There are moments in life when your children stop being tiny extensions of you. They come in minutes at first. Then days. Weeks. Months.
Molly refused to let me hold her after her second birthday. Balling her little fists and bellowing in defiance, her hot, sour breath blasting me in the face whenever I attempted to pick her up.
“I do it. No grab me.”
Her independence was a double edge sword, driving her to develop maturity beyond her years. It made caring for her simple, but I longed for her affection. My best friend’s daughter would splay her fingers across her mommy’s cheeks and whisper. It made my heart ache.
I soaked up cuddles brought on by fevers and earaches, cherished moments instead of anxious interruptions. I may have wished for nightmares, relishing in her need for me during the lonely hours of the night after her father left us.
By the time she became a freshman in high school, however, our lives ran in parallel. I had swallowed the bitter pill of resentment because it was candy coated in the freedom to go out on weeknights or spend long weekends in the mountains without worrying. I trusted her in a way most parents wouldn’t.
She crawled into my bed that night, waking me from a sound sleep, my mind couldn’t process the adrenaline that pulsed through my system.
She smelled of leaves and the clean, electric scent of rain. Her skin was wet but warm where I lifted the backs of my fingers to feel her forehead. Instead of brushing me away, she buried her face in my chest.
“What’s wrong, Mol?”
A broken, breathy sob shook her whole body as she crumpled handfuls of my nightshirt and pulled herself further into me like she might hide beneath my flesh.
“Molly, you’re scaring me. What happened?”
I reached over the sliver of bed she occupied to click on my side lamp. She shrank further into the bedding and her sobs grew harder and faster.
As my eyes adjusted, I tried to push her back so I could see her face. She clung and fought, but the livid purple color of her cheekbone gave fury to my need to see.
“What the- Molly, look at me. Now.”
She turned into the pillow releasing a hiccuping groan but exhaled in surrender, turning red-rimmed, storm gray eyes toward me.
The left side of her face was one giant, swollen, mottled bruise. Her lip and brow were split and clotted. Clumps of mud matted her hair.
“How bad is it, mom?”
She choked on the words, a breathy whisper working against the parched rasp of her normal voice. She peered up at me, trembling, and I met her gaze with an instinct I’d thought disappeared long ago.
“Just bruises and cuts,” I lifted my fingertips to run over her damaged skin. “But no broken bones, I think. We’ll see the doctor tomorrow to be sure.”
I kept my voice steady and soft, despite the rage that boiled inside my veins.
“What happened, baby? Who did this?”
Fear flashed in her watery eyes before she buried herself in my breast again. I pushed down every urge in my being, knowing the best thing I could do was stay with her. But the need to say something was strong.
“You cannot let him get away with it.”
She sobbed for a long time, clinging like I was a life preserver. In the muted light, I stared at the picture on my night table behind her. A preschooler swinging her feet on either side of a massive branch, up high in a big oldtree in front of an orchard we’ve visited a dozen times.
Molly was holding a huge red apple, the size of a man’s fist, three perfect, round bites already missing from its flesh.
She climbed that tree by herself at four and a halfyearsold, ate that entire apple, plus half of another she picked for me, and wouldn’t even let me help her down.
When I looked back down at my little girl, now a brazen, vicious teenager, she stared back at me with wide eyes, blood in her teeth.
I pried her hands loose from their grip on my shirt and examined them. Three nails broken past the quick, knuckles cracked and bloodied, her right index finger broken.
She swallowed, gazing at the backs of her hands as she flexed her fingers.
She swallowed hard before looking up at me through pale lashes as we sank to the floor in my room. She was swathed in a heavy blanket, and I pulled the thin sheet around myself. My room was cold, but I knew it would pass.
“Thank you, Ber.”
I followed her eyes as they moved around my walls, stopping on the poster I’d hung between the windows with all the constellations mapped on it, then on my telescope resting in it’s lower position beneath it. Some pictures I’d taken on my dad’s phone and that my stepmom had printed for me were pinned on my bulletin board above my navy blue desk, photos of the sky I was so obsessed with. And the trophies and patches I’d earned in Cub Scouts perfectly displayed on a bookshelf above my personal library of every space or magic related book I could get my hands on.
I felt my cheeks heat when she looked past me to the old, original Star Trek poster behind me, and felt grateful for the midnight shade of my skin as she dropped her focus to me.
Kiera’s watery gaze was something I’d grown used to in the few years since we met, but I hadn’t really understood the emotion held deep inside those clear blue depths. It came later, along with an undying need to protect her from them. But at 10 years old, she was simply my best friend.
She smirked lightly. “I like your room. It fits you.”
I’d seen hers a hundred times. Watched it transition from Princess pink in her to Rainbow punk to Moody darkness. It fit her, too.
The frown returned quickly, and her focus dropped to something in her hand, as she blinked at tears in her eyes.
“He did it again, huh?” I kept my voice at a whisper even though rage welled up inside my chest.
