16 Years

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When my daughter slams the door to our brownstone, I instantly know what — who — has angered her. I’d like to say it’s solely because she is my daughter, and that’s certainly part of it. I’ve watched her grow from a feisty toddler with fiery red hair and a lisp to a quirky and passionate young woman who feels everything a little too much. In truth, these are the things she and I have in common as well. I recall being her age, feeling things more deeply than my friends — the death of a celebrity, the lyrics to a song, the ending to a good book — and wondering why these things had to end, why they couldn’t go on for all eternity. I could recall the pure bliss I felt at the beginning of summer, the excitement I felt when fall came around, the giddiness of the spring when the robins started chirping, and the sadness as the daylights grew shorter and the nights stretched on.

I could recall even more clearly the person who held me close as those nights stretched on — the boy who felt those things right along with me, matched my passion with his own and made me feel less alone in a world that didn’t feel enough.

My girl has already flopped herself on her bed when I come into the room. She holds her pillow tightly to her chest. Her tears are seeping into the fabric, leaving dark tracks on light pink. She flashes her hazel eyes to me and looks away quickly. “I’m fine,” she mutters, turning her other cheek to the pillow, refusing to look my way.

I take a seat beside her on the bed, stroking her hair gently. She sobs with such fervor a part of me wants to tell her to calm down, but I know better. Experience has taught me that my daughter does not take kindly to those kinds of suggestions.

“You want to talk about it, baby girl?” I ask softly.

She heaves a sigh, refusing to meet my eyes. She’s so much like her namesake, her godmother, my best friend in the entire world. She’s stubborn and bratty and dramatic.

But she is also like her mother. She needs to talk to make sense of what is happening inside of her head. She needs to get it out, because if she doesn’t, then she’ll be like her father and let it fester until she has a meltdown over something insignificant — like a paper cut or a burnt piece of toast. I stifle the giggle at the memory of my first fight with her father, when he sliced his finger on an envelope and proceeded to yell at me for not giving him a letter opener, only to finally admit his reason for being so angry.

I shudder as the memory comes back in full, and thank my stars that my daughter is still looking in the other direction. I catch movement out of the corner of my eye and watch as she props herself up on an elbow, leaning far over to her nightstand to turn on her radio. I hold my breath, waiting to see what she chooses to soothe her. That alone will give me an answer — or at least confirm my suspicions — of what has her so riled up. When Tom Petty’s voice fills the room, I release a breath I didn’t even realize I was holding.

I was right. I’d like to say it’s solely because I know my girl, but it’s also because there’s something else she and I share outside of our noses and tendency to feel things too deeply. Heartache recognizes heartache.

And misery loves company.

“He said he thinks it’s best if we just keep things low-key until after winter formal,” she says on a heavy sigh. “He does this every year.”

She doesn’t necessarily need to tell me these things. I know what’s going on in my daughter’s life. I’ve watched for the past two years as she’s thrown herself at this one boy, fallen so head over heels in love with him that she’s forgotten which way is up. Then I’ve watched him toss her aside, walk away from her, completely eviscerate her heart and her mind by saying that he needs time. Once he’s had his time, he calls — he always calls — and explains that he needs her. And she comes running.

She always comes running.

I inhale, bracing myself. “Baby, you have to stop letting him—”

“What do you even know about it, mom?” She whips her head in my direction, her eyes on fire and her cheeks red. Her anger is palpable, even as Tom Petty plays on — a voice she and I usually find soothing. “Do you even know what it’s like? To love someone so much it hurts? So much it kills you?”

Any other parent would scoff. My parents did at one point. My mother didn’t believe me when I said the words, when I tried to explain to her that he was in my bones, that losing him was like losing a part of my soul.

But I know better than to scoff, to roll my eyes, to tell my girl that she’s being dramatic. Maybe she is just being dramatic, but isn’t that the point of being a teenager? To fall deeply in love once or twice or three times? Or to love one person with so much of your being that you don’t know where you end and where they begin? I can’t fault her for feeling, not when I have had those exact feelings, have shed the same tears, bled out for someone else because I cared more about them than I did myself.

Which is why I know that now is the time to have this conversation with her. She’s barely seventeen years old, her entire world has been perfect up to this point. Her father and I have laughed and danced in the kitchen and given her something to aspire to.

