I never made a life book for Zinashi. I meant to. In pre-adoption training, it was one of the things that was recommended which I fully intended to do. I was going to take all sorts of photos of Ethiopia while I was there between court and embassy dates, visiting Zinashi when I could. But then she was allowed to be with us, and that first little bit of the plan fell apart. The rest of the plan, then, never came together at all. We brought Zinashi home with us and discovered the relentlessness of the undercurrent of her grief. Sometimes it was all I could do to keep our heads above water. So I did that and very little else. But as part of that, I started to tell Zinashi her story, even before she could understand what I was saying. I told it the same way every time, and after awhile she began to request it.
After we saw her family in Ethiopia when we traveled to adopt Elvie, it seemed there was an increased need to hear that story. She was very specific about which part she wanted to hear. Sometimes I told just the part about her beginnings, and sometimes I told just the part about how Jarod and I found out about her and then how we came to adopt her and be a family. What she wanted, I told. Sometimes she would ask me to tell it more than once a day. Sometimes she would ask me to tell it when I just couldn’t. “Why don’t you tell it to me this time?” I would ask her.
“I don’t know it. I don’t remember,” came her reply.
So I told it again, over and over and over, always in the same way, with the same words. She started to fill in gaps for me. This was something that happened in Sidamo, and that was something that happened at the House of Hope. This is what she was thinking when she’d look quietly out the window when no one had come for her yet. I knew that she remembered. I knew that she knew the story. But she wasn’t ready to tell it. She needed me to do it. So I did.
In the meantime, she told all sorts of other stories. It is her favorite thing. “Do you want to hear a story?” she will ask, and then she will tell one, a long, rambling story if time and parental patience allow. The stories never stop. Most of the time, to be honest, I start to lose track of what she’s saying not long after “Once upon a time…” We have plenty of years to work on plot and pacing, so for now we just let her talk and talk and talk, making note of some little tidbit, knowing that at the end, she will ask, “What was your favorite part?” If all else fails, we can simply say we loved the whole thing.
So this morning she started in on a story on our walk to the bus stop. It was the usual, involving animals and vehicles that suddenly have the capacity to think and say and do things that are unusual for their make and model and/or species. But the story was short, and then she started a different one. It only took six words after, “Once upon a time,” for me to realize what she was telling.
It was her story, told back to me the way I’ve told it to her from the beginning.
Vacation, I am indebted to you forever.