Holding On, Letting Go

October 28, 1990|By SUE WATERMAN | SUE WATERMAN,SUE WATERMAN is a free-lance writer living in Baltimore.

There is no setting for this story. You know where it takes place.

She is my oldest my only daughter. She is twelve years old, yesterday. She is still a young child and silently begs for my approval. She is already a grown women and disdains everything about me. I am still a young mother and I wallow in her devotion. I am already an old woman and I have let go of her for good. Sometimes she wears my clothes. Sometimes I wear hers. Her feet fit into my shoes. One summer several years ago, her thin baby hair filled out and became thick, wavy. My hair fell out in handfuls all summer.

When she was six and would watch me bathe, I would tell her never to shave her legs because then the coarse hair would not grow. She nodded in agreement and accepted my wisdom. She has looked longingly at razors ever since. When she was four she would carefully pull out every article of underwear I owned and silently put them all on, wherever they would fit on her tiny body, until she was completely clothed in my bras in my panties in my stockings. She wore them like a million bucks.

When she was three she asked me where babies come from and I told her. When she was five she asked me where babies come from and I told her again. When she was nine she asked me where babies come from and I told her in great detail. Last week at school they told her where babies come from and she came home and told me and I told her it was a lie. Babies are pieces of clouds I told her which break off and fall from the sky and as they fall they are shaped into babies and all I ever did was hold up my arms and there she was. This is what I believe now.

Her blood is beginning to flow she told me. It started three months ago. Why didn't you tell me sooner I ask. What good would it have done she answers. Now we share other things secret things the boys must not touch and we have a silent conspiracy against them. Her blood is just beginning and mine will soon cease. It is useless blood I sometimes think a waste a failure. Part of me wants all of it to be used. A new child with each new moon. Make more of them and perhaps they will not wound so. But it is pointless with her. She was my first. She took the largest piece of me with her when she left. The second child received a smaller share, and the third even less and the fourth a tiny portion and now I am hollow. But she will always have the biggest part of me and so it does not matter how many more might come after. She is bound to me by a gift she does not know she possesses.

We had a litter of kittens last winter in the barn. During the late afternoon I would go out back and watch the mother cat teach her kittens to hunt. Do it this way she told them or you will die. They ignored her for a week and played with each other greedily eating the mice the mother cat laid at their feet. The second week she brought no mice and after a day of desperate mewing they went out themselves and caught their own. My children turn a deaf ear when I say do it this way or you will die. But they have never been hungry.

I remember now that, as a child, words like that made no sense. Don't do that be careful look both ways eat your greens be polite wipe your feet say your prayers. I obeyed but never understood. Now I know they said those things because they were true. Every word. I say the same words but she keeps that blank look on her face. If I don't acknowledge you, you will go away she thinks. You don't know what it is like to be me she thinks. She is wrong for she is me.

When I was twenty-one and in college I went through a period I called Finding Out It Is Real. It was an astonishing time when all the things I had been reading about for nearly twenty years suddenly started coming true. People died, bills had to be paid, connections were lost and created, the apartment had to be cleaned, meals must be cooked, other people needed me or wanted me, my time was not always my own, I was alone, the car needed repair. All of it came true -- the years congealed and I saw at last that I had to do it that way or I would die. Several months later I was pregnant. She was born at noon on a Sunday.

I cannot tell her all this because she has not Found Out It Is Real. It is all a game to her and she is still trying on selves. If I try to tell her she puts on her empty face. If I remain silent you will cease to exist she wordlessly tells me. I leave her alone. She has rolled up the gangplank. The quarantine flag is up.

There is a boy who calls her every day. They hold hands at school. She misses him when they are apart. I do not like to think about that boy. How dare he I say he does not know her true worth he does not know her price. I miss her little-girl body running dripping wet through the house after her bath, the innocent straightness of it, its smoothness its simplicity. She is kept hidden now and I long to see what she has become. I am fascinated by glimpses of it.

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