At Twelve

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It’s August, and I can’t believe she’s twelve.

I remember the August twelve years ago, after I finished a July of laying on the floor of my office, the door closed, my feet on the back of a chair, trying to turn my stubborn breech baby. I placed earbuds at my pelvic bones and played fiddle music in the direction I wished her head would face. When she turned finally, one night in late July, I felt every organ in my torso shift, roll and right itself again in one nauseatingly relieving motion.

In retrospect, it was a sign: with enough work, everything would eventually be repaired, over and over again. My girl, who always kept me on my back with legs in the air, directing my world from the floor, has now turned twelve, reaching down to offer a hand and pull me up. When I rise, she stands next to me and steps to one side to rest her cheek in the hollow between my shoulder and neck.

She’s grown. Improbably, in defiance, literally right under my nose now.

At twelve, she moves at a distance often far enough to let me marvel at her robust body, her strong legs and arms and moral core. She rides her bike alone to theatre rehearsals, head facing forward, swiveling at the alleys to check for cars just as she’s been taught. I wait at the corner and watch her go.

At twelve, she says things I could never have heard in her voice before, waiting in the hospital lounge, her warm skin still powdered to my lips before someone handed me a coffee and I drank it, absentmindedly, erasing what could have been my last kiss but, mercifully, wasn’t. Had someone thrust a microphone in my face in that moment and asked me what will she love at twelve?, I would have been stuck, mouth open, empty. I would not have guessed that the answers would be stand-up comedy, poetry, and the kind of tiny, often-missed beauty to be found in the color of a stranger’s eyes or the way a mother and baby play with each other in a corner of a cafe. When she was eight and I was upended in the hospital lounge, there was no twelve-year-old version of her in my imagination; there was an ocean in black-and-white; I didn’t even know whether color would be invented and, if so, whether it would reveal the day to be stormy or sunny.

She is sunshine. She is unmistakably bright sunshine, even with clouds nearby some days.

It’s August, and I can’t believe the Augusts we navigated before.

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Previous birthdays were spent on the precipice or panting, grateful to have survived it. One year we held a macaroni and cheese contest for her birthday party, my kitchen counter overflowing with pans and bowls of every variety imaginable. Another year, her swallowing abilities diminished by her smashed esophagus, she asked not to have a cake, so we made bouquets and arrangements of chocolate-covered pretzels and Oreos. When she turned nine, the path from her mouth to her stomach finally unencumbered, we celebrated with a trip to see the Statue of Liberty, toasting her birthday in the airport with the same beverage that compelled me every single day of my pregnancy with her: a piping-hot peppermint hot chocolate, even in the heat of summer. It is her favorite drink.

At twelve, she asked for a birthday cake alone with her family, and I made it while she was at a rehearsal. Her gifts included a t-shirt, slightly too big but not overwhelmingly so, especially given that we bought it for her in an adult size. At twelve, she is what she should be: almost adult-sized, eating almost adult-sized portions, wearing almost adult-sized clothes, sharing almost adult-sized thoughts and dreaming almost adult-sized dreams. She may not, despite all warnings to the contrary, be exceptionally short. She may reach my height yet, and though she grows slowly, she still grows.

My love for her is twelve, too, and it rolls gently from watching her leave me to holding her closely against my chest. I love best to watch her on stage, where the light hits her face with the intensity I think her face deserves: bright, focused, appreciative. Look at her, the light and I say, look at how bright and strong and present she is. Look at her! It’s August again. Can you believe she is twelve?

 

 


This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee.com. This week’s sentence is “It’s August, and I can’t believe…”

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5 thoughts on “At Twelve

  1. Such a beautiful, honest and emotional piece. Thank you for sharing it with us xx

  2. This is stunningly gorgeous. The image of her pivoting at the alley to look for cars, your uncertainty just a few years ago. I feel so lucky to have read this essay tonight. Thank you.

  3. Fiddle music. With a little work, so much can be accomplished. I love this. What a lovely piece about your girl. I hope she gets to read this.

  4. I say “I can’t believe she’s…” every August! I have two August babies, and they are my sunshine. Happy belated birthday to your growing girl – I’m toasting her with an imaginary peppermint hot chocolate, which I am now craving.

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