An alcohol bottle shatters on the far side of the living room, breaking against the peeling flower wallpaper, shards landing on the stained gray couch and chipped wood floor. I can’t make out the words. Just yelling. I run out of the room with a black eye. I see Paige quietly sitting on the stairs, her little hands holding onto the cold bars of the railing. Her bright blue are eyes dark, past the point of fear. She’s used to this by now. I join her on the hard, comfortless stairs as the yelling continues. Paige wraps her arms around me as far as they can reach.
She whispers, “It’s okay, mamma. We’re gonna be okay,” as I sob and wait for my husband to calm down.
I can’t tell how much time passes, huddling on those worn out stairs, but eventually he storms out of the living room. He narrows his resentful eyes at Paige, throwing curses and insults her way. I can only catch bits and pieces of what he says, hearing “useless”, “horrid”, and “trash” through my weeping. His daughter does not respond. I feel her body tense, and suddenly spring forward, hitting his stomach as hard as she could with her skinny arms. Far from being injured, her father is simply surprised at this unexpected but futile retaliation, proceeding to give her a black eye that matches mine. Paige crumples to the ground, crawling away, but no sound escapes.
Two weeks later, she watches as my coffin is lowered into the ground. Her father is sentenced to life in prison for my murder.
I watch my Paige at my funeral. As the mourners slowly disperse, she continues to stand above my coffin, frozen with shock. She bends down with her fistfull of daisies she picked—little wild daisies she gathered for me everyday in springtime—gently placing them on the dewy grass, close to where my headstone will be. Finally overcome with grief, her little body crumples to the ground. That was the first time I’d seen her cry in years.
Her aunt, uncle, and two cousins wait patiently from a distance for a while. Her aunt softly walks over, ignoring her wet knees, and embraces my daughter curled up on the ground. She cries for her sister before gently picking Paige up, taking her to her relative’s house to live.
Paige doesn’t say a word to them for weeks. She doesn’t even make a peep. For a time, her relatives wonder if the grief made her mute. I am the only one who hears her cry herself to sleep, along with tossing and turning from nightmares.
My heart is overcome with joy as Paige speaks for the first time after my death to console her aunt, as the grief takes its toll. She hugs her as they sit on the soft, carpeted stairs, whispering, “It’s okay, auntie. We’re going to be okay.”
Her cousins soon show her how sucking helium out of a balloon gives you a chipmunk voice, making her laugh almost uncontrollably. Laugh? Yes! My Paige laughs again! I laugh alongside her.
Paige becomes very close to her relatives, who adopt her as soon as they can. Smiling and laughing becomes a daily occurrence. At first she doesn’t want to talk about her father and I, but as she grows older she and others can mention her birth parents without a dark glaze falling over her eyes. Paige doesn’t just need her new family, they need her. They bond together when helping my little girl with her pain and their own.
Paige begins middle school four years after my death. She is immediately known by her teachers and fellow classmates as the kindest person in school, and for good reason. It’s as if she has superpowers; one look into those piercing blue eyes, and she can tell instantly if you need loving support. She wants to be everyone’s friend, and they want to be hers. She walks the school halls, being followed by a chorus of “Hi, Paige,” and “How’s it goin’, Paige?”
Before I realize it, my baby is a high school student. Her reputation for unprecedented compassion and cheerfulness blazes through the school in no time. Paige is never an attention seeker. Whenever someone praises her, she simply smiles and looks down at her light pink shoes, blushing. That never fails to make me laugh. She remains more of a listener than a talker, no doubt an after effect of her childhood, but she is content to be more quiet. When she opens her mouth, the words astonish me, showing her maturity and deep personal thoughts she often gets lost in. Paige usually only tells her closest friends about the abuse, and anyone else who learns is surprised, owing to her permanent smile and sparkling, crystal eyes.
I’ll never forget the look on my husband’s face when he sees his daughter is his visitor, ten years older. They sit across from each other in silence for what seems like a great while, Paige blinking tears as the people who slowly filter in and out go unobserved. Finally, she carefully picks up the scratched phone as if it’s going to explode, looks straight into his eyes, and takes a deep breath.
“I miss mom,” she states confidently as her father buries his worn face into grimy hands. “You took her away from me.” Another pause follows as tears freely flow on both sides of the dirty glass. “You deserve to be in prison, but . . . I can’t hold on to this anger any longer, or it will destroy me.” My husband’s head slowly lifts up, his searching, tired eyes meeting hers. “I forgive you,” is all she manages to whisper. Her father doesn’t reply, but his expression tells her everything.
She leaves with a smile stretching ear to ear, looking as if a heavy burden is lifted off her back. I marvel at my daughter, wondering if I could do the same.
Five years later, I watch my Paige’s college graduation ceremony with pride. She almost skips across the stage, receiving her diploma, handshakes, and a thunderous applause from the audience and fellow graduates.
Very soon after her graduation, she starts a foundation for victims of abuse and their family members, encouraging people to report mistreatment, leave the abusive relationships, and seek professional help to work through any trauma. I am ashamed to admit that I was too afraid to do this during my life, but my angel daughter has never judged me.
Sometimes Paige still has nightmares, seeing images of hatred across her father’s face, reliving the fear and shattered bottles. Sometimes she still cries, but that doesn’t diminish her confidence. She endures and carries on with her husband and three beautiful children at her side, who never waver in their support and love.
It seems just yesterday that I saw my little girl’s face pressed against the railing and its peeling paint. She continues to manage her foundation, and still makes time to be an incredible mother. Where does she get her strength? It certainly didn’t come from her mother.