By Katie Sherman
My tiniest girl is fierce.
Everyone says that about their kids. (I know everyone says that.)
But A. is endure-seizures-fierce. She’s roar-and-grit-her-teeth-when-you-tell-her-no-fierce. She’s fall-off-a-brick-wall-to-catch-the-allure-of-a-glittering-ball-and-not-cry-fierce. She’s lesions-on-her-brain-fierce. Lost-most-of-her-speech-fierce. Never-let-anyone-slow-her-down-fierce.
A. is more likely to hit than hug. More likely to growl than grin. More tantrum than twirl and I love that.
Perhaps that makes me a bad parent.
A mother who expects, propagates, even encourages her daughter’s steely demeanor ensures parent/teacher conferences about biting.
But, I’m okay with that. Because a mother who expects, propagates, even encourages her daughter’s fortitude knows she’ll claw. She’ll battle the suffocating patriarchy that stands on women’s necks.
Even the fierce, steely, fortuitous women. (Especially the fierce, steely, fortuitous women.)
So, A. is the one I watch the Kavanaugh hearing with. Don’t get me wrong. It’s the background music in our house these days. When the news isn’t covering it, I’m talking about it. Raging about it. Wringing my hands and crying about it. My tear ducts are so dry they resemble the dunes on Hilton Head Island where I vacationed as a child. They hurt. I never knew your tear ducts could ache.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford wears navy, her shoulders back and her glasses slipping ever so slightly down the bridge of her nose.
A. nestles into the crook of my arm. Her hair is a tangled web, knotted at the crown. Her eyes are wide globes, the television’s glare refracted in her corneas. The front layer of her hair falls into her eyes. A.’s eyelashes are so long they balance the loop of hair momentarily until she aggressively pushes it from her face.
Dr. Ford’s bangs fall, covering her glasses and producing a see-through shield between her and the cameras, the senate committee. She doesn’t bother pushing it from her face.
A. screeches, giggles, covers her mouth. It’s her newest communication for happiness. Or perhaps it’s the blissful ignorance of youth.
All happiness is shucked from Dr. Ford’s face. She fixates on the words on the page. A prepared statement. A thorough admonishment of Kavanaugh.
She talks about one house.
One glass of beer.
A one-piece bathing suit.
(Note to self, make sure my daughters have cute one-piece bathing suits.)
A modest swimsuit saved her. Kavanaugh was too drunk. Too fascinated with his own glee at her expense to discern the mechanics of a one-piece bathing suit.
A. has a Winnie-The-Pooh Jack-in-the-Box. She always carries it under her arms. Rests it on her lap while we watch. She twists the red handle, allowing a soft melody to escape. She’s startled when Pooh pops from its recess.
There was music playing in the bedroom. It was turned up by either Brett or Mark.
Dr. Ford was startled when she was pushed onto the bed. When Brett got on top of her.
A. laughs again, yells as she tickles the space between my toes. I try to languish in the sound rather than resenting it. It’s an echoing Ha, Ha, Ha that balloons and fills our small living room.
I yelled, hoping that someone downstairs might hear me.
I look at my daughter, wondering how loud her screams could get. Wondering if music and a hand cupped at the right moment could silence her. A. doesn’t understand my sullenness. She turns and looks harder at the screen, noticing, reading the emotion like tarot cards splayed before her. A. is still.
“She’s sad,” A. says.
Dr. Ford holds tears in her chest. Her voice quakes but she pushes through her testimony.
Indelible in the hippocampus is their laughter, the uproarious laughter.
I alternate between wanting Dr. Ford to cry, allowing the emotion to seep from her eyes as tangible evidence of the pain Kavanaugh caused, and wanting her to bite back tears.
Don’t cut yourself open.
Don’t let them see you bleed.
A. pinches my face into fish form.
“You sad?” she asks.
I nod, fearful any other acknowledgement will result in more tears of my own.
Cut yourself open.
Allow her to see you bleed.
I pull A. onto my lap, nuzzle my nose into the crook of her neck. She doesn’t resist, doesn’t squirm and push away. She doesn’t say no, so I rest there. I breathe in her unique smell. Lemons and Play-Doh and Noodle & Boo shampoo. I take a deep breath. Tears clog my chest cavity.
“Mama is sad and angry and frustrated and anxious and concerned,” I say.
My words expand. They reverberate throughout our house. I know she doesn’t understand. Still, her little hand makes tiny circles on my back.
“Mama is scared,” I say.
“Grrrrr,” my fierce two-year-old says. It’s her answer to monsters under the bed. Monsters outside our door.
“Grrrrr,” I repeat, grinding my teeth together until my molars throb. Trying my best to mean it.
Monsters don’t stop until you growl, until you stand up, until you tell the story that makes you want to crawl beneath the covers. Sometimes, monsters don’t stop even when you do.
Monsters are relentless.
Girls can’t relent.
Ten days later, a monster is sworn in by Justice Roberts, his wife and daughters loyally by his side. This man who has been “smeared” in disgrace—whose life has been “ruined”—smirks.
I think of the last line of a Sharon Olds poem I adore. Do what you’re going to do and I’ll tell about it.
So, with A. sitting next to me, looking at the words she can’t yet read over my shoulder. With the television turned off, the news rattling against my skull like a snake or a rusty engine that won’t turn over. With rage and fear and sadness so adamantly felt. With a head aching from tears. A heart brimming with love for my girl …
I pick up my pen.
Katie Sherman is a journalist and an award-winning author who covers fine food and parenting—two things rarely related—in Charlotte, NC. Her story, “Hook Wounds,” won The Same’s short story competition and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Katie’s story, “The Fairy House,” was shortlisted for New Letters Fiction Award and Short Story America’s Story Prize. She has an MFA in fiction as well as an affinity for Southern Gothic literature, cider beer, Chicago, and morning snuggles with her two daughters. Katie has published extensively in literary magazines across the country and is working on her debut collection.