Long Plaid Coat – Part 4

There’s not a lot of things in life you know for sure. You’re not sure about your identity or your aspirations. You don’t completely trust your memories. People even like to tell you that even science isn’t known for sure, and you’d have to agree because in middle school your favorite thing to do was say ‘Truth isn’t universal.’ There is one thing you’re sure of, though: it’s the little things that count.

The little things count when Ashley pokes her little pink tongue out of her little mouth at the class photo and says, “I look so bad!” They matter when the girls crowd around the picture and point slim fingers at ‘ugly hair’ and moan about being too tall or tilting their head too much or not liking the clothes they wore. Later when you squint at your round face in the front row, short hair held back by a headband, legs crossed, hands on your knees, your focus is drawn to your face. It’s the same face that your mom loved for it’s round nose and cute cheeks but your mouth is so square. You frown and tuck the photo back into its folder because little things matter. A smile matters.

The little things count when you’re in fourth grade and you’re standing in line to sign in in the morning but get stuck behind two girls. They count when you witness the secret handoff of a Justin Bieber book between two smiling friends. When one of them is the new girl your classmates smile too wide at and immediately abandon when recess starts and the other is the kindest girl you know who’s hated for crying too much little things matter. While you’re staring at Justin Bieber’s long hair on the glossy hardcover surrounded by lights and you member that just yesterday you’d overheard your other friends complaining about his high voice and terrible music and terrible hair little things matter. A book matters. Two girls matter. You’re silence and your ignorant agreement with the Other Friends matter.

 

Very Blond Hair and a Very Bright Smile

Imagine your daughter is born with literal stars in her eyes. When the doctor places her in your arms and she stops crying to bury her face in your arm you can’t help but smile. And when you look down at the blond fuzz atop her head you know that she’ll grow up to be a wonderful girl. And when she looks up at you, finally opening her eyes, you see the stars. Except you don’t realize just how real those stars are until a nurse bends over to stroke her hair, cooing about how adorable she is and her eyes get burnt out.

Imagine that when your daughter starts her first day of fifth grade you’ve just moved in for the third time. When you go to drop her off at school you’re leaving behind a house full of cardboard boxes, each wrapped in packing tape and carefully labeled with black sharpie. You drop her off one block away as promised. She laughs and adjusts her glasses when you make your cliché joke about being the embarrassing mom, scolding you for being so willing to do it, then slams the door and runs down the street, near white hair trailing behind her. When you get home, you sigh and drop the car keys on the stone counter top. You look over the kitchen full of boxes with a hand on your hip and briefly consider waiting until school ends so you can make your daughter help you with the boxes. You think better of it, though. So you pick the keys back up, glare at the boxes, and say, “Alright boxes. Just you and me now. Let’s go.”

Imagine the first time your daughter comes home with a bleeding head. Her arms are bruised and her glasses are missing and it’s midnight and she won’t tell you where she was or what happened even when you rush her to the hospital to get checked on. You sit in an empty waiting room lit by florescent lights looking down at your hands because it’s the alternative to looking out the windows into the night. You’re trying to figure out how to help her, how to get her to open up, when you overhear two nurses talking about a man who’d assaulted to girls and is now sitting in a hospital bed covered in third degree burns. You bite your lip. It’s time to move. You’re going to have to get another pair of glasses made.

Imagine sitting on your new used couch with a microwave meal. Your daughter is off at college now so you can no longer fill your free time making sure she doesn’t get herself hurt. Instead of nagging and trading clothes you have messy buns and late night jogs. You worry more than any other mother, but you’re still so so proud because two months ago your daughter wrapped her favorite scarf around her neck because of lack of packing space, white hair peeking out from underneath, and smiled that bright smile of hers and waved from the other side of airport security before dragging her suitcase down to gate 4B. And cried. And she was okay. You turn on the tv then toss the remote next to you. It’s a news channel. You’re too tired to change it. Then, a forkful of corn half way to your mouth, a blurry phone picture of a young girl shows up on the screen. She’s wearing a floral dress with a black bandana over the lower half of her face, arms outstretched to protect the crowd of people behind her. She has beautiful white hair and eyes that glow gold and that dress is one that you’d bought for yourself that had mysteriously gone missing last year. The reporter rattles off facts in that almost monotone voice that reporters on tv always use. A bank robbery, twenty second street, burnt hands and burnt feet from melted soles of shoes. A girl who disappeared out the back door, according to eyewitness reports, the second the police arrived.

You imagine you should have seen it coming. After weeks of arguments both shouted and soft over the phone this is the conclusion you’ve reached. The two of you watched all of those superhero movies together on saggy used couched curled up under the same blanket in six different homes. You should have known that you’d end up spending nights curled up under that same blanket alone with a cup of hot chocolate praying that your daughter stay safe. You remember bruised arms and bleeding heads and taping cardboard boxes. When you think about it, though, you did know. On the day of her birth you looked down at your daughter’s impossibly light hair and the stars in her eyes and knew she’d do great things. You just hadn’t known it would feel like this.