Story became a one-year-old on August 1. I wanted to commemorate the occasion by writing a series of micro-essays, one for each month she’s been with me. Like the memoir I’m writing about the months she spent within me, this work will become part of a literary keepsake box I’ll spend her whole childhood constructing.
Here are the first four short essays. Two additional increments are forthcoming.
We are meant for more. I say this as the space around us closes, as the flat, raw-fibered carpet roughens your knees and I have no unoccupied corner, let alone a room of my own in which to write for you. I confess this, declare it with certainty, even as I enter a fourth unemployed month and await either a two-course fall assignment from the college that employed me last semester or a phone call from the netherworld of the human resources offices harboring my online applications. I say it as I type this into a Blackberry with a grossly past due balance. I say it, as I spend money we no longer have on a birthday party that celebrates our first of many years together. I say it as I scale back on amenities you deeply enjoy, like the basic cable that airs your favorite children’s shows.
This is temporary. This smallish life will swell. These minor woes will recede.
I know this, because I have been here before. Years ago, I wrote the glyphs on the walls your tiny fingers now trail. Let us trace them together and remember that where we have been is rarely where we remain.
Mince your plans. Make them no longer than fingertips. Saute them in an extract distilled from the last of your money. Brown until unrecognizable as the fruits of your former labor. Fold in layoffs. Sprinkle a pinch of social services. Account for the unexpected loss of said services.
Possessions will evaporate. Pride will caramelize.
For best results, taste frequently to avoid bitterness. Braise each thought until there are no reddish traces of negativity at their centers. Mix two parts tri-color frustration—professional, financial, romantic—with one part frothy imagination.
Brine the ingredients with tears. Sweeten them with laughter. There will always be a hint of tartness. There is no avoiding that. But there is also a balancing sweetness.
Slice away shame and inhibition. Leave only the cores of your values. Do not toss in hard, small breasts of lust; let lust plump and ripen into love before use.
If you have no love on hand, you must discard your prep work and postpone the completion of this recipe.
With aged love, pour the mixture into a pressure-cooker. Seal it off from the well-meaning hands of other chefs. Simmer stress. Slow-cook everything until only a humble porridge of gratitude remains.
You do not strike me as a girl who will be easily manipulated. At age one, you laugh at the words “no” or “stop” and run against the wind that carries your name, rather than toward me, as I speak it. You buck convention. I am almost afraid of what that could mean if I fail at my job as a mother; black women who do not respect authority have not fared well, historically, and yet authority has not meted out kindness to the black woman. So you must always be attentive to the steps of the delicate dance I have begun choreographing for you: do as you’re told, but only by those who fiercely love you—and even then, do not make your obedience so absolute that it becomes a foregone conclusion. It is okay to question why, but know when to take, “Because I said so,” as an answer. Weigh all advice against the motive, even mine. If I ever tell you not to fly toward an apex you know you’re meant to reach, gently defy me. Never step toward danger because you’ll feel ostracized if you don’t. Always listen, if only for lies and loopholes. Scotchguard your psyche against schoolgirls who mean you harm. Their antagonism is rooted in pain, and their pain is not your responsibility.
The life of a young girl is a recital, to be structured and practiced and governed, so that when she is a woman alone in the world she knows how to dance her way through it.
Your father calls me in traffic, on his way to the sets of movies and television shows, and we talk about you. We talk about how to afford you, as we’re certain you’ll have exquisite, expensive taste. We talk about, but never compete over, how much we love you. I describe you to him, calling on the best of my creative abilities, but I still cannot quite do you justice. You are what I named you: a breathing narrative, an ever-transforming Story. You evolve hourly; there is no way I can paint a picture vivid enough to capture the excitement in your smile when you wake up in the morning, clapping and cheering, or the way you approach finger foods with a surgeon’s precision. I see in you a fraction of what you’ll become and I am only afforded that fraction because of our daily togetherness. I do not envy your father his absence; I know he laments it. He tells me so. The rest of what he must feel is his own story to tell. I will not appropriate it, the way some of my writing has done in the past.will no longer presume to know the depth of his capacity for love. Remember this; it is the most significant of the many lessons I learned from your father: a man’s measure of love for you is not necessarily his measure of love. A man’s measure of love for his child is the true gauge to which you can set the needle of his moral compass.