This was written years ago when I heard of the passing of one who used to be very dear to me. I had meant to give the original version to her family but I didn’t feel it was the right time. I rewrote it today as a letter to that person, hoping she is looking down on me with love., and I think she is, as I dreamt of her last night.
Sometimes, late at night, it’s one that still comes back as clear as the day it was made, and I feel like a child all over again.
On my ninth birthday, you took me shopping. I don’t remember if there were any others with us that day- that is fuzzy to me now- but I remember because it was one of those rare days I felt especially close to you. Those days would diminish as I grew older, as age and history colored our interactions and drew us apart, but on that day I was nine, I would have followed you blindly. I loved you with all the innocence and foolishness of my young heart.
You, like all your siblings, were never overtly affectionate with us… with me. I don’t remember being cuddled, kissed, or praised by any one of you. Ah, we were always so formal and so polite! But I realize, now that I am in my middle years, that, perhaps, you didn’t love me any less or any different; we simply had different ways of showing love. As a child desperate for affection, however, I needed more than just an acknowledgment of my existence. I needed to be recognized as being more than just of the same blood. I wanted to be appreciated and reassured that I was loved for being me.
Many things would happen between that day and the last time you and I saw each other almost thirty years ago. I am now past the age you were the last time we talked. And though it’s a memory I have often tried to suppress and forget, I still see that day clearly too. When I close my eyes, I can almost see you sitting across me, and I remember the furrows etched between your eyebrows, the downturn of your lips, and the shrill of your voice as anger formed a divide between us that not even decades could mend.
Many things would be said, too, in the aftermath of that day, many of them untrue- carried, passed, and whispered back and forth in false confidences by third parties who were observers to the sordid drama of our lives. Many things would stand between us then, and when the memory of that day comes to me like an unexpected visitor, I often wonder how we managed to screw things so badly for all of us.
But that day I turned nine was different. I have a very vivid recollection of you holding my hand firmly, gently- a first, I thought then. You brought me to a store, looked at me tenderly, and said with genuine kindness, “You can have anything you want! This is my birthday gift for you.” I’ve never had that much freedom given to me before, and immature geek child that I was, I settled on a pink stapler with flower-shaped wires and a hodgepodge of stationery items. Erasers, pencils, the first mechanical sharpener I ever saw in my life, paper of all sizes- I was in heaven!
Growing up, I was often told I looked like you, and despite the protestations that followed –you never actually told me you were glad I looked a little bit like you so I felt embarrassed to insist on the similarities– I was actually thrilled and proud. Somewhere along the way, the circumstances that led to our separation played their ugly hand and created the cracks that tore us apart, but each time I look at the mirror, I still see you.
Even today, I still look a bit like you. And I remember the feelings of that child who held your hand and felt loved and wanted. These are the memories that survived the painful years, and these are the ones I now choose to keep.
In the years between then and now, we both grew a lot older and farther apart. When you saw me last, I was heavy with child with my firstborn. You never met my boys, and they, in turn, never knew you. But I always entertained this silly, fanciful dream that there would be time to set things right. I really thought we had more time. I prayed we could have a future- no matter how short- to wipe away all anger, sadness, and disappointment. It is too late today to do all that.
I wish we could start all over, back to that day 45 years ago, and undo all the wrong that tore us apart.
Then again, perhaps it is time to simply forget and move on and live like tomorrow will never come.
And in this today, there is room only for love. And with that, a nine-year-old’s still unwounded heart which adored you and loved you like her own.