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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

all the pretty little horses (put your hand in mine)


She wakes in darkness, tapping on my door. Silhouetted in the hallway she tells me she has had another nightmare, her voice hushed, defeated. I ask if she wants a cracker, maybe a glass of water. She shakes her head no, just holding her arms up to me.

We shuffle around the house, her chin digging into my shoulder as I carry her from room to room. I hum a melody for her, an old cowboy song.

When you wake,
you shall have,
all the pretty little horses.
Blacks and bays,
dapples and greys,
go to sleep 
you little baby.



The sky still black, the streets are wet with rain and it is time to make that first coffee, to get her ready for school. She stares up at me, hands crossed on her chest, blankets pulled up to her chin.

"Pop." She says quietly.
"Yes." I whisper, stepping on some legos that crunch under my bare feet.
"Mom said you should die." She says.
"What do you mean?" I ask.
"She says you should just be dead." She says, sighing and staring right through me.
"I don't know what to tell you kiddo." I say.
"Is it true?" She asks.
I shake my head no.
"What did you dream?" I ask, changing the subject.
"We were in a train station." She begins. "And then I got lost from you."
"Aha." I say, brushing the hair from her eyes. "It was just a dream kiddo, just a dream."
I pinch her nose, kiss her forehead.
"Pop." She says. "Can I have some crunchy cereal now?"

I go to the kitchen, splashing some in a bowl. The sky is empty. A low wind whistles through the windows we leave barely open. I imagine her dreams, the thoughts in her head when she is forced to listen to such madness. I imagine her sitting quietly, nodding her head because she is small and what else can she do, alone with such a mastermind?

Then I imagine her fighting back, arguing, refuting. But that is me, and my way - not hers. That is my struggle, my way. She is much wiser than me, choosing the path of least resistance. She can roll with punches, knowing she will be back here soon enough, to lick her wounds, to eat and laugh, to be kissed goodnight, to wake up with a full day ahead of her.


Snow pants on, hat and sweater and hood all strapped into place we go downstairs and outside. The sidewalk is slick, smelling of rotting leaves and car exhaust. She holds my hand tight, as we navigate around the puddles.

"Pop." She says at one point.
"Yes?" I say.
"When I am at mom's house, even for some hours." She says. "I just hide in a place in my mind until you come and get me."
"I know." I tell her. "You told me before."
"Ok." She says, and falls quiet.

Our walk is silent, as faces flash past us in the dim light. There are no words now, just a playground that stands empty, a traffic light that counts out the seconds we have to cross a busy street. Her hand in mine, holding fiercely. The underpass, our footsteps echoing in the wet corridor. And then inside the school, dressing her quietly. I almost forget a doll she shoved in my pocket before we left the house.

She smiles up at me.








Comments

liv said…
Bless her
Bless her
Bless her
A stormy Monday, M. But I imagine her grown up. My father used to say that the only thing in life worth accumulating was experience. For better or for worse. Thinking of you both!
Banker Chick said…
She is such a lovely little girl. It is criminal that her mom is allowed to have such control of her. Her time with you seems to mitigate the ugliness of her mother. Bless you both.

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