba was pulling Elliott from the car, and Jaja was popping open the stroller.  I jogged across the sidewalk to push the buzzer.  My finger inches from the button, I heard Baba call out to me from the curbside.

“Jesseeka!”

I spun around.

“Come here.  We say goodbye.”  She was standing behind the stroller, trying to remain composed.  Jaja had his hands in his coat pockets, staring at ground and scuffing the toe of his shoe against the cobblestone.  We hadn’t discussed how this moment would happen, but we assumed they would come up to our apartment for a little while.

“But … don’t you want to come up?”  I wasn’t ready for this, I didn’t think the goodbye was coming yet.  I pointed up to the top of the building, in case they didn’t understand my English.  Baba shook her head, clearly with her mind made up.  She came around the stroller and took my hands in hers.

“No.  It’s very expensive for me.”  Only the intensity of the moment kept me from smiling at her English error.  She always mixes up “difficult” and “expensive”.

She pulled me close and held me there for a long moment.  I felt tears sting my own eyes.  This was expensive for me too.  When she pulled away, our eyes met one more time, both of us holding back tears.  She smiled, gave a single, firm nod, and turned to Elliott.  I turned to Jaja.  He held out his hand, and I took it and then pulled him in for a hug.  I know this is not customary in Poland, and he laughed, embarrassed.  I hoped he didn’t mind too much – a handshake just wasn’t going to do it for me.  His cheeks red, he smiled at me and then crouched down next to his wife, in front of Elliott.  They were smiling and stroking his rosy cheeks and speaking softly to him in Polish.  I silently thanked them for not breaking down in front of him.  They stood and smiled at me again.  Baba reached out and squeezed my hand again, and then they turned towards the car.

I smiled at Elliott, who grinned back.  I took a deep breath and started pushing the stroller.  By the time I got to the door and pressed the buzzer, they were gone.

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