Published on October 13th, 2015 | by Anna Doogan3
Rosa Parks and Angelina Jolie Are Having a Tea Party with Angela Davis by ANNA DOOGAN
Once, there were three daughters who lived in the woods all alone…
I watch my daughter at night after she’s asleep. I watch her breathing, the soft rise and fall of her chest, her peaceful jawline. In those moments I think that maybe I’ve done something right. I stand in the dark of the room and I whisper things. I tell her I’m doing my best. I tell her I want her to be proud of me. I tell her how much I love her.
If she woke up, maybe she would think it was creepy.
…and they lived in the woods in a tangled house made of branches and brambles…
My daughter likes to write stories. She illustrates them with pen and crayon and chalk, colorful drawings filling the page. I can’t let myself get rid of them, even when the papers stuff our drawers full, overflow and fall onto the floor. Even when I’m picking up papers that blow off of the porch and down the street, chalk dust staining the dry sidewalks desperate for rain.
I keep all of her stories, all of her words.
Dangerous words. Real words. Words that sing answers and rattle parchment. Whatever’s on her mind. So she knows that her words will always have meaning here. So she knows that when you find your lungs, you never stop screaming.
I want her to keep writing.
…Outside, in the forest nearby, there were wolves. And the wolves gnashed their teeth and hunted the daughters when they weren’t looking…
Law & Order is on tonight and it’s a rerun, but my husband and I watch it anyway, too tired or lazy to change the channel. Outside, the rain slaps the window. It will be pouring by morning, and we forgot to tell the kids to bring their bikes in after dinner.
I remember this episode, and I’m already uncomfortable. The one about the girl who gets raped by the fraternity boys. I wince and sip wine to soften the edges. When the screen flashes to commercial, my husband is silent. He shakes his head.
“I would kill someone.”
I’m thinking it too, but I don’t say anything.
Our daughter is asleep in the next room. She fell asleep under her quilt covered in woodland animals, with a book about mermaids still open in her hands.
She believes the world is magic.
She hasn’t seen all of the darkness yet.
There’s a moon in the sky shaped like a crescent, and I imagine it scratching down and ripping the sky open ragged, stardust gushing out like blood.
That night, I stand in the dark of the room a little longer. She stirs and I slowly back out of the bedroom. A twisted tree drapes over the windows. The branches tap on the glass in the wind, reminding me that there’s always something lurking out there. Always something dark in the shadows that I can’t predict. The parts of life that are jagged edges and wolf teeth, preying on small bones and licking them clean.
I tell her to keep believing. Keep believing in magic, girl, I think. Even when there are ghosts haunting you around corners. Even when there are snarling wolves at your back.
…One of the daughters could fly, and one could breathe fire. One of the daughters made music unlike anything that anyone had ever heard…
The ballet teacher is counting 1-2-3-4, staccato accent, stick rapping the floor. The girls in buns and tights bend into their plies in first position. Parents in rows of metal chairs along one wall. The repetitive zap of a camera flash, cell phones mid-air capturing video.
My daughter becomes a dinosaur in class instead. She roars and growls and waves her fists through the air in imaginary claws. I take her picture, halfway through a roar, hands raised.
“Your daughter is a bit of a free spirit,” the teacher tells me after class through tight lips. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. That veiled, your daughter doesn’t follow rules, your daughter does her own thing. I smile back because I’m always polite, but I’m really thinking fuck your tutus and turnouts. We take her out of ballet and sign her up for drums. She pounds out rhythms until she’s an exhausted sweaty heap. She plays White Stripes songs and bangs out the beats for us. Her tiny hands hit like a blur, fire beneath.
…and the forest was full of tiny creatures. Baby rabbits and bears, small birds and spring fawns…
There was a baby bird in the nest outside of the bedroom window, tucked into the tree branches. A nest of braided twigs and straw and scraps from the ground. The chirps filled the morning, woke us from sleep. My daughter pressed her nose against the glass, updated us on how the baby bird was growing each day, checked on it each morning. She drew pictures of the bird with her crayons, made a bed out of a shoebox in case it ever wanted to come inside.
The baby bird got bigger and stronger and one day the nest was gone. And the birds were gone.
My daughter was devastated, and she sat and cried.
“I’m gonna miss that little bird.”
The tree felt naked that day, empty. Tangled branches like hair. Salty tears streaking her face.
Sometimes the things that you love go away.
