As the earth embraces my flesh, I can’t help but recall the moment of your birth.
(I’m writing this letter as I lie dead. Of course, this cannot be a physical letter, but rather a metaphysical one. You’ve always had a penchant for the abstract. I only hope you can read my handwriting. Please understand— it is rather difficult to maintain good penmanship when one no longer has a sentient body.)
I’ve always derived a certain sense of satisfaction from living my life in multiples of three. You were born at exactly three past seven— but seven is such an ugly number. Brazen and obtrusive, unfitting for my perfect girl. Six hours and sixty-three minutes; much neater, rolling delectably off the tongue.
When you were three years old and would still cry over things like spilled milk, I’d tell you that if you wanted to cry, you could do it outside. You must have thought I lacked compassion, if toddlers have any awareness for such things.
This perception that you may or may not have had was wholly inaccurate. Your wails did not exasperate me. My heart was not hardened to your laments. If I told you to go conduct your crying in private, it was so you could understand that the majority of those you encounter will have no sympathy. The world does not wait for you to dry your tears.
(My narcissism compels me to wonder if you’ve shed a tear for me. If you have, I truly hope someone will gently sweep it from your cheek. I do.)
At nine you were running wild, and I’d have to leash your hair into neatly woven braids. I’d begun to be afraid. I was frightened that you’d become me at your age, that you becoming me would mean that I’d become the same hand that had been wielded against me.
I was right to be apprehensive. It’s an inevitability, this cycle. Tears were spilled over arithmetic homework. I warned you away from children I disapproved of. Weekends were spent indoors. My heart had hardened into an iron fist.
By the time you were eighteen, you’d lost your softness and had learned how to argue. We’d clash over everything: the holes in your jeans; the boy down the street whom you’d started seeing with the messy hair and tattoo on his collarbone; the major you’d decided upon— philosophy, of all things, which I saw as the waste of a mind that had the potential to do more than dwell on ambiguous nonsense.
But I lost my grip the moment I taught you not to fight with tears. You’d learned to channel your anger instead, and you’d push and you’d push, until overflowing with frustration, I’d blurt, “Is this the hill you want to die on?”
(It was. It always was. You would never back down once your heart was set. Now that I am buried in a hill, and dead, I wish I would have told you this instead: Tell me which hill you want to die on, and I’ll meet you there.
I’ll lay down beside you in the grass. We’ll bask in our own hubris and gulp down the stars, and the gods will laugh down at us with envious scorn.)
Milestones came and went. Graduation. Wedding. First child of your own. In each block of time lay nestled a single moment, when I looked at you, and you looked at me, and you waited. I opened my mouth. I closed it. I smoothed your hair away from your face silently. Your eyes shuttered.
Here was my fatal flaw, the thing you must have despised me for: In my eyes, I had always sacrificed everything for you. Each fight made you stronger, each bitter disagreement a hard earned lesson. There was no need for words beyond that.
It happened gradually. The fire had always been there, I had just chosen not to see it. My eyes slowly began to clear, to cut through the smoke, but I was aging, and you were living, and it was too late.
Burning anger, burning sadness, burning silence.
(Things that burn:
- Pancakes hastily cooked on the morning of your twelfth birthday, flipped a minute too late. You eat them anyway.
- The handle of the car door on a sweltering day. I tell you to wait, but you’re always so eager to act, and you singe your palm on blistering metal.
- Eyes, holding back tears.
- My mouth, holding back three words; an ember smolders beneath my tongue, and pain renders me mute.)
And then I was dying. Slowly, not all at once. I almost wish it had been sudden, if only so I could have an excuse. You were there throughout it all. I can’t imagine why.
The end came. My heart was a skipping stone losing its momentum. Each beat felt like a plunging weight in my chest.
You took my hand in yours. I counted every last second, all sixty-three of them. A full minute and some change to spare. Three extra seconds: a blip in time, a space where only the two of us were allowed to exist. In that shredded moment, the universe convulsed and compressed itself into only you: your face looking down, your body hovering over my bed. As your sheer magnitude suddenly struck me, I wondered if you had always been so much larger of a person than I.
It is now, in this lonely sleep, that I wish I’d used those three extra seconds more wisely. Within them were unsaid lifetimes.
If someone offered me the chance to do over my entire life, I’d say, “No need.” I have no regrets over the things I did or the things I said; only what I didn’t. Mistakes are made to prove we are human, a necessary evil. My only true sin was what I did not allow myself to give.
No, I don’t want my life. All I need are those three seconds with you.
(I love you.
I love you.
I love you.)