Her first word was your name. I can still see my little girl, tucked into a high chair at Panera, suddenly realizing your absence so she turned around as much as a safety harness and the strip of plastic-wood that was between her legs would allow her. And she spoke. Not the usual baby-babble of cute and adorable coos. She said your name, clearly.
I can almost see how her tongue cupped the L of your name and then flattened to soften the grrr of the R in the second half of your name. And isn’t that you? Always growling at life, trying so hard to keep the world and love at bay for fear that it would hurt you.
But my baby wasn’t Hurt. She was Love in a high chair straining to find you because she loved you for you. She recognized the softness that you tried to disguise with barbed-wire prickles but she just smoothed them over with the touch of her hand, a hand that you immortalized in a photograph that is still framed and sitting on my desk. The pencil drawing you later made is at school, a reminder to me of what is important when the chaos of adolescent hormones overwhelms my best made lessons.
My Lo-Lo, my Lauren, my I-didn’t-mean-to-adopt-her-but-what-could-I-do-daughter. I have thought and thought and thought about you since I started keeping this blog, knowing that someday I would have to peel back my own barbed-wire milkweed pods and let your memories flutter out and live on the…page.
You are my first real muse, what with your story about being six years old and crying outside of a house with a three-legged dog. And then you talked about a place called the Pear House or something like that. And soon, those words soaked into my skin and past all the distractions that I have in my life and you became Beth and a three-legged dog became Virgil and the Pear House (or whatever it’s name was) became a bed-and-breakfast called the Pear Tree House in Bedford, Virginia and the graces lived in this house and they healed Little Beth who didn’t even know that she needed healing. This is your story, Lauren. You gave this to me and it is just as much a part of me as it is your creative doppelgänger.
My little Lauren, you tell me that I saved you. I still don’t know how. All I was doing was sitting at a computer trying to do something (probably distracting myself from the weight of ungraded papers combined with the anchor of my grief) and you talked about a plane ticket to London that would seal your escape from the chaos that lived around your dining room table. And somehow, I managed to convince you that running to London was not in your best interest and, instead, you would be so much happier becoming my full-time babysitter. And by full time, I meant that you were on-call for every disastrous event that I was trying to endure or forego or escape from myself.
So by preventing your escape, you enabled me to escape. Which means, in a way, you saved me.
That is somewhat of the story of our lives, isn’t it Lauren? You save me and I save you and together we play this constant tug of war against the world that keeps on trying to pull one of us over the edges that Christopher Columbus said didn’t exist. But they are there for I’ve watched you walk along the precipice, you arms stretched out so that you are nailed to an invisible cross that you bear because you think you are a sinner…or that you are supposed to be a sinner.
So often, you are called the most horrible names and the most horrible things, destructive statements of false-truths that are twisted up into sugar and force-fed down your throat. I want to grab each word and unfurl the letters, retwist the puzzled phonemes and syllables, and restructure them into truths.
You were my daughter’s first word.
In a way, you were my daughter’s first love.
And then there is the Boy, my Little Man, my husband’s Big Guy, who so often stands in the shadow of his little sister who is cute and perky and spunky and confection rolled into an adorable baby-girl who quickly steals the spotlight.
You reached out your hand, covered in the stigmata of other people’s cruelty, and you cupped my Little Man to you and loved him fiercely and protectively. How often did I come home from some new form of hell to see my darling son curled up on your lap while you read to him or while you watched tv together. You kept him safe; you stood as a boundary between the Boy and the ugly world I was fighting. When the Girl spent the weekend in the hospital, during the weekend of the Boy’s birthday, you made sure he felt loved and special. Now, ten years later, he still talks fondly of that weekend. He doesn’t feel slighted; he felt loved.
In a way, you were my son’s first love, too.
And you were sentry for me when friendship turned to a will-of-the-wisp trying to lead those whom I love down a blind path that would only end in destruction. You were there, first to answer questions, and then to walk through the streets of Fredericksburg as we sorted out this horrifying Rubiks Cube and put the squares in the right pattern and finally see the distorted reality. And then we reconstructed the distorted reality into a new friendship that existed within healing, even though you had been betrayed and was crushed. You gave up your pain to heal mine.
You give yourself new names, new ways to re-define who you are. You have been Lauren. You have been Riley. You have been Ren….
Which makes me think of the wren, a simple, little brown bird that is generally ignored. Except it apparently has an incredible song that makes it impossible to ignore.
My little brown bird who sits on my hand and huddles there, terrified of the edges of broken glass that threaten to mutilate you…
I love you. I love you for you. Much as my daughter and my son love you for you. Much as my husband loves you for you.
Please, stop being afraid and listening to the harsh criticisms of those who see only chunks of the real you and not the beautiful nebula that births stories and inspires the trust and love of children. With one hand I will cup you. But with both, I will lift you to the sky and nudge you into the open air.
It’s time for you to fly.