I came in to check on you tonight and you were still and warm under the blankets. I don’t know if you know this, but your cheeks flush red when you’re dreaming. Tonight I put my fingers on them and noticed how your skin is oilier, rougher. I sat by you with my fingers on your face and my other hand on your back, moving up and down with your breaths. I wondered what you were thinking about, cocooned there. I hoped you were slaying a dragon and hugging a kitten, a whole brood of kittens. I hoped you weren’t in a ravine with avalanches rushing in.
Anyway, this isn’t about how old you’re getting, or where my little baby has gone, or anything so trite. I know you’re growing up; I like it. There is one thing, though. I feel like I made you a promise I’m not sure about. Maybe I didn’t do it explicitly, standing in front of your duck-blanketed cot with my eyes all wet, but I made it just the same.
I’m just having a few concerns. I’m not sure I worded it properly. I think you think I said something like, I’ll never leave you. You know, that I would be with you forever. Maybe all parents make it. Maybe when we hold our kid for the first time and look into her face (however new it is, nor not new), we make the promise without even realising. I’ll never leave you.
It’s just that I think I meant something slightly different.
I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep. Especially not to you. I want to promise you that I’ll teach you to make banana cake, and that I’ll show you how to choose a ripe avocado, and that I’ll stroke your hair during a thunderstorm. I want to promise you that I love your face, that I love your feet, that I love your heart. I can make all of these and I will never doubt for a moment my ability to fulfil each of them, time and time again.
But I’m feeling a little fraudulent because of that other promise. The first promise. The one I made with the side of my mouth when we were in a hospital room, listening to the rain. The one I made when you gripped my finger in your fist and made your lips into the shape of a shell and farted. I put my hand on your back then and I wanted to so much for you to know how much I loved you even though I didn’t know you, that maybe I let myself telepathically say that I would never leave you.
I can’t make that promise. Not only because I’m mortal and one way or another we will eventually leave each other, and I hope that is very, very far in the future. I hope I live to be 100 and you are an old lady too, and we eat lemon tart together and tell stories. I hope for that so much. Maybe that is my promise: If I live to be 100, I will eat tart with you. I hope that I will be mostly happy and you will call me and tell me about your new job and your new partner and the car you just bought. Maybe that is my promise: I will answer the phone when you call to tell me about your new job.
But maybe not forever.
The promise I should have made, when you were swimming loose inside your 000s and your hair floated in a fairy floss nest and your fingernails were sharp and salty, is that I will try not to leave you. I will try everything I can. I will try doctors I hate and I will try tablets that turn me into a goanna and I will try putting rods in my brain and I will do all of this because I have promised to try not to leave you. I will sit on a white bed and stare at a white wall and yell at a white coat and I will do these things because I am trying not to leave you. I am trying so hard not to leave you. Every day I try and I try and I try not to leave you.
And I haven’t, yet. Maybe parts of me have, temporarily, but I am still here and I am here in your bedroom and I am touching your cheeks where they have blushed into roses and I am here, for you, for now and for as many nows as I can. That is the very best I know how to do. That is the promise I should have made to you but didn’t want to, when you were fragile as a puppet and quiet as a sunset and soft and warm as infinity.