When I Fail You

September 25, 2012

Miss D.,

I failed you last week and I’m sorry. I didn’t expect to fail you, which is stupid, because in ten years I’ve failed you plenty. But somehow I never expect it, this coming up short.

I’m not sure how I managed to botch this one, because in my mind, I always thought I’d do better by you.

Okay, actually, that’s a lie because I never, not ever, thought I’d be talking to you about growing up and hair and bleeding from weird orifices when you were ten years old. I thought I had so much more time. I thought I had so much more time that I didn’t once stop to think about it. To think about what I’d do and how you might feel about what’s happening and the words that tumbled out of my mouth. Mistake.

I should have been prepared. I should have waited until I was okay with you growing up before trying to talk to you about growing up.

I should have taken some time, read up a little (or a lot), figured out what to do with my words. Instead, I cried and wrung my hands all day until you got home and when we sat on the porch that night I was still so raw and tentative inside that you could smell it, I imagine.

I’ll have to say “I imagine” because you didn’t talk to me. So I don’t know otherwise. But that, too, is a lie. I know.

What I know is that we sat together on a fall night and I failed you. You didn’t want to hear my clumsy words or share the feelings whizzing inside you or hear about the mechanics of it all. You didn’t want to hold my hand.

It hurt when you did not want to hold my hand, because I really, really wanted to hold yours.

It reminded me of when you were learning to walk, and how one day you walked a few tentative steps, grinned, and then ran. You walked for a minute and then you ran, and I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for you to run. I wasn’t ready to find myself chasing after you. I wasn’t ready for your reaction when–because you ran–you fell into hard ground.

Howling in pain and frustration, you retreated to the nearest corner, and when I tried to pick you up, tried to hold you close and comfort you, you held up a ferocious little hand and said, “No!” You taught me that the only true solace you sought was your own.

I gave you space that day because you asked for it, but it stung so hard that I thought I’d been shot. I had to learn that you always mark out your territory, and often I’m not in it.

You were a mystery then and you are a mystery now, sitting next to me on a front porch, arms crossed protectively around your torso, flush against budding breasts.

I offer words that come too fast and are not good enough and you watch rabbits darting across the lawn. Suddenly, you hold up that same adamant hand.

“Mom. Stop talking, okay? Just stop talking. I’d rather read about it in the book.”

So I let you go, little rabbit, darting back into the house and up to your room.

I dig my fingers into my scalp and cry a little and breathe in the night air. Fiery daughter of mine. I’ll be chasing you the rest of my life.

And always, you’ll be just out of my grasp.


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