The Last Day In The Closet With My Daughter

Ellee Bell has slumped down with her head in my lap. Asleep. Her shoulders and back and legs are buried under blankets. I can’t remember what brought us into the closet anymore or how long we’ve stayed. I only know that it’s time to go back out and try living again. I’m not sure how to coax her out so I start by letting just a little pencil of light in, just enough to gently illuminate the side of her face. From the one closed eye visible from my lap, can see the tear tracks spreading down around her cheek bone and through the soft valley between the nose and upper lip. Matted curls of hair stick to the skin around her ear and jaw. I pry the hairs away and loop them behind her ear. Then I begin to pet through her hair and slide the back of my hand like a feather across her cheek. Her breath is calm, her mouth drooping open like a loose slip knot. My love for this life has surprized me. Her existence and fierce need is nothing I would ever have thought to wish for.

After a few thoughtful moments, and without really thinking, I begin to sing John Denver’s song “Sunshine on My shoulder.” Half way into the song I feel my little Bell squirm a little, sniffle, rub her eyes open any make a small yawn.

” What are you singing,” she asks, her voice dry from sleep.

“It’s the song my mom sang to me when I was a baby.”

“You remember being a baby?” She rolls onto her back with her head still in my lap.

” No,” I say, cleaning the hair from the other side of her face. “My mom told me about it. But it feels like my memory now. I can see her at the kitchen window holding me over her shoulder and singing and rocking.”

“You see it really, or just pretend?”

“I suppose I pretend. But memories are a kind of pretending. Some you experience yourself, and some are given to you as stories. But they are all pretending.”

“Does that mean they aren’t real anymore? When something is a memory, I mean.”

“No. No. Our imaginations give our lives meaning, and without meaning nothing exists.”

“Is that something I’m supposed to understand when I’m older?”

I kiss the tip of her nose and start singing again from the beginning. For a while after I finish, neither of us know what to say. Finally, just as I’m about to say something, little Bell says “I think grandma must have loved you a lot.”

“Yes. She was very happy when I was born.”

“What happened?”

“Well, I grew up I guess. Eventually I gave up things grandma thought I would always keep and love. I changed. I changed even more than I expected to change.”

“But you’re done changing now, right?”

“No. Everything always changes.”

“I don’t want you change.”

“I know. It’s hard when people change. You have to get to know them all over again. It takes patience and a lot of time.”

“Is that why grandma calls you a different name? Because she’s still getting to know you?”

“I think so. Maybe. But I know she loves me. And she adores you, my little Ellee Bell,” and with that I pull down on her ear lobe and make a faint dong sound. She giggles, then looks up, suddenly serious.

“But if she’s still getting to know you, she can’t love you like before, can she?”

” Only grandma can answer that.”

She turns onto her side again and looks away. “I don’t believe her.”

“No?”

“She calls you my dad. How can she love you like before if she thinks your a dad?”

“It is confusing. Does it upset you?”

She sits up quickly and glares at me. “Doesn’t it upset you?”

“Yeah. I suppose it does.”

“I don’t even know who she’s talking about.”

I can’t help smiling. ” She’s talking to you. She can hardly stop talking to you. You’re so adorable, I think she forgets I’m even there.”

She rolls her eyes at me (for the first time from what I can remember) and falls back against the pillows in total aggravation and bafflement. “Don’t even … Mom, you’ve seen the pictures she likes to show me.” Her face struts out like a hen getting ready to peck at a fox. “Always that dorky boy.”

“Yes I know, I’ve seen them.”

” Well (it’s amazing how much indignation one word can carry) Well, then what’s she showing me that goofy boy for?”

“Because that’s you.”

Her eyes and nose flare. Her teeth grind. I’m about to try explaining further, but her expression suddenly softens and becomes distant, as if she’s traveling back and forth in time. I stay quiet and wait. I’ve learned to trust her intelligence and instincts.

When I see that her mind has returned to the present, I count to three, and when she still hasn’t spoken, I take my hand and turn her face to mine. “Do you understand now?”

She nods. Slowly and only half convincing. “I mean I get it. But I don’t get it. Is that stupid?”

“Not at all. I feel exactly the same.”

“What do we do now?”

“I don’t know. I was thinking about going for a Strawberry smoothie at Perk’s.”

“Can I have coffee this time?”

“I’ll let you taste mine. How’s that sound?”

“I guess. Okay.” She doesn’t move.

I begin to wonder if this was all too much for her to take in…. Of course it’s too much.

“Do you want to stay in the closet a little longer.”

Her body tips into my arm and her head comes to rest against my shoulder. She doesn’t respond or move for several minutes. Eventually she sits up straight, reaches to open the closet door, pauses, and says in the most serious tone, “I’m gonna need to hear more stories about that planet you say we’re from.”

“That won’t be a problem. But we got to get our butts out of this closet first.”

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After a week in the closet with My Daughter

In the closet’s quiet dark my daughter asks
“will we ever look like the other girls look?”
and I start to but can’t think how answer

I pull her tighter against me
and we lean deaper into the pillows together
wiping our eyes and noses against our sleeves.

