Saturday, February 2, 2013

One Precious Strand

Recently as I did the laundry I found something that brought back a sweet memory. In a whoosh moment, it transported me back to early December 2012 after the deep, navy-blue clouds of November had parted. Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, had passed, thank god, because for three years I’d spent it alone, and the one in 2010 devastated me to such a point, I almost died. But I tripped and stumbled my way through the final remnants of November and greeted December with as much hope as a wounded heart could muster.

It’s funny how my mind can linger on depressing events and make them as bad as the day they happened. Some are life altering. Some have changed a tradition that began after my daughter’s birth—our own traditions, like our annual Thanksgiving dinner shared with friends around our big marble table. She’d ensure the placemats were lint free and the napkins’ open edges faced left. It drives her crazy when I don’t fold them properly after washing them, but I’ve learned, as all obedient moms do, that daughters know everything and to heed their advice. When our friends would arrive, the feasting and storytelling would begin. I missed that for three years.

And then I got the text. “I’ll be in Colorado Dec 18,” my baby girl wrote. Even without toothpicks, I was able to open my squinty, depressed eyes a bit further. and I felt a warm well of hope bubble up from inside. My daughter, my raison d'être, was coming home for Christmas.

Now, my funny mind also romanticizes good memories and sometimes makes them better. In my daughter’s younger years, she slept in my bed with me, not all the time, but particularly after her nightmares—and she had a lot. I’d hear her get up, use the toilet, then walk back into her room and turn on her light. I sleep through nothing.

“Did you have a nightmare?” I’d ask.

“Yeah (pause). Can I sleep with you?”

“As long as you don’t kick.” That’s another funny thing, how a little girl can start on one side of a king-size bed and end up kicking me in the gut on the opposite side. Even with my body pillow in between us, her little foot somehow packed a powerful under-the-pillow punch, so I learned to sleep on a one-foot width of space. Eventually, her subconscious took over and she quit kicking, and I had fewer bruises. So I hoped when she came home, we could fall asleep talking as we sometimes did, like college roommates or good girlfriends.

Another tradition we started years ago was our annual Christmas Eve soirée. We invite about forty friends to pop in for a bite to eat and have a cup of holiday cheer or stay the night if they’d like. The event always fills our home with loving energy for weeks afterward. Memories of guests’ mini gatherings warm the house and replenish the spirit. I wondered if my 19-year-old boss would like to continue that event.

“We have to,” she texted. “It’s tradition. And we have to make our chocolate-chip chili, ’cause people expect it.”

A month’s worth of despondency lifted like removing an x-ray-proof lead apron. I felt as if I’d taken a ten-pound dump and could breathe again. During the following week, I pulled Christmas décor from its box and, with the help of a few notes on where the decorations were to be placed, the house soon started looking bright and festive. Even the gal in the mirror donned an occasional grin and brighter-colored clothes.

December 18 finally arrived, and due to nature’s way, my daughter’s flight was late, but safe. During her time here we played a lot of Ping-Pong, chess, and Pick Two. She even bought me four new pairs of pants, the first new clothes I’ve had in seven years. and I had a treasure hunt for her on Christmas morning. Then on her last night here, I heard her get up at 4:00 a.m., use the toilet, then walk back into her room and turn on her light.

“Did you have a nightmare?” I asked.

“Yeah (pause).”

“Do you want to sleep with me?”

Click. Off went her light. I heard her walk into my room and get into the other side of the bed.

“Good night.” I said, smiling. “No kicking.”

“Night,” she groaned.

* * *
A week after my daughter had flown back to college and I was cleaning my bedding, I saw a long strand of thick auburn hair that somehow made it through the washer. I slowly pulled it from the twisted, brick-red, grizzly-bear flannel sheet and held it up to the light. It shimmered and changed tones as the wavy strand caught light. Butterflies danced in my tummy.

So simple. So sweet. So miraculous. A precious memory of a beautiful daughter captured in one precious strand.

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