nineteen – still life

If you knew our family casually, or even a little more than casually, you’d never suspect Dora was anything other than a normal nine-year old girl living a normal life with a mostly normal family.

We do normal things, like go the movies or the beach. We lose the TV remote and get blame-y. We take walks and bike rides. We like the library. Dora strong-arms us to take her to Michaels craft store, her happy place, and we are generally happy to oblige.

“Dora is daydreamy,” you might say.  

Or, if you spent more time with her, “She’s shy.”  

“She’s sensitive,” our dear friends Pammu and her son would say.

My mother says, “She’s a very sweet child, a funny combination of very active and very shy.”

For sure you’d say she is creative.   

My point is this:  you’d never see Dora and I sitting at a Starbucks and think, “That kid looks unhappy.”  But it’s there, ever since Laura moved away.  She carries it with her. It comes out at night, mostly, right around bedtime, out of nowhere.  She’ll just cry.

Sometimes she’ll say she misses Laura, other times she’ll say she doesn’t know why she’s crying. On those days, David and I will say, “She’s had a long day.”

It’s still November, and Dora has rearranged her room, christening one wall “The Art Gallery”.  She’s hung six or seven of her drawings on this wall.  Eager to fill the wall entirely, she spends the remainder of this sunny Saturday at the easel.

After she falls asleep for the night, my eye catches the newest Gallery painting. It’s a pitch-black shadow of a little girl sitting on the grass, her knees drawn to her chest. A midnight-blue sky makes up the entire background. The dark girl/shadow is gazing up at a tiny star, the only bright object in the otherwise singularly dark painting.  The word “plaintive” pops into my mind.  

What to make of this?   Shouldn’t a nine year old girl be painting puppies or fairies or something?  Is this puberty or is this genius, the early work of an old master?  

This is a dark, dark painting.

Calliou’s mother whispers, “Gosh, just look at that star! So lovely and bright!” 

My gut hisses, “Don’t be a fucking idiot! This painting is sad and it does not seem normal.”

Even David isn’t sure what to make of it; taking it in for the first time, he crinkles his eyebrows in concern.  He shakes his head.

I lay in bed feeling weird.

“She is nine,” I tell David, “She won’t even be a teenager for another four years, and it’s supposed to get harder?   I will never make it out of Parenting alive.”

I am only half-joking.

I’m not joking at all.

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