I knew what would happen if my stepmom heard her up in my room. Not that it would work, we’d been able to find each other over and over again since we were four. I wasn’t sure any amount of distance could keep us apart.
“It doesn’t matter, Ki. You don’t have to talk about it. Where do you wanna go tonight?”
Her eyes flickered up, but went back to the coin between her fingers. It looked like a penny.
“I found this yesterday. I couldn’t wait to show it to you.”
She held it out, pinched between her tiny finger and thumbnail, turning it back and forth.
“A black penny? Is it a trick coin or somethin’?”
Her eyes found mine and flashed something as her lips curled up at the corners. “Something.”
Leaning forward, she took my hand and placed it in the center of my palm. I smiled broadly. She was finally going to show me.
I’d known since the first time we’d met. Two four-year-olds with parents who couldn’t be bothered to pay attention as we sat side by side in a sandbox in Wilton Park. She’d been digging, and I’d been molding. Then, in a blink, we were on a beach by the ocean, staring at each other with wide eyes.
A pretty caramel skinned woman in a white uniform shirt found us a few hours later, our pockets full of seashells and tummies rumbling. She bought us pretzels and flavored ice. Her car smelled like coffee and oranges, and her eyes glittered with something I’ve never seen since.
She believed us.
But then, a not so pretty woman in a dark blue pant suit came and stole us from her. And each other.
I’ve heard the story a hundred times, how we were taken and how I refused to help them find the monster. They asked a million questions. Event tried to make us believe we’d forgotten him, this terrible man who stole us out from under our parents noses. That the stress had given us a form of amnesia. No one even tried to explain the small gap of time we had traveled a huge distance.
They couldn’t even consider the truth. They wouldn’t.
My dad met my stepmom that day. And Kiera’s mom left hers. That day created a new direction for each of our families that drove us further away from each other at every turn.
The news story had been spectacular. Two years later when they reunited us and asked us questions about that day, our answers were trained and forced. But neither of us ever lied. We just stopped telling the truth.
They didn’t realize we’d seen each other every night since. That I’d hijacked her dreams or that she’d stolen me away from mine.
But that night, I’d brought her home, physically, to my room. I knew she needed to go somewhere that felt safe.
He had really hurt her.
“He’s not going to stop. And she’s not going to stop him. So tonight, I want to go somewhere else forever.”
She stared at the penny resting on my dark lined palm.
She didn’t know that I’d seen her do it before. She was practicing in hopes of using it as a weapon. Against him, I was sure.
The penny rose into the air, but when she glanced to my eyes, it fell to the hard wood floor between us.
I frowned, letting out a rough sigh. I picked it up and held it out in the palm of my hand again. “Don’t stop, Kiera.”
Her white blond brows furrowed, and her mouth pinched tightly. “You know?”
I nodded slowly. “I didn’t want you to think it ever had to be some competition. And I was afraid.”
“Of me?” Her voice was small but more fierce.
“I wish I hadn’t said that.” The air around us went electric, so I had to think fast before the headache came.
Closing my eyes, I thought of each time I’d seen her do it. I made the memories into a loop for her, but when I opened my eyes, hers had gone dark.
I pushed harder. I made her see what I saw. That I hated him too.
“I want him to get better, Ki. I don’t want you to do something you can’t take back.”
I felt her relax, but I showed her all of it. That I longed to help her find a way to be free of his sickness. That my greatest fear was that I did it to her. Put her in his path. Then somehow gave her the power to fight it.
“You did,” she said, scooting closer so that our knees touched. “You gave me the power. You lit the spark that day in the park, Ber. But it wasn’t your fault I ended up where I am.”
My mind went to find that day, two tiny kids, one as pale as the sun shining high in the sky, the other as dark as midnight in a forest. The magic was born by itself, every facet of our worlds would have kept us apart for eternity, except that we somehow ended up in that sandbox on the same perfect day at the same perfect time. And that inside me lived something bigger and brighter than life, while inside her rested the tiniest darkest molecule of the opposite.
Her memory was misty and soft, seeing us transported by feathers and breeze through the wooshing current of time and space, before being deposited in the white, silky sand on the gulf coast of Florida. My own memories were clearer and more harsh. But as our thoughts congealed together, we formed a beautiful image of what that day had truly been.
“You told the police I was your angel?”
“You are, Berhanu.”
“You said they would pay for keeping us apart.”
“They still will.”
As I opened my eyes to see her, I understood.
We sat, knee to knee, palm to palm, the penny rose before us and changed.
She tore it into tiny fragments, spreading out between us in a sheen of brilliant copper. The tiny globs of molten metal swam around each other and then around us in a sparkling figure eight. The fire in her eyes flashed again and the eight split into two circles.
My heart raced inside my chest, churning my blood throughout my prepubescent body so fast that I could feel myself growing. Hormones building upon enzymes, soaring through me and waking up every cell in their path.
Kiera was not simply governing the metal in the penny, but every substance within it’s circumferences.
