I was 8 forever ago, or maybe not forever. Maybe just in enough time to squeeze between two lemons. In the silence that fills our kitchen, the one in which I fight off ants with vinegar and the cat sleeps on your new clean clothes, I can remember the feel of 8, the excitement of that year. I remember also the dread, the secret I carried, the want, the need to split myself off.
My memory, as it is today, began that year.
I got my first pair of glasses. I lost my two front teeth, just in time for school pictures, just like you. I had the worst bowl cut you could ever see, or at least, to tomboy me, the worst cured monstrosity I had even encountered. It required a curling iron and time. Who has any time! You’re EIGHT! The cat died that year, or maybe the year before. improbably named Suji, I came to figure out years later that it wasn’t any kind of cool “my parents smoke pot” sorta name. Rather, they were lazy and merged the names of the previous owners, Sue and Jim into one name.
That cat hated me anyway.
Being 8, and starting Grade 3, it was the cusp. Where I grew up, you were the big kid in Grade 3, although you’d shortly become the little one again in the new 4-8 school. But for a glorious year, you were king shit. First in the school. Too tall for the fountain. Pants ready for floods.
Grade 3 was the year that Michael kid threw his desk at the teacher, full of what I now recognize as rage, grief fueled anger and hopelessness. I understand why the teacher didn’t freak out so much. My mother was only sick at the time. His father was already gone. Grade 3 was the year I remember actively daydreaming entire chapters of work away. Most of the math, and grammar sunk into a strange heard but not heard sponge zone in my brain. The grass was so terribly green that year, and sun, scarlet light and glare. The world glowed then, and I could hardly hear a word above it.
Grade 3 was the year I learned exactly what mother’s did when you jumped on a half full Welch’s Grape Juice box just to make that loud POP! while wearing pale yellow pants. 8 was the year I learned that mother’s roll their eyes even more than their daughters.
8 was the year shit was just starting to get hard.
Vivian, you’re getting hard on me. You’re getting lovely and incredible and smart, but you’re also surly and forgetful and entirely too enamored of yourself. You’re becoming. No longer content to just say ok, you’re truly coming into your own, the bright light of you tarnishing around the edges some, but also morphing into blues and purples, your dusky self, molting. Where my time condenses and all at once you’re that newborn squalling after a terrified night of labour and then a baby clapping as she’s mastered the stair climb, then you’re that toddler, flailing on the deck with a seizure as I scream in terror and fear. You’re the first day of school, the Christmas concert. Your tiny hands in mine as your parents tell you they just don’t love each other enough anymore. Your face, stubborn and willful as your mother’s, jutting out of the darkness as we walk home.
Viv, I hold all these moments. They are all one singular place, not a file cabinet but more of a snake eating itself, a continual meaning, that dimension they still can’t find where today and yesterday and tomorrow all live. This is who you are to me, still. You are all those moments and memories. All those times make you, my daughter, my eldest.
Yet, they are static moments, and they don’t let me see you for who you are, or will be. My memory is frozen, but child, you are not. You change like the weather, you flit and flounce and sometimes when you sit, in certain light, I see your future. But it’s different from the one I plot, the one I see. I see all possibilities. I see the woman I want you to be. I see my dreams in you.
But honey bear, trust me. These things rarely are the same between mothers and daughters. As they shouldn’t be.
So on this birthday, your 8th in this world, I promise you this. I do not promise wisdom or patience. I do not promise that I will always be perfect, or strong, or right, or sometimes, let’s be honest, nice.
But I promise to remember my 8. I promise to listen harder still for the shrill canyon echo of that age, the silvery birds of possible that flew by every so often to say “don’t go! Don’t grow!”. And I will remember that child you might still be, woman you soon become.
I love you daughter. First born. Ache of my heart, gift of my soul.
Happy Day Vivian. Happy, Happy Day.