Every year on my daughter’s birthday I write her a love letter. One day maybe she will want to read them.
My sweet girl, I had written an entirely different letter for you this year.
It was complete and perfect in its expression of love for who you have been in my life. But that was a week ago. And so much happened this week.
So I had to rewrite it. First to remind you that this was the year that you learned from a teacher at school how to fold a napkin in the shape of a rose. You were so delighted to show us. First making them into triangles, then rolling up the tips with your stubby, marker-stained fingers to create beautiful flowers out of the faded napkins we bought in Mexico. It’s a precious thing.
But that’s not the only reason for rewriting this letter. It’s mostly because a week before your birthday you fell on a concrete floor in front of my eyes, smacking your head so hard that I felt the earth crack open. Or was it the sound of my own ribcage shattering?
I ran for you, picked you up and held you for a few precious moments in that tender way that calms us both. But when you lost consciousness in my arms, there was no calming anyone.
It’s amazing the way that time bends in those moments. The way that, as I went running, screaming wildly for help with you limp in my arms, I went back in time to your contented smile that morning when you rolled up our filthy napkins into roses.
But you came back. Like the sun. Like the winter. Like everything that matters.
I waited with you alone in the emergency room for six hours as you vomited every bit of food and drink I gave you. I hated it. I wished impossible wishes. That I could fill my breasts with milk and nurse you through this like I used to. That someone could nurse me. I wished I could make all of us disappear into the time before, so long ago that none of us ever knew the joy of napkin roses and terror of the beeping hospital machines.
You probably don’t know this, but I only cried one time that whole day in the waiting room of terror. It was right when they wheeled you in for the CT scan. I stood behind you, where I knew you couldn’t see, and wept silently. It was the one time in my life I was thankful to hide my face behind that goddamn blue mask. I knew I needed to hold the weight but I just couldn’t handle the gravity of the doctor’s look when he said he wouldn’t normally order such a strong test on one whose brain is so open to any influence it is offered, but it was called for today.
So I dropped it – for five solitary minutes before they came for you and I had to pick it up again.
You know me, I never stop anyone from crying when crying is needed, but I did that for you. I did it just this once so you would not take on the kind of pain that is far too big for one your size to carry. Yes, my emotional dissociation in the hospital that day was a gift for you, a bridge over a dry creek bed filled with scorpions, black widow spiders, and jagged obsidian rocks.
But baby girl, when they said you were going to be okay, I flooded the desert with my pain. I bawled uncontrollably for days. Those tears were for you, because your life, as we know it, is not over.
Some days later we sat on the floor doing a puzzle your grandparents had sent you as a birthday gift. You told me you could hear sadness in my voice (Jesus, what kind of almost seven-year-old says such things?). It was then that I pulled you to me and told you the truth, as much as was necessary to tell you then. It was my second gift to you, to let you slowly adjust to feeling what is true and hard.
Few people will give you that gift of slow adjustment. Most will shove it into you, past your wiggly teeth and into that dark hole at the top of your throat. But for as long as I can, little girl, I will stretch a net across your pink grin, catching the bits that I am able to catch.
I promise you I won’t catch them all. Not even half, even if I’m very, very good.
I expect one day you’ll blame me for not being a perfect goalie. I’m far from it; it’s a truth I’m adjusting to all the time. I’m sure that when you accuse me of it, I’ll cry oceans again. But I hope, if I’ve done even one thing right by you between now and then, you’ll come back to me anyway. And if I’ve done two or more things right by you, you’ll hand me one of your lovely little napkin roses and let it catch the saltwater spilling down from my cheeks.
If you do none of these things, know that I’ll still love you just as hard as I did the day I watched you crack the earth open.