I lean on her bedroom door and listen for the sound of her bedsprings creaking. Like me, my daughter will stay awake past midnight reading, but she is only eight. She needs her sleep. Hearing nothing, I pull open the door and peer around the corner. She sleeps. An hour ago, she howled and bellowed like the orange-haired virgin queen she admires so much, but now she lies under the sweet spell of Morpheus.
Beside her I stand, watching her breath rise and fall. There was a time when her entire body would fit on the pillow that her head rests upon, but now her dark blond hair fans out and covers all but a tiny sliver of cotton. I used to study her face and try to imagine what sort of girl she would become, but now I follow the lines that lead from firm jaw to deep-set blue-grey eyes and I struggle to recall how she appeared as a newborn baby. Her eyes remain the same, but every other feature has been transformed by the passing years.
I reach out my hand and stroke her cheek. My own mother used to do that, and the memory is bittersweet. Every time I felt her soft, ivory hand touching me, I pretended I was asleep–as if somehow I could preserve the unusually tender touch forever in my heart. I know for certain that my daughter will remember kinder times between the two of us, and this is enough for me. I touch her cheek; not to tell her I love her, but to hold back, for a moment, time’s inexorable march forward.
Years ago, as I helped her get dressed for bed, an intense look entered her eye.
?What will happen when we die??
I took a deep breath. ?We will go to heaven.?
?But what if you die first? I don’t want you to die first. I want to die with you so that I will never leave you.? She fumbled with a button and I caressed her cheek.
?Oh no, darling. It must not work that way. You see, you are young and when you are my age, I will be old, and I will want to pass away to heaven and watch you and your children from high above the clouds.? I swallowed back a lump in my throat.
She gazed at me with a love so pure, so blinding, that I found it difficult to breathe. ?But I will miss you. I want you to help me raise my children.?
?I know, darling.? I thought as fast as I could, for I knew I needed to nail this answer so that she could rest in peace that night. ?See, I will always be with you here.? I touched her heart and continued, ?And you can always talk to me, in your dreams. You will call me and I will hear you in heaven, and we will talk.?
?Like on a telephone??
I tried to smile as I hugged her that night. ?Yes, like a telephone.?
Before I leave her room tonight, I recall another conversation, one from only just this morning. My daughter has a great love for Greek mythology, and the goddess Artemis has a special place in her heart. As I imagined my own girl clutching a bow and arrow, I asked her why she loved Artemis best.
She wrinkled her nose and pondered for a moment with all the gravitas of an eight-year-old. ?Artemis is an eternal maiden.?
?She will stay a girl forever. She will never get old and die.?
The moon shines in through her bedroom window, and I hold on tight to the dream before it flees. For that brief moment she, my Artemis, resides forever young, full of peace. Artemis sleeps, but one day she will wake and I will not. Even then, I will still visit her while she slumbers and then, always then, I will caress her face and together we will exist for eternity.
Writer E.L. Farris blogs at Running from Hell with El.