Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Girl without a Father

I want to tell you a story about a little girl - a little girl without a father.

She is tall for her age, a little scrawny, with long, stringy, mouse-brown hair that cascades down her back. From these locks peer freckles and a lopsided smile, her simple grey eyes mostly hidden. Photographs always seem to catch her thus, with her hair in her eyes, a dirty face and, for a period of time, missing her two front teeth.

She is a tomboy in a sun dress.  She gathers her skirt around her legs in a most unladylike fashion and rides her dirt bike through the dusty, wheat-colored fields near the low-income housing track that is her home.  She likes to play with toy cars, racing them through sawdust and then marrying them off in front of all their car friends (because everybody knows that the Jaguar always has had a thing for the Camaro).  She likes to build forts out of left-over building materials; bits of two-by-fours and concrete blocks become castles and elaborate homes with vaulted ceilings and walls of windows.  She creates obstacle courses and pretends she is a great warrior, tracking through jungles, fording rivers, climbing trees to ... get to the other side.  She gets into fights with the little boys down the street and she beats them up. They love her for it.

In fact, she is one of those little girls that always manages to work her way into the hearts of those around her.  She can be as quiet as a church mouse, those veiled eyes quick but guileless.  But she is also prone to bursting forth in dance with great abandon and delight. She makes up little songs about silly, inane things, like advertising jingles for con-artists.  She assigns theme songs to her pets.  She sings them in her breathy, little-girl voice all the while grinning like a cheshire cat.  And speaking of cats, sometimes she even fancies herself to be one. Still other times she is a WWF wrestler.  But most often she likes to think she is a filly, and she gallops embarrassingly through grocery stores whinnying at the other patrons.

Okay, so maybe she is a strange child, but certainly a very imaginative one.  In fact, she has an imaginary stallion that travels with her on the long car rides to grandma and grandpa's house by running alongside the vehicle - just off the edge of the road - leaping over fences and dodging through cross traffic.  Her imaginary horse has a friend, an imaginary bird much like a hawk, and the bird often accompanies them, too, flying overhead as they go.

If you met her, you would find that she is surprisingly shy.  You would see her eyes grow serious and watchful under those chaotic brown tresses.  You would forget she is there as you get into your adult conversations with others around you - that is, until she pipes up with a witty or insightful comment.  Then you would look at her with surprise and wonder, "How could such a young child be listening so intently and understand so much?"

But what you wouldn't see - what you would never see even if you watched every moment of her little girl life - is a little girl with her father.

You would never see her crawl up into someone's lap and cry until comforted.  When she cries, she cries alone; she cries until she cries herself to sleep.

You would never see her ask for anything, not from anyone.  If she cannot do it herself she will go without.

And you would never, ever see her talking about herself - what she likes, what she doesn't like, what her favorite color is, what she wants to do when she grows up.  She doesn't offer and no one ever asks.

You see, because she has never seen a time when her family was okay.  She has never seen her mother hugged, held, or taken care of.  She's never seen her sisters guarded, protected, or secure.  She has never experienced a man offer a kind word or non-sexual affection.  She has never seen any woman be anything but on her own, by herself or, worse, belittled or abused - and even so young, she thinks it is better to be alone than be abused.

There is a great sadness that this little girl carries, a sadness that she can't articulate, a sadness that she doesn't understand because it's caused by all the things she's never seen.  But she'll never let you see it.  No, she holds it close and she carries it dutifully.  It's her job.  It makes her one of the adults even though she is a nutty little kid.  And she's good at her job.  She takes it seriously.  It motivates her to do well in school, to be a leader, to stand her ground in the face of bullies and in the face of the rejection of her peers.  It pushes her to be strong, to prove herself.  She will be the exception.  She will be the one to take care of things somehow.

But the harder she tries, the more she finds that she's just a little girl.

And the more that she is confronted by the fact that she is just a little girl, the harder she tries.

That is a story of a little girl without a father.

That is my story.