We are on the ferry on our way to Nantucket. The sun is shining. Kids are everywhere.
They move around the boat’s deck in clumps – chasing each other down or playing games of Hide and Seek.
Brooke has taken notice of the three girls who have congregated right behind us. They are giggling, half-hidden behind a wall. They are obviously attempting to hide from a fourth girl who is making her way across the deck, peeking behind every large object that she passes.
Brooke gets up from her chair and walks over to the girls. She stretches out an arm and points a slender little finger in their direction. “What’s your names?” she asks.
Her voice is a little too loud. Her tone is a little too flat.
The girls stand stock-still. They stare right at her, but not one of them speaks.
Brooke takes a step forward, obviously thinking they must not have heard her. So she asks a little more loudly this time.
“What’s your names?” she nearly yells.
This is my girl reaching out.
She wants to be heard.
She wants to make friends.
She wants to say, “Nice to meet you.”
No one answers. Not one of the girls so much as acknowledges the question. They simply stare at her.
“What’s your names?” she asks yet again.
They stand shoulder to shoulder together, creating an impenetrable wall.
I finally interject.
“Girls,” I say, “she’s just asking you what your names are. Can any of you tell her what your name is?”
I’m trying to sound friendly, but I can’t help but wonder how hard it is to answer a simple question from a girl their own age. I worry that there’s an edge in my voice. I hope they don’t hear it, but I do.
One of them quietly answers. Her name is Ashley.
Neither of the others says a word. They are still stuck to one another, looking at Brooke as though she’s just stepped out of an intergalactic transport.
She retreats. As she walks back to her chair, she mumbles into her chest, “It’s nice to meet you.”
She slumps into her chair and stares out into the water. I put my arm around her and squeeze her gently.
I whisper to her the words that we worked on over the summer, “Remember baby, when you walk up to a group of kids, you can say, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing?'”
She responds with a quiet, “Yeah.” It floats out over the water.
I leave it at that. It’s not the time to push.
I watch her, trying not to read too much into her body language. I pray that she doesn’t feel the sting, but I am terrified that she does.
For so long she (seemed to) have the luxury of oblivion. Burgeoning awareness is a double-edged sword.
I kiss the top of her head, wishing that loving her enough could somehow make this all easier.
Luau nudges me from three seats down. “Stay out of the rabbit hole, babe,” he says. “It’s O.K.”
I nod. “I hear ya, hon,” I respond. “I’m fine’.
We both know I’m lying.
Sometimes this stuff is just hard.