There is a dead rose in a vase on our dining room table.
“It needs more water, Mommy,” says my eight-year-old daughter.
“It’s dead,” says my husband, looking up from his breakfast.
“What can we do?” asks my daughter.
“Throw it out,” says my husband, who goes back to eating.
“No, I don’t want it to be dead!”
My daughter looks at me pleadingly, and I feel another gentle lecture coming on about life and death and dead flowers being a natural part of the whole process.
* * *
The first time I realized that there was something dying inside of me was in my mid-40s, in the checkout line at the wine section of my grocery store. When I got up to the counter to pay, I looked up at the attractive young man at the cash register and smiled.
Then he called me “Ma’am.”
My age was staring me in the face, in the blank look of an attractive, young man who was simply taking my money, unmoved by my smile. I tried flirting, mustering a girlish demeanor, a head tilt, eyelid flutters. Nothing.
I was losing my “life force,” I thought. Whatever used to be inside of me that energized the space around me, attracted eyes, triggered smiles, caused men to catch their breath and whistle softly, deeply, slowly, was dying.
* * *
People tend to follow my daughter and me around stores. The first time it happened was at a thrift store. A man kept appearing at the end of each aisle, watching us. I snapped at my daughter not to wander off, worried that I was being paranoid but envisioning the man snatching her as she rounded the corner out of my sight.
After we paid for some items and headed out the door into the parking lot, I heard a man’s voice calling out.
“She’s a beautiful girl,” he said, moving closer to us.
I pushed my daughter — four years old at the time — ahead of me, hurried to the car, put her in then jumped in and locked the doors. He stared at us for a few minutes before walking back into the store. I didn’t buckle her into her car seat until I was certain the man was gone.
Another time, a woman followed us around at Walmart.
“Your daughter is very beautiful,” she said. I thanked her and thought she would walk away, but she hovered.
“She’s so pretty,” she said as she walked behind us, down one aisle and up another. I finally turned to her and slowly, deliberately, angrily enunciated the words “Thank you” in the same tone I might use to say, “Fuck off.”
* * *
I’m lecturing my eight-year-old daughter, not as gently as I’d intended, about an image she posted online.
“What are the rules about using the Internet? What are the rules about what you can and cannot upload onto your social networks?” I hear my voice sounding shrill and try to calm down.
“I can’t post photographs of myself or other people,” she replies sheepishly.
Not only has she posted an image of herself online but an image of her dancing in a pose so adult and so provocative that it takes my breath away.
The person in the photo doesn’t even look like her. Her nine-year-old best friend took it from across the room, and my daughter is standing with her legs apart, whipping her head from side to side. The image captures her with her head thrown back, her hair flying, her hands raised in abandon.
I look at the photograph and the word “sexy” comes to mind. My throat tightens. I’m terrified. She is eight years old, and this is all my fault, I think to myself.
I delete the photograph from the Internet, but not before saving it to my iPad. Each time I come across it in my camera roll, I don’t recognize the young woman in it. I have to remind myself it’s my little girl.
* * *
I had my daughter at 41, so I’m in that group of older moms with younger children. The difference in our ages doesn’t escape me, especially as we stand side by side looking at ourselves — and each other — in the bathroom mirror.
She is fresh and literally vibrating with unbridled life. I’m…old.
We laugh and smile at each other in the mirror.
“You’re a beautiful Mommy,” she says.
“You’re a beautiful daughter,” I say.
* * *
At night sometimes, my daughter grabs me, hugs me and cries.
“What’s wrong, baby?” I ask.
“I don’t want you to die,” she says.
Must. Not. Cry.
“I’m not going to die anytime soon, baby doll. I’m going to be here a good long time.” I try to reassure her and realize I’m also trying to reassure myself.
* * *
I keep thinking I should toss out the dead rose on our dining room table, but I don’t. I’m waiting for my husband to throw it out, but he doesn’t touch it. My daughter thinks it will be there forever. So it just sits there.
Originally published March 2015