Katie in Central Park – Photo by Grandpa DD
“Mama,” she says, nearly breathless, “I have a GREAT book for you to read.”
She sets it down on the bookshelf in front of which I’m thumbing through the latest best seller. I recognize it immediately.
“Remember, Mama?” she says, “I LOVED this book. You would really like it. It’s great.”
Of course I remember it. She wouldn’t stop talking about it when she read it. Three times.
“Don’t we already have that book, kiddo?” I ask.
“No,” she says. “I just borrowed it from the school library. Remember, Mama? It’s about the girl who’s just like me. You should read it.”
I think I’m on to her. (I’m wildly off base.)
“Oh, you want ME to read it, huh?”
I laugh. (It hurts to write that.)
“Nice try, kiddo. You just want me to buy it for you.”
“No, I swear, Mama,” she says. (I don’t really hear this until later.) “It’s really good. I just thought you’d like it.”
“C’mon, Katie,” I say, handing her the book. “Bring this back and grab what we came here for, okay?”
She takes it from me and heads to the young adult section to return it.
I read the first page of the book in my hand to see if it holds any appeal.
Fifteen minutes later we head home with a birthday gift for her friend, a random book for her, and the bestseller that I couldn’t put down.
I’m at work.
I miss her.
I can’t shake it.
I text her.
She doesn’t write back.
I looked at her in the car last night as we were driving home from the bookstore — a beautiful, poised, self-possessed young woman sitting there next to me in the front seat, her hair blowing in the wind, her laughter trailing behind us along with the memory of the little girl that she was just a month, a day, a minute ago.
At the stoplight, I’d cupped her chin in my hand and she’d looked at me sideways. A smirk had taken over her face — the new and improved version of her Mama’s, and that glint in her eye — ever screaming that she knows both more and less than she lets on.
My memory aches.
I call home.
We chat, but there’s not much to talk about.
I feel like we’re floating, disconnected.
I need to do something. To reach out to her. To ground us.
I make a decision.
On my way home, I’ll buy her the book. I’ll wrap it in gift paper. I won’t let the store do it; I need to wrap it myself, to fold the corners down ever so delicately, one by one. Slowly, gently, I’ll make perfect triangles and secure them with smooth, clear tape. Ooh, maybe I’ll hide it under her pillow! Let it her find it while I’m at work tomorrow. A little parcel to say what I can’t. Or wait, should I wrap it up tonight and then give it to her right away so that I can watch her open it?
I get in the car, heading toward the bookstore.
I am on the road when the tape begins to play back in my head.
When I HEAR my girl saying the words.
Remember, Mama? It’s about the girl who’s just like me. You should read it.
No, I swear, Mama. It’s really good. I just thought you’d like it.
The book was never for her.
It was for me.
My girl was reaching out to me.
And I missed it.
It’s about the girl who’s just like me.
I get to the store.
I find the book.
There will be no wrapping, no carefully folded corners or smooth, clear tape.
This is a very different kind of gift.
I walk into the house clutching my prize.
I hug Brooke, say a quick hello to Luau, then walk straight up to Katie’s room.
I find her on the floor recording music. She pauses the song and looks up at me.
“I bought this,” I say. I feel self-conscious. I have too much to say to know where to start.
“I can’t wait to read it. I’m sorry I didn’t get it last night. I just …”
“Thank you, Mama,” she says (with no hint of a smirk.) I think you’ll really like it.”
“If it really is about a girl like you,” I say, “there’s no way that I won’t.”