Apparently, fellow Miracle Marvin Tarplin recorded the music for him and said, "here you go, see what you can do with this." And Smokey said the first three lines of the chorus came to him right away, but he couldn't come up with the last line, which would become the song's eventual, famous title. Number 50 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, by the way.
"How do you say 'I love you' in a different way?" he mused. "In the history of music, 'I love you' has been said in every way possible. But then I stood there in front of the mirror shaving one morning thinking, what if somebody cried so much for love, you could actually see the tracks in their face where the tears came down? And that's how the song happened."
Take a good look at my face
You'll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it's easy to trace
The tracks of my tears
Lord knows Justice and Adam and I have carved out our share of those tracks. At the beginning, tears came out like buckets, like waterfalls, like an endless well from this little girl who was so hurt inside, there was nothing left for her to do but to take us with her.
"I'm not your sweetheart!" she would scream at us, and we'd leave the room and cry. "I hate you," she'd rage, and we'd go away and cry again. "Get away from me!" she'd yell, as we came back for more. Like prizefighters, Adam and I. Get hit, get up, get hit, get up. Too dumb and stubborn to stay in our corner and throw in the towel. Where that resiliency came from, I don't have a clue. There are wells within us we don't even realize we have until we need to draw from them. Thank God for that, because children need them.
So much about our early relationship with Justice was about tears - hers, mine or Adam's - that I want to reach back in time and comfort that struggling trio and tell them, "Hey, it's really going to be okay. All those books you're reading on adoption and parenting that dangle all that far-off hope in your face? Every single one of them is right. All of these tears are natural. Things are absolutely right on schedule. Let your tears fall because this too shall pass."
The beauty of so many tears is coming out on the other side and realizing it really does end in something better. There is a transformative nature in tears. Sometimes you just have to keep going and cry until there are no more left. Because at the end, you get something unanticipated and magnificent.
Galway Kinnell writes in his poem Crying:
Crying only a little bit
is no use. You must cry
until your pillow is soaked!
Then you can get up and laugh.
Then you can jump in the shower
Then you can
throw open your window
and "Ha ha! Ha ha!"
And if people say, "Hey,
what's going on up there?"
"Ha ha!" sing back, "Happiness
was hiding in the last tear!
I wept it! Ha ha!"
The little girl who railed in rage is gone. She has been replaced by one who had to cry a lot of tears in order to find her happiness on Bonnie Castle Way. There's still a bit of "arm's length" in Justice's expressions of love. Kids who survived the System don't come with, "I love you," and "I love you, too" built-in. Verbalizing love is not part of their vocabulary. They keep that vulnerability close to their vest. But now she'll allow hugs and showers of kisses. She even enjoys them. She even seeks them out, though she'd kill me with a glance for even suggesting it. She may not say, "I love you," out loud, but it's not because it's lacking in her nature, it's just not in her lexicon. Yet, I keep telling Adam. Yet.
"Look at this," I said to Adam, who is very verbal, and needs to hear that audible "I love you" more than I do as the litmus test of success. I was showing him pictures of Justice riding on his shoulders at Sea World this past December. She is giggling, arms wrapped around his neck, all bright smiles. Oh, how I enjoy watching Justice saddle up Daddy and take him out for a trot. She puts him through his paces, putting her little hands on his cheek and turning his head the direction she wants him to go. Those are her reins and he never fails her. He is her faithful horse, Prince.
"There's your I love you," I tell Adam, who still pines for the verbal version. "When she climbs into bed and snuggles up next to you all night, you miss the whole thing because you sleep like a log, but there's your I love you right there. It doesn't come in words, but she's putting it out there, every day."
Sometimes "I love you" isn't a spoken phrase. Sure, it's a nuance sometimes. But other times it comes up like a rubber mallet and hits you over the head. They don't call it painfully obvious for nothing. All you have to do to hear it is to stop trying so hard to hear it.
In family therapy, Miss Hannah, our therapist, occasionally stops us to check our goals. She does these assessments a couple times a year. The kids go off and play while Adam and I sit at the table and tell her where we're at. The question that used to stump me in those tear-tracked early days was "Tell me about Justice's good qualities." I'm ashamed to admit, that was hard. "Strong-willed," I'd grumble. And by strong-willed, I didn't mean strong-willed. By strong-willed, I meant "Pain in the ass." "Driving me bat-shit crazy with her defiance and her powerful hatred of me during this incredibly hard new situation."
But now the compliments flow like rain. Like tears of joy. Like honey off the tongue.
"She's strong-willed," I say, but now it's in genuine admiration. "Independent, self-assured."
"Compassionate," Adam adds. "Empathetic, helpful, thoughtful."
"Protective, creative, artistic, free," I toss out.
"Smart, graceful, athletic," Adam adds.
"Full of fun," I say. "Good-hearted, well-meaning, adventurous..."
"Brave," Adam and I say together.
And it goes on like this for quite sometime, until Miss Hannah finally smiles and says, "Okay, that's enough." And we smile, knowing our therapy with Miss Hannah will soon be coming to an end, at least for this essential era in Justice's life. Who knows what help her teen years will require when all that abstract thinking kicks in. She has not cried her last of life's tears, we know that, but for now, in this incarnation, we all sense our days of little girl adjustment therapy are winding down. And we're good with that.
We're discovering the essential truth of Justice. She is many things to us now, and what is good about her so far outweighs what is challenging, it's a joy to wake up each day just to see what will happen next. Happiness was hiding in the last tear and we wept it. Ha-ha!
Friday morning before school, we all colored. I made black and white coloring pages of all our faces with my iPhone, printed them out, and we all colored our family in the brightest colors you can imagine; primary colors...red, yellow, blue. Justice looked like the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka. "You're turning violet, Violet," I pointed out. And she giggled.
I hugged her right before she left for school, and she let herself melt into my arms for a minute and she said, "Sometimes I think of you when I'm at school and I cry."
"Because I'm so mean and grumpy?" I asked, pouring on the fake growly-face.
"No," she said giggling, hugging back a little.
"Because you miss me?" I whispered hopefully.
"Yes," she whispered back.
And then she was gone. Off like a shot. Another drive-by loving from the irrepressible little girl who has stolen my heart so completely, I can't imagine taking another breath without her.
And then thank goodness the house was empty, because I cried too. For a good long time, and joyfully.
There's your "I love you," I told myself. Right there.
"I love you, too," I whispered to an empty room.
And smiling, I went back to the table to pick up the crayons.