Last night in the car.
P., to me: Are you okay?
Me: *cough cough* I’m sick.
Franny: Boo, you whore!
Today, you are thirteen years old. I’m not going to lie to you, this scares the ever loving crap out of me. Of course your life is very different than mine was.
You were born at home, in a split-level rental in Shoreline. Later I was told the neighbors heard me screaming. The neighbors, presumably, were civilized people and had their children in modern hospitals. You were nine days late, and I was a little bummed when I knew you were coming right then, make way everyone, because your day was also the day of my childhood best friend’s birthday, and there were sad memories there. I never told you that. Your day superseded my thoughts of her pretty quickly, though. It’s funny how what comes after overwrites what came before so easily sometimes that you barely even notice.
Here is a secret: I felt kind of smug that my body had toted you along into my month, and out of your father’s birthday month. Yes, I was thinking thoughts like that even then.
I was very alone during my labor with you, like I was in a long, dark tunnel. I remember people kept leaving me alone in my room where time would crawl, and then crash forward. I remember voices outside the room, and the smell of coffee being made. Sometimes I would be fed and then throw up again. There would be a lot of pain, and then nothing but staring and thinking about the book I was reading that your labor interrupted and how the rain looked crawling down the window. I still never really came back around to Hardy. I kind of wished I was in a hospital, not because I was scared, but because I knew there would be people around.
It made sense to me that in the final moments I would feel alone in labor. I was alone a lot as a child, and in my marriage. Everyone saws on about how you are born alone, and how you die alone. This is dark, sorry. There’s a lot of cobwebs and bullshit in here. But when I saw you, I felt, well, confused as hell. Having a little creature come out of my body and open its eyes and start breathing was crazy! WHO THE HELL INVENTED THAT.
You were very solemn and looked around the room with your unfocused eyes. The light was dim. Your eyes would lock on my face and then flicker away again. They looked very deep grey. You were not the horrible slime goblin I was expecting at all. You were very cute. And then I felt something else: less alone. I joked that you were my 23rd birthday present.
Now you look like this [further commentary redacted]:
Fierce, girl, fierce.
When I was thirteen I was living with my mother in a terrible apartment after she had run away from my stepfather for the second or third time. I had just started high school and I was getting dark for real. I think this was my second real depression. The first one happened after I was picked up as a runaway at ten. I started collecting black clothes from thrift stores and moping endlessly. I tried to teach myself transcendental meditation from a book I got at the library. I stayed up for three days at a time because I could and there was no one to tell me not to.
Sometimes my mother wouldn’t come home, or at least I wouldn’t cross paths with her for days. Sometimes there was a sign she had been there briefly during the day while I was at school. What was she doing? I have no idea, it was none of my business. Was she avoiding me? I spent many nights in my room crying, being ignored. There is this small part of my brain that hisses, “Well, you were a real drag then and I had my own shit to deal with” and I realize that is my mother’s voice.
I try to imagine leaving you alone for days at a time and ignoring you while you cry heartbreakingly and I think I would rather pluck the veins out of the back of my hand with my teeth. It all seems so foreign to me. I am your protector. I care about you. Here is another secret: when there is love and a certain level of functionality, it’s not that hard.
I did not know I would have a daughter who was so smart and funny and who quotes Mean Girls and is easy to live with. I am a happier person for knowing you and having you in my life.
I feel like we’re on a hump now, but the land below is all foggy. On one hand, I see the floodgates opening and BOOM you’re almost a teenager now. On the other, I know you have another year or two where you will actually listen to my lectures about compound interest, the dangers of open containers at parties, why you leave a note, how teeth are not tools, and The Importance of the Correct Undergarments. Soon I will need to listen, listen, listen to you or I could push you away, or at least bore the crap out of you.
Happy birthday, Franny.