I. At Bobby’s fifth birthday party, while you were inside nursing your vodka-tonic, your daughter, Dalia, was in the playhouse pulling down her 100% cottons and showing herself to the neighborhood boys.
Dalia got three scratch-and-sniff stickers for doing it. Luanne caught her doing it a second time, behind the fence at the Little League game in exchange for two Airheads, but was too embarrassed to tell you. She made Dalia swear never to do it again.
Dalia did it again.
II. Back when you first started your weekly pedicure appointments, when Dalia was in the second grade, she and that freckled girl Blair she was friends with, would sniff Sharpie markers and spin until they fell to the floor like those dreidels you used to play with during Chanukah in Brooklyn. I’m still not sure how they found out about the markers. At least they didn’t know they were high.
A few months into their friendship, Blair’s kooky mother rented them TheSilence of the Lambs, and for weeks after the girls watched it, Dalia wasn’t able to sleep. She paced back and forth in front of your bedroom door, but never knocked because she knew Eric was likely naked under your satin sheets.
III. Once, during Hebrew school, Dalia passed a checklist around that read:
Please draw a line next to one of these. Mrs. Levine smells like: • Dead fish • Puke • Old onion soup
How could a fifth grader know Mrs. Levine was going through chemo? I bet she didn’t mean anything by it. Plus, Robbie Steinberg ended up taking the blame for the note and was suspended from the matzo factory field trip. I don’t think he minded too much, and besides, Dalia loved it! She would have really missed out if she didn’t go.
Another time, she kicked a hole in the wall at the bottom of your stained wood stairs. It was Father’s Day, and you were in your room with that lawyer, Marc, I think his name was. When you heard the thump, she told you she fell and that her foot had broken the surface. You didn’t react much, so Dalia cut a hole in the breast of your favorite Gucci sweater. It’s just a shame Marisol was fired because of it; you told her if she wanted to live in this country, she needed to learn how to wash designer clothing without ruining it.
IV. That red-headed girl you paid to look after Dalia, the one with the large breasts and plastic disposition, once threw a party at your house. You were in Cabo at the time. There was a keg and around 25 - 30 kids. Dalia walked in on a couple performing oral sex in her bedroom, but I don’t think she had any idea what they were doing. I mean, she was only 12.
That was also the night she tried her first cigarette, thanks to some high-school floozy who thought her boyfriend would be impressed by the absurdity of a fifth grader smoking. Look how cute she is! The teen gushed as Dalia heaved, cackled, and spit a giant wad of phlegm into your lavish swimming pool. Don’t worry, when the pool guy came to clean the next day, Dalia told him to add extra chlorine. It was like there were never even naked teenagers swimming in there.
V. It was during that Atlantis trip. You and Steve were gambling with Marty and Ellen when their daughter and Dalia left the room and went to the teen club in the next building over. Some punks with fake IDs bought them mango bangos until a four-way makeout session ensued on the beach.
Nothing else happened because when one of the guys tried to go up her shirt, Dalia vomited all over his Armani Exchange polo. He called her a drunken bitch before fleeing with his friend. The girls passed out in the sand but woke up right before Martin won that 2,000 dollar poker tournament. By the time you got back to the room, the sleeping cherubs were in the exact spots in which you had left them. You even commented on how lucky you were to have such well-behaved girls.
VI. The weekend she went to visit her camp friend Heather on Long Island, she didn’t really go for Heather’s brother’s Bar Mitzvah like she told you. She went to track down her father.
She didn’t find him, but she and Heather did spend two whole days interrogating police officers on the Lower East Side. None would tell her which prison he’d been transferred to, but that’s a good thing. He’s the last presence that girl needs in her life. After looking for hours on the second day, they found a Japanese restaurant off of 45th that didn’t card. The two got sake-bombs all night.
What’s even worse is that an old pervert, probably in his late 60s or early 70s, sat next to Heather and Dalia on the train ride back. He was hitting on them when a young mother pushed her way through and warned that if he tried so much as another word she would kick him in the nuts so hard they would fall off. Isn’t it amazing there are people who care enough to watch over your children when you can’t be there?
VII. Her and that girl Amanda, you know, the one with the obese father, would stuff earrings into their bras at the Macy’s in the Pine Hills Mall. They didn’t get caught any of the four times they did it. But shouldn’t a fourteen-year-old be able to have a cute pair of earrings without asking her mother to buy them for her? Besides, what would Kenneth have said if he knew she charged earrings to his emergency credit card?
VIII. During her freshman year, when you thought she was waiting for the bus every morning, Dalia was really walking a half-mile down the street so that Jake, that senior you forbade her from seeing, could pick her up. He was the first of many people she cut school with. She didn’t have sex with him, only fooled around a bit, and that’s pretty typical for a girl that age.
Jake also got her to try pills for the first time. It was on one of the days he picked her up to skip school. They went to his dad’s place in Point Pleasant and walked around the boardwalk smoking joints and bumming cigarettes all morning. When they grew bored, they went back to the apartment, took some Vicodin, and played with Jake’s pet snake for the rest of the day. Your new housekeeper picked up the phone when the school’s automated system called to report Dalia’s absence, but figured it was a solicitor and hung up.
IX. She was at Rutgers with that girl Ella, staying at Ella’s older brother’s frat house. She told you she was at a Key Club convention in Jersey City, and was an actual member of the Key Club, so the lie wasn’t terrible.
The guy was nice-looking enough: a small-framed, physics major from Freehold. She didn’t tell him she was a virgin at first, and when he found out, he handled it like a typical freshman in college. Dalia you’re really cute, but I’m not looking for anything serious right now. If you come to Rutgers in two years, who knows what will happen? I had a really fun time with you, though. Thanks for the great night!
