In the Same Place
We are sitting on the sofa at her mom’s house facing each other, my left hand intertwined with her tiny right hand. I’m here because she was adamant that I go with them during the drop off to meet her new puppy. None of my excuses to the contrary persuaded her eleven-year-old brain.
H is circling her hand, and with it mine, at the wrist. She prefers that I refer to her as bonus daughter or my girl rather than stepdaughter. Neither of us likes any combination of family words with “step” in them, and somehow that’s the only way people understand our relationship.
I can’t tell if it’s the movement or her tranquil countenance that relaxes me. Across from us her baby sister sits on their mother’s lap. Her father (my partner) and her stepfather are discussing something. The two of us have given most of our attention to them. Eyes occasionally narrow, an eyebrow raises, heads nod pensively. She’s mirroring me. Their brown and white poodle puppy, which she’s convinced likes me, lies under the coffee table with his back to us. Earlier she said how happy the puppy was to have this lady (me) and daddy here. I chalked it up to her doing the dog-person thing, giving the poodle motives he has no awareness of.
Then she locks her blue eyes on mine, smiles a smile that is sunrays glowing in the savannah, and whispers: “You know, I love how mom, Haley, you, me, daddy, and T are all in the same place. It feels so good.” I once heard a child say when your parents divorce it is like someone rips your heart in half. Maybe having all of us here brings the two halves of this child’s heart together, albeit briefly.
Most times the anticipation of being with the other adults in the picture requires me to buckle up. I would rather the two families concentrate on our separate lives with minimum interaction. But hearing this little girl, who mostly locks up her feelings, open up for a second shakes me out of my small world. I want to do whatever I can to comfort her…forever if possible. I want to let go of my bullshit, the stories I tell myself about the other family, the tension I feel before seeing them, the meanings I give to minutiae. I want to try harder and have more unity for her sake.
When it’s time to leave, she hugs me goodbye. “See you for your concert on Saturday,” I tell her. I know her mom’s side will be there, but I’m attending to show her that she can have all of us together, that no matter how unusual her family she still has one.
Bahar Anooshahr is an Iranian-American woman, recovering oral surgeon, and stepmom to two loving little girls. Her works have been published in literally journals and an anthology.