She's just had a tough year all around, so the separation isn't helping much. She's finding the schoolwork extra challenging this year (although doing well in English--yeah!), socially, she's feeling totally isolated, she resents the fact that Annie has a new boyfriend that she totally dislikes, and is terribly concerned about Annie going to college next year, and then there's our thing on top of THAT.
Many days, she'll just hole herself up in Josie's bedroom, and watch endless repeats of Seventh Heaven. I swear that she loves show because it's a snapshot of the idealized family, where everyone gets along, where the family is a cohesive whole, where problems gets solved within a sixty minute timespan... where everyone has friends.
And when she comes out of the bedroom, her curly hair all askew, with stains on her clothes from lunch, possibly with a barbie doll gripped in her hand (paper dolls and barbies are her other salvations), and she'll often lose control after five minutes, scream out something at the top of her lungs, hit someone, and then storm back into the room and hide away some more.
It makes me so sad to think about Ashley sometimes. Because she's not like other kids, and yet she is, she really is.
I saw the innocence begin to die in her being at the age of four. She was playing in our front yard and heard kids over at a neighbor's house, and ran over to the edge of our property, to the edge of a small hill, to see what was going on. An innocent smile on her face, childish curiosity, a thrill of discovery.
The kids called her "googly eyes" and ran away. (Ashley had a slightly turned eye at the time.)
To this day I cannot get the look on her face after that moment out of my head. It will stay with me until the day that I day, I imagine.
I blame myself, in some ways. I feel that I cursed her. One time, when I was rocking her to sleep, I leaned over and whispered, "You're my favorite." Parents shouldn't do things like that. It's breaking the rules, and you pay for it somehow.
Ashley's temper can be like a fierce thunderstorm, complete with huge gusts of wind and lightning crashes that would make a grown man want to hide underneath his bed. And most of the time since the separation, that's what I've gotten--huge, violent outbursts, over and over again. I'm there and she fights, I leave and I'm stupid. I invite her over and she won't come, she gets homesick. My apartment is not an apartment, it's a garbage dump. What's going to happen the day that I bring Fred (or whoever) home?
And then. Then there are moments, moments when the rain stops and the sun comes out and I actually see a smile on her face, and a sense of peace. Moments when I look down into those beautiful brown eyes and I see that little girl, that four-year-old girl poised upon that hill, so innocent and trusting, and simultaneously so scared and needing of love, and I just want to envelope and hug her and help her scare all the demons away.
(I just had to pause while typing this, because I get really emotional about this subject.)
Tonight was such a night. It started out badly: a fight with Tiger, a spat about a math problem, a crumpled paper and then a minute of scribbling anything just to finish her homework.
"I wish I was in junior high," she grumbled, and threw her fist onto the table. "I can make new friends there. And did I tell you I'll go on the bus?"
"You won't get there making up answers," I replied, trying to finish up the dishes. "But if you need help I can try to lend a hand."
"You wouldn't help me with the answers," she said, angry.
"No, I wouldn't GIVE you the answers," I replied. "But I'd help you find them."
We didn't go back to the answers, but she did ask me to come upstairs and see her to bed. She's been sleeping in her bed lately, and apparently, according to her, staying up until one at night, unable to sleep.
I brought her up. And fixed her clock for her, so it would ring at six in the morning. And promised her that I would make her lunch Thursday night for Friday, because she likes the way lunches taste when Daddy makes them. And I lay with her, and listened to her talk, and I could just sense that she had so much to say, so much she wanted to get out, so much she was whispering only to her Barbie dolls and paper dolls...
And I just wish that...somehow...if there had only been a another hill...another day...
And she was just so loving, tonight. "Goodnight," she said, "I'll see you tomorrow." Then a pause. "And call me tomorrow morning. Earlier than you did today, because I was too rushed at that time." And then she'd hug me, and blow me a kiss, and then she said, at least ten times, "I'll miss you tonight." And then I'd move away and she'd blow me a kiss again and then I'd move back in and give her a big old hug.
That's the Ashley I want to reach. That's the connection I wish to have with her. There has to be some way of nurturing it, cultivating it, some way to wipe away all the hurts and injustices that have built up through the years.
There has to be some way to comfort the girl on the edge of the hill and find the right words that will make it all better. There just has to be.
God, please make me a stronger man and guide my aim.