That boy had some nerve, but he was young. The good in the situation is that a few weeks later, Dalia started having exclusive sex with a kid named Patrick Jones. He held her hand in the hallway and even took her to the spring formal. Patrick was a true sweetheart. He helped her get over that college guy. I think he loved her, well, as much as any high school junior can. It ended after a few months because Dalia became interested in Trevor McLeavey. Trevor was popular, and Dalia got invited everywhere after that.
X. She knows that Dusty, that redneck loser from South Jersey, hit you that one time. You thought she wasn’t home. She wasn’t supposed to be home, but the party she was going to got busted before her ride came. You were out to dinner at the time she was supposed to leave, and you and Dusty were too consumed in your fight to check her room. She knew the bruises weren’t from tripping over your hair iron.
And you know how you tried to fool her about that guy Rex, the one you met at Foodtown? Well, she knew he was married. You told her you thought he might be the one, but she knew better than to trust you. She Googled him a few weeks after you started dating and found a picture of him and his wife at a doggie Halloween costume contest. Below the photo was the caption: Buster dressed as a duck with parents Rex and Jane. She pretended to be happy for you. I guess, like you, a naïve part of her thought he might leave her.
She also knows about Emma. You kept it from her for a while, but a few years ago, she went up to the attic to try to find pictures of her father, and found the box. She smelled Emma’s baby blanket and ran her fingers over the ribbons on her tiny shoes. She read the diary entries from when you chose to take her older sister off the respirator, from when you held the baby in your arms as she died. Dalia flipped through the pages of Coping with a Terminally Ill Child and examined the sympathy cards from extended family members. She conjured images of what her sibling would have looked like, how they would’ve fought with love, kept each other a little less lonely.
XI. Dalia knows other things too, things you won’t even admit to yourself.
She knows you live with the burden of cursing at your mother on the day before she died. Dalia picked up the upstairs phone that morning, heard you scream at her, heard you tell her you had your own reasoning for not telling your daughter who her father was and to mind her own fucking business. She heard you mutter dumb old bitch after you slammed the receiver and watched you from her window as you sat with your feet in the pool, smoking a Marlboro Red.
She held your hand as you shook on that humid, sticky, summer afternoon of the funeral, found the mascara marks on your pillow, the half-empty bottles of Sailor Jerry hidden around the house. She knows you had three one-night stands in the two weeks after, knows you grew numb and checked out. She knows you stopped eating, sat in darkness for weeks, pulled out chunks of your hair.
She knows you wanted to die.
Then, a few months later, on the day you felt like some semblance of yourself again, you turned on the lights, ate a full breakfast, left to run errands. Dalia knew to remain silent.
She knows to pretend like it never happened.
XII. Chloe, the girl who lives in the house on the corner of Front Street, got date-raped in your daughter’s holy bed—sheer canopy, elegant bedspread, and all. Dalia had some guys over from the football team. Two of the players, I don’t know their names, put some kind of roofie in Chloe’s drink when she was in the bathroom fixing her makeup. She went upstairs to pass out in Dalia’s bed and the next thing she knew, it was morning, and she was naked from the waist down. A varsity-clad rapist lay sleeping next to her.
That poor girl, all her friends told her that she was probably so drunk she wanted to do it. But you know that child would not have a consensual one-night stand if a year’s allowance were at stake. The kids were thankful enough the cops weren’t called, so they didn’t push their luck to tell you. And you know how Mrs. Howell is; if she ever found out about Chloe, that girl would be excommunicated. The best thing was for Chloe to do what she did: accept it and move on.
XIII. Dalia went to that hippie music festival in upstate New York with Trevor and his friends the following weekend. She took acid and convinced some hippies to teach her how to hula-hoop with one of those huge glow-in-the-dark plastic devices. She became pretty good at it within the first few hours and made a sign that said LET THE MUSIC BE WITH YOU; I’M BROKE. She made enough gas money to get home for school Monday morning. I know it seems awfully sociopathic for her to be having so much fun right after her friend was raped and all, but I think it was just her way of coping.
XIV. But why worry about the past? I bet you don’t know Dalia’s current whereabouts. You don’t know that right now she’s dressed in your black sequined halter-top, staring at the full moon as she waits for the ecstasy to kick in. Her beautiful auburn hair is brushing her cheeks as the ocean blows it around. Her eyes are wet from the wind, and she’s thinking about you, and how you used to tell her that when her eyes teared, it meant they had a cold. At this very moment, you don’t know that she’s retreating to that inward place each person has, the one that can’t be explained. The one you went to after the prison sentencing, after Emma, after your mother’s death.
You don’t know that the drug is starting to kick in, or that she’s in a state of euphoria that will make her vulnerable and numb. Or that she’s about to go skinny-dipping in the ocean with people she barely knows, and later she’ll have a threesome in a car without condoms. You don’t know that in a few months she won’t know who the father is, or that both men will call her a liar and refuse to claim the child as their own.
Now, as you drive on rain-slicked streets to your present boyfriend’s house and listen to the steady rhythm of the windshield wipers, you are retreating to that inward place too. You are realizing how much you do know. You know she is tired. You know she is scared. You know her fears because they are your own. You know her flaws because she inherited them from you. You know what she looked like when she was born. You know the birthmark behind her ear, the way she bites her cheek when she’s nervous. You know her. The only thing you don’t know is how much she loves you. Will you ever?
Lindsay Haber teaches at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in Five on the FifthMagazine, and she is working toward publishing her first novel. She has a deep love for canines and the outdoors.