She is her mother’s daughter, this little one. She can’t let go of the past and its false promises, its promises of “if only, then everything would be better.”
She did not want to go to her father’s house last night. This is not the usual, not at all. We were stunned by her wailing, clutching the back of the sofa, begging to know why we can’t all just live in the same house, weeping that her parents being divorced means that nothing, ever, is going to be better.
This, all this, coupled with the agonizing insomnia she’s had since she came back from sleepaway camp. “I think sleepaway camp really messed me up,” she sobbed into my lap last night, as I was trying to coax her from the couch.
It did. She wasn’t ready for sleepaway camp, not even a week of it, but she didn’t want to let her dad and her grandparents down. So she toughed it out, but she’s shot, she’s completely drained.
“You never have to go to sleepaway camp again, as far as I’m concerned, kiddo. You tried, you were super brave, and now you’re done with it.”
This doesn’t make her happy. Nothing makes her happy right now. Everything hurts her. Nothing is right, nothing will do, except being in my lap. She is eight years old, but suddenly she is three again.
Her father and I are exhausted. He’s come to pick her up. I don’t know what he thinks, what he feels. We don’t talk, not like that. I swallow anger (now do you see?) and regret (what if, if only, why did I/he/we?). I can see his weariness as we try different tactics to get her moving. I will be leaving for the airport at 4am, so she and her sister must go back to his house for the night.
I look at him, this man I once thought I knew so well. I am bewildered by the stranger in my living room, and I wonder if he is thinking similar thoughts about me: who is this woman, cradling my daughter? How can we possibly be connected to this child? Is all that will never be said between us worth this, this broken little girl? When exactly did we decide that? I want to break something, I want to scream. My baby is hurting, and we caused this, together. And she is the only one brave enough to give it a name, to say it aloud.
She is not budging, she will not leave. Vicious, hot tears course down her face. She is frantic. “I’m not going! I want to sleep here!”
“I know, honey,” I say. “But it’s the same as always. It’s your week with Daddy. It’s not like you’re never going to see me again.”
She howls. “But I FEEL like I am never going to see you again! Why can’t you bring me with you? Why do you have to go? Why can’t Daddy sleep here? I hate this divorce! I HATE IT!”
I don’t know what else to do but hold her and keep telling her, “I hear you. I know. I hate it too. I will always hate it. I will always hate it, for the rest of my life. I am so sorry it makes you so sad. I wish there were a magic wand for this. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
I force myself to pry her fingers from my shoulders. I pass her reluctantly to her father. I head upstairs to find her baby blanket, the one that soothes her, usually.
It does not work. The only thing that will get her to go to her father’s house, she says, is if she can bring her cats, her dogs, her bed, her pink room, and me. This would be funny if it were not heartbreaking.
I cannot tell you how bad it gets from there. I cannot say the words. My heart is on the floor. I can tell you I finally carried her out of my home to her father’s car, trying to point out the stars she loves so much, clear and thoughtful above us.
She covered her eyes. “I can’t even LOOK AT THEM,” she said. “They just make me think of you and how I won’t be with you for a week!”
That does me in. My heart tears in half, on a fault line already long etched into the muscle. I am bleeding out, just like she is. Her dad avoids my eyes; I avoid his. I try to buckle her into her car seat into his car. She unbuckles it, flings herself out of the car, shoeless, into the street—an orphan of her own doing.
I catch her and put her back in the seat. I warn him to lock the door quickly. I say goodbye, pressing her feet, her hands, her fingers back into the car before carefully shutting it on my bawling girl.
I must walk away, I know it. I know standing beside the car will do no good, no good at all. I slowly mount the stairs to the house, strangling on my own tears, my fists balled. I hear her shrieks as they drive away.
Inside, the dogs lick my hands, knowing something has happened, something is not right.
I am afraid to let the tears come, afraid they will not stop, afraid of what they mean. We’re idiots, I say to the pets. Did you know that? We were idiots, idiots who now have nothing to say.