My eight year old daughter’s toes are sticking out from the fuzzy tiger blanket that only smells slightly like dog pee, and I hold her close as I read to her. Her pink nightgown is warm against me, and I am lulled by the sound of my own voice. Words like Argonath and Lothlórien knot my tongue as we weave our way through Middle Earth, and her eyes shine when I talk about runes and elves and tangled forests full of strange creatures. It is late.
She is breathing slowly and deeply and I know that soon her eyes will close in sleep. Suddenly she shakes the blanket off, her hands trails down my arm from where it rested on my shoulder, and I freeze and struggle to continue reading. Looking down, I see her tiny brown fingers trace scars that normally hide themselves under layers of clothing, like thick curtains between my inner world and the relentless external – that outside world that cannot live without me, that needs me to be okay. In my peripheral vision I watch as her dark eyes fixate on years of accumulated pain – thick, raised lines of shame. Her fingers feel cool against my skin.
“What happened, Bobby?” she asks, pulling away so that she can have a better look. I hold my breath for a minute. Think, Damien.
“I used to be in a lot of pain,” I said, and waited for her to say something, but she didn’t, so I continued. “It started when I was about your age.” My mind went to a place of darkness, a life that was black as night.
“I’m sorry,” she says, and I turn on my side so that I am facing her. For a moment I search for something of myself in her face, and there it is. It’s a twinkle, a shine in her eyes that tells me that she feels. I also know that she is no stranger to pain. Tears run down the side of my cheek onto my pillow, and my heart is racing. She isn’t afraid. “Does it hurt?” she asks, and I instinctively shake my head, clearing my throat.
“It did for a long time,” I say, “Sometimes it still does. I just know how to handle it better now.” She nods and a cat climbs up on the bed and licks my face with a sandpaper tongue. Our hands reach out in the lamplight at the same time, ruffling his soft grey fur, and we laugh.