Last night while a storm lashed the house, my daughter and I sat up in bed listening to the tree scrape the window and the wind rushing through the street and the sky. She asked me again why her father and I split up two years ago. She said she deserves to know more and that she’s old enough to understand better now. She is nine. I watched her face gazing out at the storm, and one corner of my mind imagined, with the usual mild hysteria, the tree outside suddenly smashing the glass in front of her. The rest of my mind worked on how to explain adult relationships to this sensitive, perceptive kid.
I said, We just hadn’t been able to be with each other in the ways we both needed, and that left us feeling sad and lonely. We still love each other, and her, and always will.
She seemed to understand, but she said, Why couldn’t you have let me know before the last minute? At least then I might have felt like I could do something about it. It’s hard not to feel like it’s my fault.
And it’s not, I said, and I know how hard it is to feel powerless to change something. She said, The times it happened to you, you were either too young to really understand, or old enough to cope. I was right in between.
I know, love. I’m sorry it has been so hard.
She said, I don’t let as many people in now, because it’s too much, especially friends whose parents are still together. I feel closer to my friend whose parents are divorced because she understands.
All the while the storm beat on the house. I listened to her tell me then exactly what my friends have told me: At least I feel stronger having had to cope with something hard, that other friends have not. Like practicing to do all those pull-ups. It makes my muscles hurt, but I am stronger.
Exactly like that, I said. You are so strong now.
She said, When I watch the rain now, I never like to see it landing because when it shatters it feels like you and me and papa breaking apart. So I only watch it falling.
I look out the window at the rain pummeling the trees and running rivers down the alley. Before it lands, it makes sheets of copper under the street lights. But it keeps falling.
Lea Marshall is a poet and freelance writer, and lives in Richmond.