But her father is not the only man who holds my heart — something he has had to come to grips with throughout the course of our relationship. He’s not done it willingly, and at times I’ve watched him war with himself, with his emotions and his head and his heart, but he always comes back to me. I love him for a billion reasons, and I love him even more for coming back to me time and again.

He saved me.

“Do you know your daddy is only the second boy I ever kissed?” I ask her. I brace myself for her reaction, but she says nothing. Her eyes are inquisitive like her father’s. Her frown line across her forehead is so much like his. She’s the best and worst parts of both of us, and I am so honored to be her mother.

“You’re, like…” she pauses, chewing her top lip, just like her dad when he’s confused. “You’re beautiful, mom. How is that even possible?”

I huff out a laugh. “Oh, Darcy, baby… looks have nothing to do with it.” I pause. Feelings hit me all at once, the same ones he used to make me feel when he walked away, when he told me he needed time to think or room to breathe. My heart squeezes instinctively, the way it used to when he was near, across a crowded room staring at me, setting my world on fire.

Darcy twists and sits up, the way her godmother used to, and huddles next to me, our knees touching. She laces her fingers through mine, and I take an inventory of us both. She’s so tiny and delicate, so full of emotions and fire. I’m calmer now, though the song playing now has sparked something within me — the way he used to, when he knew I was nearby. I take a deep breathe and study my girl’s black nail polish and the scar on her index finger from the time she tried to bake Christmas cookies and burnt it on the stove. Even the way she scars is long-lasting, a testament to the fact that she is a unique, old soul, full of so much hurt and heart that any person who meets her is instantly affected, caught in her storm.

“Mom?” She says it tentatively. She knows me so well, understands my feelings and emotions in a way that only three other people have ever understood me. She’s my daughter, of course, and we understand the intricacies of our relationship. But she is also my best friend, much like her godmother. She is me, and I am her. “You don’t have to talk about it,” she tells me, her voice soft and understanding, the way I knew it would sound when she saw the mess I became even at the memory of the boy who stole a piece of my soul and never gave it back.

“I have to talk about it, baby girl,” I tell her with a sad smile. I give her hand a reassuring squeeze. “You have to know you’re not the only one to bleed for a boy who plays on your heartstrings.”

She studies me even more intently at that, looking for the slightest hint of what I may mean. She doesn’t know, though, because I’ve never told her. The only people who know about this story are the ones who lived it — me, of course, and her father, her godmother, and the boy who started it all.

The boy who stole pieces of me, and took the ones I offered to him willingly, hoarding them and guarding them from me, refusing to give them back.

“Once upon a time I thought a boy held the answers to all of my questions,” I tell her. “I was… well, I was actually fourteen at the time, so a little younger than you.” I wet my lips. I can feel my throat trying to dry and close up, the words trying to stay bottled up within me, fearing their escape. She needs to know, my heart whispers. She needs to know so she can let go.

“What happened?” She asks.

A million memories flash through my mind at her question — memories I’ve kept buried for so long. I recall them instantly, with clarity, in this moment. I recall them the way I would recall the words to my favorite song, right down to the bridge and the way the track skips on the CD I keep in my bedroom closet. It all comes back to me as if it happened yesterday, and not…

“Sixteen years ago, I thought a boy held the answer to all of my questions,” I answer her. I feel a tear slip down my cheek and swipe it away quickly. “I was in love with a boy who didn’t love me back, and it nearly killed me. I nearly let him kill me.”

“This story doesn’t have a happy ending, does it?” She asks me. “At least, not for you and whoever it is you’re talking about.”

I stare outside her window at the city, contemplating all the roads that brought me here, all the unconventional life events that ordered my steps and my path. Would I do it all again, if it brought me here, to this moment with my daughter and the steady voice of Tom Petty fueling me?

Damn straight.

I shake my head, another tear falling down my cheek. I raise the bottom of my left pants’ leg, to the answer to her question, to the best way I can explain what I am about to tell her.

Veni vidi amavi, it reads. We came, we saw, we loved. My best friend has an identical one on her left ankle.

And so does the boy who broke my heart.

“It doesn’t,” I finally answer her, smiling sadly as I stare at the words on my ankle. “But there was never a happy ending for us.”

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