Written by Emily
She’s standing five inches from my face, but she’s on stage. She’s gazing past my shoulder where she can see her imagination, the stage crew, creating the set piece by piece until it looks like the world she’s living in at this very moment.
I wonder who I am in this scene. Maybe I’d rather not know.
Her fists are clenched more for dramatic effect than anger. Her back is arched, and her chest is a shield against the gusty wind. I’ve seen this illustration in a book, I’m sure.
She’s a stubborn thing…and so is this character she’s playing.
I wait at the base of her feet, crouching to get a closer look, waiting to see how the story ends.
Everyday, several times a day, I catch my girls tangled in private conversations with themselves. They contort their faces in hushed anger. They explode in excitement. They whisper and dance and punch and twirl. There aren’t any toys. It’s just one girl with a room full of characters sketched by her imagination.
I did the very same thing when I was a girl. I had alter egos who were braver and more assertive, flippant or apathetic. Coy. Flirtatious. I made faces in the mirror. I rehearsed lines for an argument that hadn’t happened and maybe never would.
I practiced and tried on personalities to see how they fit–like I try on jeans–bending and crouching to see if they let me move. Jeans and personalities, they can’t pinch or pull or remind you they’re there. They have to look good in every mirror.
“Chlo,” I said again.
She looked at me then. She opened her fists, and her body relaxed.
Now that I had her attention, we had the talk we needed to have, the one she was avoiding.
She wasn’t happy, but few people are when they’re reprimanded by their mothers. We parted, and she sulked. She played alone for a few minutes and then joined her friends.
In the car on the way home from the park, I looked at Chloe from my rearview mirror. She was gazing out the window with heavy eyelids.
I wondered what she was thinking, whether she was replaying our conversation and practicing different answers. I would have been. Maybe I was.
She caught me looking at her.
She’ll try on at least a million personalities to see how they fit. She’ll audition and rehearse in the mirror or in her mind and sometimes in public. There will, no doubt, be choices I hate. And I’ll wonder, like I do now, what my role is in all of this. I’ll wonder, like I do now, when I’m supposed to direct or produce or watch her from the first row and try not to throw up.
“I like you,” I said.
“I like you, too.”