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Elle Bee. You are 9 today and everything is smiling. The fear that trembles at the heart of all things has turned to faith and confetti and a gentle song that everyone is humming. No one is lonely. Sadness is ruined. It’s your birthday!


Piaget and Erickson have a bunch of sophisticated ideas about where 9-year-old girls are supposed to be on the spectrum of childhood development, but I’ve forgotten all that college stuff. And who cares? You’re so much more than a child in a predictable stage. You’re infinitely more mystery than can ever be known. You’re a vast expanse of yellow flowers howling in the rain. You’re the wind blasting through the trees and the weeds. You’re a pearl.

But I want to share with you what 9 was for me in my personal mythology with the hope that you too will be so blessed. When I was 9, my 3rd grade teacher told me I was creative and that I would one day be a writer and these messages took root in the core of my selfiest self to form the seeds of my identity and the way I understood my place in the world. These ideas were the rock thrown in the center of my pond; the rest is just ripples. Everything I am rings out from being 9.

Who will you be?

I’ve wondered it since the day you were born: Who are you? Who will you be, little girl? But don’t worry. You don’t have to know. You will always be more than what you are.


As you turn 9, my favorite memories of you are seeing you come off the school bus—when you grab my hand and we walk home. You burst with stories. The sun bounces through your hair and all the trees lean toward you. I tell myself to listen to you. I tell myself to remember you. I love you so much that I imagine the whole world was designed just for you to move through, live in, and tell stories about. You are a guitar. You’re the very best song.


9 years ago, your mother and I started a little fire and you have burned my forest down. I don’t remember being a man who wasn’t your daddy. Alone, by myself, left to my own devices, I am not a very good man but you make me better. I want to teach you things. I want to tell you about the things I have read in books and show you the paintings that change what seeing means. I want to be an umbrella. I want to be glue. I want to crack your head open and let the sky flood in.


An artist. An accountant. A drug addict. A nurse like your mom. A used bookstore owner. A ward of the state with a rap sheet of felonies and mental health disorders. A journalist. A cashier. A mother. I will love whoever you become, however you unfold. There is no possible way you will ever appear in the world and not breathe in the atmosphere of me loving you. That will sometimes mean a lot and sometimes not at all, but it will nonetheless be constant and sure like the ground beneath our feet. There’s a sky filled with clouds and birds. There are mountains and rivers and ageless stones. Water assumes the shape of its container. Two plus two is four. You will laugh and cry. Your dad loves you.


It’s your birthday. Cake. Candles. Presents. Presence. Yes, I love all the past and future yous but none like the you right now, today, the one turning 9. The whole world and all its processes rush and converge into the explosion of you, a fountain, a thunderstorm, a fire, awe, wonder, a precious little girl. Yes. It all adds up to you. So laugh. Dance and spin. Swirl your dress and rip the doors off the house. Because you’re 9! Throw your stone in the middle of the pond; let the water ripple where it will.


Happy birthday, little girl. And many more, and more, long after I’m gone and I’m only a memory. Smile. And that will be me, a ghost, haunting your face.