Today is my daughter’s 12th birthday. 12 is a powerful age, often associated with a young girl’s foray into womanhood. It’s typically when she begins her menses, starts realizing the power of her voice and opens her innocent eyes to the ways of the world. I wish all of these things for my daughter and more.
I remember my 12th birthday vividly. It was the worst day of my life. My best friend, Marcie, had gifted her old pink jumper dress to me because I didn’t have anything special to wear. I felt beautiful in it and looked forward to a fulfilling summer day. My father had already left for work before I’d awaken. My stepmother was home, but she treated it like a regular day, therefore, no words were exchanged. I vaguely recall a day of hanging out with a few of my friends who gave frantic birthday licks in my driveway and at the park. What I remember most is the anticipation of going home, hoping that my father had arrived and that a birthday cake, a card or a gift was waiting for me.
When I got back, a little before dark, it was quiet. My father’s Chevy Blazer was in the driveway, but he wasn’t in the living room as he usually was after work. I checked the refrigerator and countertop for evidence of a cake. Nothing. I bounded up the stairs and heard my name. I got excited. I went to my dad’s bedroom door, which was closed. I knocked. My stepmother opened the door for me to come in. I was told to sit on the bed. Though I wanted to close my eyes and await my gift, from the mood in the air and lack of smiles, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. My father looked tired. His hazel eyes bore into me as he slowly found his words. As he began lecturing, with his young wife glaring at me on the other side of the room, I think I blanked out for a few seconds and swam in my own thoughts. I’d heard “happy birthday” from many people outside of the house, but hadn’t heard it yet from my own family. I wondered if my dad realized that it was my birthday? I wondered if he knew that I’d waited all day to see his face and hear those magic words from that gravelly voice of his.
I tuned back in and heard him loud and clear. He was kicking me out, citing irreconcilable differences between his wife and me. He hadn’t invited me into his room to give me a lovely, long-awaited gift or even a hug. He just wanted to let me know that he didn’t love me anymore. Or at least that’s how my twelve-year-old mind saw it. I couldn’t stop the tears if I’d wanted to. I felt myself babbling, but just recall him shaking his head “no” and telling me to call my mother. He made me pack that night, bringing a couple of black garbage bags to my room for me to carry my things with. Within two hours, I was dropped off at my aunt’s house as a neutral ground until I could be picked up by my estranged mother. My father never said “happy birthday,” but then again, why should he? It wasn’t a very happy day, despite the date. And by then, we both knew it.
This was my introduction to 12. It was filled with heartbreak, sadness, pain, loss, confusion, and disappointment. It wasn’t a very good year. However, my life, my heart and my relationship with both parents s-l-o-w-l-y mended. I don’t wish my circumstances on my daughter, but I know that the older she gets, she will feel all of these human emotions and it pains me to know that there will be little that I can do to shield her. What I hope is that we are providing her with the love, support, faith, strength, and resilience she’ll need to work her way through the darkness that life can bring. What I wish for her on this 12th year of life is that more than those moments of darkness, she will feel joy, passion, love, peace, compassion, and light. And Khari, Happy Birthday, baby. We love you.