This week, the IndieInk Writing Challenge brings me "the apex of happiness" from Ms. Ixy. My challenge, "I've Got A Feeling", goes out to Angela. This week brings us yet another story from my Novel That Has No Name, Along With, Really, No Reason For Being. As before, the narrator is Ray, and this time he is trying to put to bed his willful 3 year old "niece", Kate. (They are not, in fact, related. For more details, please feel free to seek out my first novel, "Everybody Loves You Now," conveniently available in the sidebar.)
t was a battle, every time. It was a struggle of wills- two forces attempting to dominate and impose their agenda on the other. My opponent thought she was smarter than she was, and she thought I had forgotten the way this war went last time. Like in any skirmish, the question was not victory- I would win, because I was in charge- but instead how many losses I was willing to endure.
First it was weaning off of TV- one more episode, and then off for the evening. Then it was a story. Then another story. Then pajamas, brushing teeth, and brushing hair. Then it was a request for another story, gently, but firmly, denied. Then it was which bed- the soft couch or the big bed. I could sleep either place, so I let her choose- which meant first one, then the other.
Then the battle was really engaged. Too many pillows, then too few, and then too few blankets, then too many. Now it's too cold, now it's too hot. A sudden, raging thirst, then, of course, a bathroom trip. I settled into the couch cushions, listening to the sounds the mattress would make as she squirmed her way into comfort. She actually talked now and then, making those little happy sounds kids make, seemingly just to hear the sound of her own voice.
I didn't have trouble sleeping, but I couldn't rest until I thought that she was fully asleep. I knew I couldn't have the light on to read, and I certainly couldn't have the TV on, so I started making lists, papering the inside of my brain with Ten Best Left Handed Relief Pitchers, and Top Five Bass Guitarists. I heard the quiet hiss of summer rain beginning outside, hoping it would not bring thunder that would wake her up. Of course, it did, and as predictable as a 6-4-3 double play, she was at the foot of the couch in seconds.
"Unca Ray, it raining."
"Yes, Lovey, it is." Her hair was already disordered, tangled with sweat.
"Can you come lay on the big bed with me? I scared."
I sighed inwardly. "Sure." I knew she had to learn how to go to sleep by herself, but expedience won out over prudence. Plus I couldn't say no to that face.
She climbed into the bed, her body rigid with excitement. I climbed in as well, leaning on one side so I could watch her, hoping I could climb back out once she fell asleep.
"You really gonna sleep here the whole night?"
"Yes, honey. Shhh. Sleep time."
"OK, Unca Ray," she said in an exaggerated whisper.
She slid her hand towards me, and I covered it with my own. She sighed deeply, seeming to finally relax. I watched her breathing, her rib cage rising softly. Her face started to slacken as fatigue took over. The rain murmured outside the window, with a distant rumble of thunder causing her to grab my hand in response.
"It's OK, baby," I said softly. "I'm here." She was so easy to reassure, because the things she was afraid of were so distant.
She released her grip slightly. I stared at her in the shadows. She was so utterly dependent, so trusting. When she walked into a playground with other kids, she would constantly look back at me, as if to ask, "is this OK? Is it safe?" And it wasn't- not completely. There were driveways to skin knees on, stomach viruses to combat, and later, friendships made and broken in the internecine warfare of growing up girl. Much later, there would be boys lying to her, breaking her heart, making promises they can't or won't keep. And all through this, she looks to us for security, the only people she doesn't have to impress, the only people who will accept her utterly. Home: the place where, when she goes there, we will always take her in.
I wanted to warn her that I wasn't smart enough for this job, that I was in no way qualified to keep her safe from the world's dangers. I could make sure the rain didn't get her, and I could hold her hand when the thunder rolled, but I couldn't make things safe. No one could. I was grateful for her trust. Mystified by it, but grateful. She made me feel like I had some substance- her needs transformed me, making me better and more whole. As much of a pain in the neck as she was, she made me happier.
She would eventually realize that something horrible had happened to her, that her birthday itself was a measurement of tragedy as well. She had been robbed of something. At some point, this would make her furiously angry at anyone and everyone, and I knew those days would come. I could tell her that the same thing happened to me, but I at least had memories to hang on to. All she had was pictures and stories, and the fundamental unfairness of that would hit her like a ton of bricks. Someday.
But right now she believed. She knew that I would always be there, and her grandmother would, and each day just brought you new and different ways to be happy in a world that couldn't hurt you. As much as I knew that promise was a lie, just like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, I let her believe it, and to be able to provide someone that kind of security made me feel competent, in charge. I smiled in the dark, tired but happy. Her intense devotion to this false premise made me believe it, too. Almost.