When you are told you are smart, you want to be pretty.
When you hear how pretty you are, you only want to be smart.
The little girl’s golden curls glowed under the sun. It was 1980, and the back pocket of her white jeans was embroidered in red, yellow, blue and green.
The summer was ending. She looked back over her shoulder at the camera, from her perch on the lawn outside the grandparents’ townhouse. It was where her grandfather wound the thick golden key in the clock to make the pendulum swing faster. And it was where he bounced her on his legs, singing that contagious la-la-la in his voluminous laughing voice still hinted with a touch of New York.
“Cookie,” he used to say, stroking her cheek with his hand so soft. And then he’d pull her into an embrace that held all of her in that envelope of warmth.
Decades later, when he was gone, the girl, now grown into a woman with careful words and ease of mind, took her small, small children to the cemetery. The air seemed almost to hang still until a train shook past beyond the fencing.
She parked the minivan beside a row of gravestones where her family were at rest. Her hand stroked the cold gray stone, her fingers dipping into the ridges that spelled his name. “Look,” she said to her eldest son. “You have his name.” His little hand beside hers, recognizing the letters.
In the dark of a previous night, she had endured the silent dissent of the unhappy. But there, in the autumn afternoon, suspended between seasons, almost tasting the kiss of cool air to come, she silenced every last voice.
“Grandpa,” she said, kneeling in the green-green grass. “I miss you. I love you. Can you see my life? Are you proud of me?”
Her children ran between the stones, making a game of reading the names. Her baby slumped in sleep against her chest. Was I ever this inherently peaceful? she asked herself, stroking soft baby hair, looking at the hard stone at her feet. And she didn’t know to which she was referring.