It’s not that she was a bad child. She was stubborn, difficult, often challenging and occasionally downright immovable, but not bad. Her father had died the day before she was born. I’d done everything I could to give her a good life on my own. I didn’t have to work; her father’s company supported us, so I devoted my life to raising her well.
Somewhere along the way, I must have done something wrong. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be happening.
I watched her sitting with the other kids. She was lecturing on the behaviors of cats, holding her own kitten captive so she could bare his tiny teeth and gently expose his claws for demonstration. The other children were enthralled. I could just barely hear her, and everything she said was factual and correct. I wondered where she’d learned so much about cats; the kitten had been a present only this morning. Today was her 12th birthday.
She was so brilliant, it frightened me.
I turned back to the conversation. “She’s gotten so distant from me. I can’t get through to her anymore; she does her own thing most of the time, and when I try to teach her something – anything – she knows more about it already than I do. She has no patience for lessons with me. We’ve grown so far apart, but all I’ve ever done has been for her.”
The teacher nodded, compassion in her soft brown eyes. “Do you touch her?”
I stared at her. I looked over at my daughter and realized I couldn’t remember the last time we’d held hands or hugged or touched at all. I was flooded with sorrow. I couldn’t speak.
The teacher reached out and put her hand on my arm. The feeling of warmth and skin on my skin was so foreign to me; I realized I hadn’t touched anyone else, either. She looked out over the children, then turned back to me. “Her stars say she’s a very physical person. We all are, really, but her especially so. Can you remember the last time you held her in your arms?”
Memories flooded me. The grief at losing her father poured through me, mixed with the joy at her birth. Her perfect little face, eyes that matched his, her ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, her completeness. The older she grew, the more like him she became – both in looks and in behaviors. Eventually, it became too much for me, and I retreated into my head. I stopped touching her, grew cold when she would reach for me.
How long ago had that been? Oh gods, nearly ten years?
My heart burst, I broke into tears. I stood, sobbing, and walked toward her. As I grew closer, the other children scattered, clearing the path between me and my daughter.
She looked up at me, her eyes cold, calculating.
A moment, a lifetime, an eternity passed. Tears rolled down my face. Neither of us spoke. The kitten wriggled free and scampered off, unnoticed. She stood, taking slow, hesitant steps toward me.
Her eyes changed, softened. Deepened. Our fingers reached out toward each other.
I was holding her hand. She was holding my hand. We were standing closer than we’d been in years; I could feel her warmth. I could smell her; grass and kitten and dirt and cherry shampoo. Our eyes were locked and for this moment, there was nothing else in the universe.
“Give me a second chance?” I asked.
I looked into the soft brown eyes of my toddler. Today was her second birthday; she grew more like her father every day, and the pain in my heart from losing him eased when I looked at her. She toddled toward me, arms wide, and I scooped her up and spun her around. I pulled her close to me, kissing her face a dozen times.
A shiver ran through me; I heard a voice like wind in my ears. This is your second chance…
I wasn’t sure what it meant. My daughter patted my cheek, tugged my hair, asking for attention. I looked at her and a lifetime flashed in her eyes; pain, sorrow, distance between us. For a moment, her eyes turned cold, calculating. I nearly sat her down, I wanted to shield myself from how like her father she was.
I wanted to close my heart.
But then she grinned, and the moment broke. Her eyes softened, lit up, and she started singing her favorite song. I kissed her a dozen times more, nuzzling her soft baby skin, feeling her warmth. I snuggled her close to me, close to my heart.
I would never let her go.
Not this time.