My bones and muscles stacked and reordered themselves, expanding as I watched my dark skin stretch to contain the new shapes within. My stomach flipped under the biological strain on my system and I squeezed my eyes shut to stop the spinning of my vision. The only thing keeping me from crumpling under the sickness of it was the pleasure of her skin against mine where our hands met.
Eventually, I heard her sigh and felt her fingers slip between mine so she could grip my hands hard against the work of what she was creating. When I finally opened my eyes, the creature I found stole the very breath from my lungs.
Kiera was now a woman, as much as I was a man. The physics of the transformation had rendered our individual night clothes useless piles of shreds in the same figure eight pattern I had watched the penny create moments ago. Naked and staring at each other, we were truly opposites in sight as much as in power. But the beauty of her was so intense that I could not avert my eyes from her nakedness.
The copper circles shifted and shrank to create two perfect rings which cooled and fell to the floor between us. She gazed at my body while releasing my hands.
“There. Now we can go wherever we want.”
She rose up onto her knees and licked her lips. She touched her own skin and then mine. She giggled before covering her mouth to stifle the sound, but my new ears longed to hear that sound over and over, a hundred million times more.
“Now we can do whatever we want.”
My words hung, as dark and heavy as I now felt, in the dim night air between us. The depth of my voice, sounding remarkably like my dad, and the edge of the accent I inherited from him brought visions to my mind of all the far away places we could now go.
“We can change the world, Ki.”
She slipped the larger ring onto my ring finger and I did the same to hers before staring at the black veined copper band wondering what it meant, what it was.
“Tomorrow, Ber. We will change the world tomorrow.”
She rose to her feet, took my hands and urged me to follow. With a whisk of her fingers, the shreds of old clothes and blankets we had wrapped ourselves in earlier became something new and styled themselves around us each in white and black clothing that fit our new bodies perfectly.
“Tonight, I only want to feel that sand between my toes again.”
She wrapped me in a childlike embrace, pressing her cheek to my chest.
“Are you angry with me? For making you come with me?”
I felt the deep chuckle in my throat before I heard it. The sound startled me, but then I looked over into the slim mirror my stepmom had hung on the back of my door. And the thought of my parents waking up the next day without me stabbed at something deep in my gut.
But they had each other. And Kiera had only me.
“You were never angry with me for making you come with me that day to the beach.”
I felt my new arms tighten around her, that need I’d never known how to express, to protect her and keep her and hold her, it now had purpose.
It was two months before our eleventh birthdays, which we had learned were almost exactly the same, except that I was born at 11:59pm on the 31st of December and she had arrived seconds later, on the 1st of January. A moment apart, but separated by a day, a month, a year.
With less than a thought, that rift in time and space pulled us through on a cloud of feathers and breeze again to the soft white gray sand of Clearwater Beach. But we crossed more than distance. We were now physically in our twenties. We’d jumped time and space, all while barely moving. Completely relaxed. Hoping to escape without worries or fears.
But our future would embrace us, as clingy and needy as it would ever be, right from that first night.
And the lessons wouldn’t all be as magical as that night.
know the cold
until it grips you
from the inside
the freeze dried
madness of loss
here we all are
children of the
but always blindsided
if God is with us
where is his comfort?
how does his plan
for tiny babies
make any rational
why does faith leave
in these moments
when we need it
I pray, just the same
give my tears to
and beg for them to
bless the wings
of a new angel
but my heart breaks
for the lives she’s left
can she protect them
from her new home
in God’s kingdom?
the weight of want
closing on all sides
pinning me beneath
the very wishes
I make in the dark
drifting upon a sea of
tears spent in vain
before sleep finally silences
the ever present
cascade of demands
a beautiful life
joyful in its breadth
by the limits of
simple in its requirements
in its rewards
if I fight against
the dark, lonely waters
I could drown before
reaching those golden
if I turn away
I might learn to enjoy
the strength of the
raft beneath my feet
and his embrace, the
warm comfort of life
adrift over the sea of life
aimless but consistent
in my effervescent rise
and ever present fall
the world never quite looks
as pretty up close
so I float
in the clouds where
my thoughts can’t hurt
and where the sun
works to burn
away my doubts
warming my skin and soul
so that I might
I could pick this lock
so that you might
feel smell taste hear
what has held me
for so long
I know you see me
but your eyes are only
I locked myself in
so you cannot
use the rest
if you did
but you still didn’t
I might as well stay
my truth cannot be found in
it is beneath your fingertips
on the tip of your tongue
the sweet, fervent whisper
of my breath
what you see behind
by your own reflection
I know it
by the shine of your eyes
but I don’t know how
to free myself
I only know
that you like it
burning through the
steel blue veil
cast over my sky
tiny rays grow brighter
my own sun stream
warming my skin
and my heart
let me soak you in
just a little longer
before I must step away
into the cold brick
of my day
let me heal beneath
building my own
with strong hugs
and baby kisses
to shield me
and light me