The Walkup Movement is Dangerous as a “Movement”

The walkup “movement” is dangerous.  It’s not dangerous in principle, but it’s dangerous when treated as a “movement,” rather than the way kids should interact with each other at school.

Let me try to explain.

Leaving an encouraging note on someone’s locker would naturally seem like a good thing to do.  And between friends, or between kids who want to become friends, it is of course a good thing.  But this is not what the walkup movement is about.

First, let me back up to my own rancid experience in public school (grade school through High School).  If a teacher had given me 17 blank sticky notes and told me to write something good about 14 students (my god 14 whole students!?) and three faculty members, I wouldn’t have known have had something honest to write on maybe two of them, but the rest I would have just written something generic. I simply didn’t know anyone in school.  I might have kind of known 2, and if I stretched it I might have been able to think of another two names, but all of them would have been loosely defined as friends.  Naturally, my locker wouldn’t have had many notes on it. I would have had a few notes, all from people I knew but didn’t know.  And even if my locker had been covered in notes, I would have known virtually nothing about the students who left them. 

Why?  Because no one talked to me. Ever.  And I was too scared and traumatized from school to try and talk to anyone else.  I felt like I didn’t really exist, or that my existence made people uncomfortable.  In fact, if I’d found a bunch of notes on my locker, I would have been angry.  This should not surprise anyone who suffered through public school the way I did: without friends, terrified of everyone, laughed at, and generally avoided. 

Why angry?  It’s simple, looking at all those notes I would have thought “What, now you act like you care? You barely acknowledge me in the hallway, you ignore me in class, but you’ll say I’m “awesome” on a sticky note and leave it for me to find on my own so you don’t have to actually engage with me?  Yeah, that’s grand.”

*sigh*

Screen Shot 2018-03-17 at 9.26.09 AM

All this ranting has been building up in me all week.  I see posts like the one above on my Facebook feed constantly, and they come from people I actually interact with on Facebook.  People who know me.  And they think this is such a great idea.  I just can’t stand it anymore.

Granted, I went to a public school in the 90s, and don’t know anything about “preparatory High Schools.”  Maybe somehow, everyone magically has friends at these schools, and no one gets bullied or shuffled into social cliques or pushed aside when they don’t fit into one of the molds, as I never fit.  Maybe the school in the picture above is some kind of educational and social utopia.  I doubt it, but who knows.  I am, however, very confident that our public schools aren’t any different today than they were in the 90s.

This isn’t to say that the The Walk Up movement is a bad idea.  It’s a great idea, just not as a “movement,” not as a protest, or as some kind of memorial or social statement.  Bullied, abused, scared, lonely kids, don’t want a random note from someone they don’t know, someone who has made little effort to show any interest in their life. Putting notes on lockers does not help.  In fact, just look at the picture: some lockers have four notes, some a few more, and of course that one locker, always that one locker, that’s plastered with notes.

Think about what this kind of display says to a kid who feels worthless.  No one is saying that the notes are some kind of competition.  The idea was not meant to show you how many notes you would get, compared to the kid a few lockers down.  But competition or not, for the troubled student, it merely illustrates the fact of their own isolation. (again, even if I had gotten four notes on my locker, I would have wondered why these people never said any of this to my face, or why they didn’t think to sit with me at lunch or show any interest in me.)

The danger with the Walk Up movement, ultimately lies in the inevitable demonstration of social status (or lack thereof).  But to be fair, that’s only because it’s being made too public.  It’s being used as a social statement, rather than taught as a daily attitude.  Be a friend to someone. A constant, faithful friend. Stand up for the oddball. Defend the defenseless. Sit with the outcast during lunch and ask about his/her day. Do this every day. Make this part of your personality. Genuinely care about people who are different from you.  Kids appreciate notes from people who have shown that they care.  Fifty sticky notes pasted all over your locker from people participating in a school activity, carries not only little meaning, but sends a confusing and potentially harmful message to troubled students.

SIDE NOTE

Has anyone considered the very likely possibility that those alienated, bullied and abused kids may actually commit suicide rather than bring assault rifles to school and kill a dozen or more people? Maybe the focus of this movement should shift from gun violence to a study into why so many kids commit suicide.

 

Bedtime Routine

Goodnight mommy Ellee.

Goodnight my Ellee Bell.

I hope your dreams are filled with trees.

And I hope the trees in your dreams
are filled with silk hammocks.

And blue iridescent birds.

And crickets.

Yes, crickets, who play for you.

And also you. A quartet
who play for you too.

Yes mommy, for me and for you.

Yes, my Ellee Bell. They will play,
to drain every bad day away.

Reading to My Daughter

We just started reading “Bridge to Terabithia”.
It’s slow going. She makes me stop
every few pages. to comment on a word
or wonder about the story.
Finally, partway into the second chapter,
she asks “can we stop for today?”
and I say of course.
We are both quiet for a moment.
Then she glances at the closed book and says
“The boy is too much like me.”
“I know,” I say.
Then she climbs into my lap
and before long we are both asleep.