You asked me to dance—it was the last dance of Sweetheart Night—and my initial instinct was to turn you down because, Sweet Face, your daddy is a writer, which is to say that I prefer to be no one. I don’t like to appear. I go to great lengths to avoid long gazes and conversations, all the tricks of being duped into being someone, opting rather to hide between the lines in the shadows of words.
But your eyes are big and blue and you know how to blink them perfectly in a way that leaves me no choice but to dance the last dance with you at Sweetheart Night. So I scooped you up in your pink dress and blue necklace—you had a flower in your yellow hair and red ladybugs in your newly pierced ears—and all 54 pounds of you clung to me, tightly, with the force of that old need that motivates all the best characters in all our favorite stories to become more than what they are, gazing at stars.
Holding you, swaying there in the school cafeteria of red arrow pierced hearts, my self consciousness fell away and I was able to just hold you, swaying there, in circles. I began to hope the song would never end, for this moment to somehow stay—imagining that perhaps the secret of living inhered in an endless dance with you.
I wished someone would take our picture. Film us. Capture us in time.
But, closing my eyes, I soon realized that what I wanted to remember was bigger than our image. We were something else that night. Not just a father and daughter to be snatched from time, frozen in it. We were time, the result of it, the empty place where the endless past and the infinite future collide, exploding in a slow dance of breath and beating hearts.
I had an interesting conversation with your brother the other day about when he was 5 and you were nothing. Where were you? we wondered. How could there have ever been a world without you? It’s completely resistant to being fathomed or imagined. Because you are so here. You are so triumphantly here. I should know because I was there when you arrived, pink and screaming. And I was there when you took your first drunken steps. And when you began to articulate a world inside your house of mad babbling, I was there. I heard it all. You screamed DADA from the bathtub and I became a new song.
And when this enormous blue and green eyeball opened for the very first time, we were there. Do you remember? When, together, we tricked the nasty green witch, stole all her magic, and returned it to the trees and the grass and the clouds in the sky? Do you remember when we lined up all the scientists and sentenced them to death? We built a little fire and, for as long as we could, we kept it sheltered from the rain. But the wind always wins, all fires end, and our bones fell to the ground like snowflakes. Do you remember? When the sun exploded to keep its deal with the dark? We were there. We were never not there. Entangled in this web of our slow dance at Sweetheart Night.
Remember this, I told myself, breathing slowly and letting our dance scar my memory. And then I prayed that you remember it too, that you would hide our dance in a secret treasure box in the basement of your mind. You can always find me there. Look for me.
Happy Birthday, Elle Bee. The whole world is singing that you’re 7.