Recently, I attended a writer’s workshop, focused on how to better teach middle schoolers to write in greater volume, with more enjoyment, and with greater skill. It gave me a chance to write a very short personal narrative on the topic of my choice to share with my adult aged workshop on the final day. So, I thought I’d share this 2012 memory here on my page, with my daughter’s permission. Both of us have changed and healed so much; we aren’t these people anymore. But the power of the moment was something I’ve been needing to write about for awhile.
I hope to do some more personal narratives in the upcoming weeks. Subsequent entries may be a bit lighter as I need to write mentor texts for my 7th grade classroom. Anyway, here’s my first effort:
“Mom, can I have a razor to shave my legs?” my fifteen year old daughter asked, averting her eyes toward the floor.
“Um, do you think you’re ready for this sweetie?” I asked, my thin smile a feeble attempt to mask the concern in my voice.
“Yeah, Mom, I promise I’ll be safe,” Sofia replied with more confidence.
I handed my delicate daughter the sharp, new, bright pink razor. My mood was dull and grey as she entered the bathroom. Despite the upbeat music and the floral scent of bubble bath coming from behind the closed door, my worry seeped toward the steamy bathroom as I reflected on Sofia’s recent hospital stay for depression and self harm.
The dusty plastic plants in the off-white hospital visiting room always seemed to mirror my plastic emotions as I forced false cheer into the conversations with Sofia, who sat sandwiched between my estranged husband and me. Each day’s optimistic discussions about plans for her return home were clouded by the unsaid knowledge that her dad was planning to start a new life on his own. The healing cuts on her arms as she sat between us were evidence of how each of our wounded lives were being torn apart.
The inevitable happened after Sofia was released from the hospital and soon, my girl and I were the sole occupants of our now too big house. The man who read her “Goodnight, Moon”, prayed with her each night, and took her to her first emo-rock concert was now strangely absent. She expectantly checked her email and phone each day for morsels of communication from her dad. Unbeknownst to me, she had received a long awaited but brief, impersonal email from her dad shortly before going into the bathroom.
My thoughts were interrupted by the door opening to reveal my petite daughter engulfed in an oversized, fluffy, red robe. Seeing her, my mind filled with the memories of all the baths I had given her when she was little, gleeful splashing and evaporating bubbles filling my head. Now, she hugged herself closely as the tub drained behind her, arms wrapped around her torso. So grown up, yet so small and vulnerable.
“Mom,” she said, her eyes lifting to meet mine. My thoughts of bubbles popped as did my expectant hope when she said, “Mom, I…I wasn’t safe.” She unfolded her arms to reveal deep cuts, the red blood mingling with the scarlet softness of her robe. Like the drops on her arms, tears flowed down both of our faces. That deceptively bright pink razor had cut her. It had cut me. It had cut to the depths of our family. I hated that razor and all the pain it revealed.
Grabbing bandages, I made sure to keep my fragile child in sight. As I wrapped her pale arms in the white gauze, we cried tears of pain. Tears of loss. Tears of grief.
“Mom, I’m so sorry I hurt you too…I didn’t mean to,” she sobbed as I finished bandaging her arms. Strangely, at that moment, everything became clear to me. Just as I couldn’t stop the bubbles in a 3 year old girl’s bath from dissolving, so much of life was beyond my control. I couldn’t instantly recreate a happy family. I couldn’t stem the grief. I couldn’t hide every razor in the world. But I clearly knew what I could do; I could love and support this girl-woman who shared my heart, my hurt, and my fragile hope. With my tear stained face nestled in Sofia’s freshly washed hair, I whispered with resolve, “Cuts heal. So will we.”