life

A Mighty Four-Year-Old Fist

She sat, legs outstretched, hair towel-wrapped, back against the wall, on her bed in a rented house in the historic part of town. An old house near the tracks, just barely safe, just barely respectable, just barely far enough away from the drunks in the flophouse. Her out of place sophistication and beauty did not go unnoticed by the beer guzzling neighbors on her right and on her left.

She called her little house the meat in a redneck sandwich. It was a temporary dwelling, until she got back on her feet.

She was on the phone, midway through a dreary conversation, when her daughter appeared beside the bed and took the receiver from her hand.  Clenching her little four-year-old-fist she spoke into the mouthpiece loud and clear:

“I want to know why you don’t live with us anymore!”

There was a pause. She held her breath wondering how he would answer. She wanted to know, too.

His stern reply came through loud enough for her to hear:

“Put your mother back on.”

She was stunned. Stunned by the courage and stunned by the cowardice.

That sweet, gentle, smart little girl with the impressive vocabulary had a question brewing in her little heart that her mom knew nothing about.  It had been over a year since her father left, and she was just now asking it.

Perhaps it took more than a year to muster the courage. Perhaps at two-and-a-half she didn’t know what to ask.  Perhaps she hadn’t noticed, until she was four, that the dads of other kids lived with them, so why didn’t he? Perhaps she had thought he was away for a while and the while had grown too long.

“I’m just as surprised as you are,” she replied after being berated for putting their daughter up to it, “and someday you are going to have to answer her question.”

Courage inspires. Cowardice disappoints.

Sitting on her bed, receiver back in its cradle, she was disappointed.

The only answer she had ever gotten when she had asked the question was, “Marriage isn’t what I thought it was going to be and I don’t want it anymore.”

But in that breath-held moment she hoped he would muster enough courage of his own to give his daughter a gentle, truthful, more specific answer. Or at least a gentle, truthful promise to talk with her about it later, in person, when he wasn’t caught so off-guard.

But he chose angry defensiveness instead. He chose his discomfort over his daughter’s brave, vulnerable, broken, suddenly demanding little heart.

Sitting on her bed, receiver back in it’s cradle, she was inspired, impressed, in awe.

Her little girl was BRAVE.  Her little girl was going to be okay in life. Her little girl had the courage to ask tough questions, to risk anger and disappointment, to speak up. Her little girl had the courage to ask for something more than the status quo.

He never answered his daughter’s question with words, but he answered it.

He answered it in the choice of his second wife, a lovely woman who is kind and nurturing and not the sharpest tool in the box, not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Sometimes she marvels at the fact that he doesn’t appear bothered by the dullness of her bulb.  But, then, she supposes, perhaps that is what he imagined marriage should be.

And (@ANNELAMOTT), if she remembers correctly, his you-know-what was kinda’ small.

 

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