This essay, a tribute to my extraordinary daughter and everyone staying strong through the struggle, originally appeared in Mamalode magazine.
You put on a happy face for me, sweet daughter, but I know exactly where you go the moment you leave my side: Alone, population one. You’ve been a reluctant visitor to that dreary backwater many times before and though you may feel stuck there now, defeated and lonely, you are not. You never really were.
Resilience had your back the day you tried to talk to those other little girls in front of the elementary school. When they rolled their eyes and turned away, you smiled and climbed into the waiting bus.
Humor made you giggle behind a curtain in the emergency room when you had an asthma attack on Christmas Eve, even though you were afraid Santa wouldn’t come if you weren’t at home, sleeping.
Sincerity coaxed a fragile smile from your lips when you came home from a slumber party with magic marker all over your face because, as you explained, everyone at the overnight had agreed that the first person to fall asleep would receive the graffiti treatment.
Grit was your co-star on the stages where you poured your heart into every role after enduring countless fruitless auditions.
Confidence escorted you to a school dance when your date cancelled two hours earlier.
Fortitude accompanied you to more funerals than any kid should have to attend.
Resolve pushed you out the door to school every day when fatigue and depression beckoned you back to the cozy sanctuary of your bed.
Dignity insisted you were better off without the boy who left when you didn’t give him what he wanted.
Courage convinced you to leave the boy you love when you couldn’t give him what he needed.
Empathy gently reminds you why he withholds his forgiveness.
Determination drove you to another doctor’s office after all the appointments that came before were dead ends on the road to a diagnosis.
Persistence called shotgun when you continued on your quest to find out why you’re so exhausted and the numbers on the scale keep creeping higher.
Optimism waited just outside the fitting room, knocking occasionally to see if you needed anything.
Self-acceptance wrapped you in its arms as your eyes, framed in soft, smoky hues for the occasion, studied your reflection in the mirror and scrutinized the figure beneath the elegant prom dress.
Alone may be where you are right now, but it is not who you are, baby girl, and it is not your final destination. You and the good company you keep will travel far from this place. Soon, all of these fine attributes will be on hand to hoist you up (and comfort your weepy mother) as you walk across a stage to receive your high school diploma. In August, these lifelong cohorts will tag along to college where you can introduce them to new companions who will likely be by your side on the rest of your journey. Who you are and the qualities you possess will take anywhere you want to go.