Weeks away from her Cancer/Leo cusp birthday, my 14-year-old daughter leaned her backside against the kitchen sink in our downtown apartment, gazing past me sitting on the couch, then out the half-opened balcony door directly across from where she was standing.
“Are you gonna reply?” I asked.
“No,” she answered, fiddling with her hands as she continued to stare past the balcony.
386 days before then, I was staring at court documents. My daughter’s mother and I had reached the end of a months-long custody battle. The papers I was about to sign were from the court, awarding me full custody.
“Are you sure? You know I don’t mind. If you want to talk to your mom, you should answer. Especially if you wanna talk to your sisters again.”
After 13 months of no contact, her mother had sent her a text message.
“All she said is hi. She didn’t call me or say sorry. She didn’t even lie and make up some excuse for not talking to me for like a year.”
I hate your mother and you’re better off without her and I hope she disappears from our lives for good because she doesn’t deserve you as a daughter and you don’t need her in your life, but don’t worry, I’ll figure out a way for you to see your half-sisters because I know how much you love them and I know they still love you and miss you and I hate that you’re going through this right now but it’s all your mom’s fault I hope you know that.… You know that, right?
“I get it,” I said. “And you’re right. You know what else? I trust you to decide when it’s right for you to talk to your mom again. I won’t pressure you either way.”
Her lips quivered over her braces as she turned her face away from me. I thought about moving in to hug her, but I knew that when she’s emotional, she doesn’t like being touched. So I fought the urge and sat on the couch with my right knee shaking. Sensitive Cancer gathered tears in her eyes, but proud Leo didn’t let them slip out. She said nothing.
A minute passed, and then another, while I carefully considered my next words. What was the audible version of a hug? How would I let her know that whatever she was feeling in that moment was valid, and OK, and right?
“Sit,” I told her.
She tilted her head up so none of those tears could betray her, and then she sat beside me on our couch. We sat in silence until she broke the stillness.
“I think my sisters are my sacrifice,” she said. “I used to pray for the day that I didn’t have to live with my mom anymore. It’s like God answered my prayers, but it came at a price. Know what I mean?”
I was 18 when I became a father, barely four years older than she was now, and even with that jump into adulthood I couldn’t articulate myself the way she did till I was in my early twenties. My daughter spoke like she knew things.
Her tone was a mix of pain and acceptance, matureness and naivete about her future life. My inclination to say she’d figure it out, just as she had learned to figure out most things, would not serve her here.
“That’s a big sacrifice,” I told her.
There was more to be said, more prodding to be done, but all people have their limits, including teenagers, and I knew my daughter had reached hers. So, I turned on the TV, and invited her to sit with me on the couch, and for the rest of the night we sat and watched romcoms together.