…There was a witch who made a love potion in the forest. It was made of nasturtiums and bee pollen, and would only work for someone pure of heart…
I knew a girl once. We shared a hesitant sunrise on the beach. It came up peach, and then pink, and then golden yellow. She read me a love letter and we drank coffee. There was sand under my nails, dried ocean salt on her cheekbone.
I said, “I don’t really like girls. I was just drunk last night.”
The words tasted awful when they rolled out of my mouth. Bitter, like rhubarb leaves. Milk thistle. She knew I was lying. I knew it too, but I was afraid. She cried and I looked away, and I didn’t talk to her again after that.
I think of that conversation and my heart suddenly weighs more from guilt. If I had been fearless, I would have let my heart swell around the edges, fold onto itself before it exploded.
I tell my daughter to love ferociously and freely. “You can love anybody you want,” I remind her. “Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
She shrugs, still coloring a picture of a pony. She’s unfazed. “You don’t make love happen,” she tells me. Her front teeth are still coming in and it’s changing the shape of her face. “You just feel pure love when it flows through your heart.”
She’s already wiser than I am.
…There was a great storm cloud that came, and it covered the forest in darkness. And the creatures in the forest waited and wished for the sunlight to return…
“My friend says it’s legal to shoot Black people in America. Is that true? Because if it is, I don’t want to go to Ohio.”
I look at her in the rearview mirror, raise my eyebrows. Outside, the crisp air stinging with the smells of autumn. Wet leaves, apple cider.
I don’t understand the Ohio correlation, but the rest of her statement pangs through my heart, drops a pit in my stomach. My husband turns down the radio.
“Because my friend says it’s true,” she continues from her booster in the backseat. “And she said I shouldn’t travel because she doesn’t want me to get hurt.” A streak of green paint across her left cheek, the remnants of an art project.
The news has been flooded with talks about Ferguson, Black Lives Matter. Pain and unrest rippling across the country, seeping over state lines. I think of kids in their homes, overhearing news hashed over by impassioned parents, bold headlines on magazines at the grocery store checkout. I think of a six-year-old on the playground. Feeling the tension, not knowing how to integrate it, wanting to protect my daughter. Give her a warning.
So we clear our throats, take a breath, fumble for something that might make sense about the violence and hate that feel senseless.
“There’s a lot of anger in this country right now,” I start quietly, knowing that any explanation will only be a scratch on the surface.
The first time someone called me Nigger to my face, I was ten. The last time it happened, I was thirty-one. I could tell you about all of the times in-between, because you don’t forget that. Like it’s written down on your palms, carved into your skin.
When my daughter and I hold hands, I kiss her unmarked palms.
…There was a huntress who lived in the woods, and she protected the small creatures…
My daughter came flying into this world. Almost no thinking, no pushing. Our midwife was a man named Bob. I remember him telling us that there are only a few male midwives in Portland. I can’t remember how many. He shouted, “Whoa!” as she came flying out, fists wild. She was ready.
We laugh about her first sentence. “I don’t want that.” Always said with one hand up for effect.
“She knows what she wants,” strangers would laugh when they overheard her say it. They smiled at her intense expressions, her tiny bald head.
“And she knows what she doesn’t,” I’d say pointedly, when they stuck their hands too close to her.
I wrap my arms around my children like wings, and I keep my knives sharpened underneath.
…There was magic in the garden under the stars. Lavender and roses and butterfly wings…
My daughter comes out of her room wearing a vampire cape and wings, cat ears on her head, a sketchbook under her arm. She’s setting up dishes under a tree in the backyard. Lemonade in three small cups, a plate of cinnamon rolls. A rose petal next to each place. Two stuffed animals sitting around a picnic blanket, dressed to the nines.
“What’s happening out there?” I ask. The last days of summer are stretching into fall. Behind us, Stevie Nicks wails “Gold Dust Woman” on the stereo.
“Rosa Parks and Angelina Jolie are having a tea party with Angela Davis.” She adjusts her sunglasses and looks at me.
I nod. “Of course.”
She is fierce, like a blaze of lightning. Like ocean waves crashing over the edges of rocks.
…and the daughters grew strong and wise and powerful. And they wrote stories and told tales and made magic…
“Ten minutes until bed,” I tell my daughter.
She’s balanced on one foot, humming, taping a new drawing to her bedroom wall. Crayons and uncapped markers scattered at her feet.
“Okay, but don’t tell me the minutes,” she says with a grin. “I don’t want to know how fast time is going.”
Tell me about it, I think, as I smile and notice how much taller she looks even since last week.
In the morning, I’ll watch her run across the playground and into her classroom at school. I’ll watch her blue-streaked pigtails bouncing as she runs. The strong shape of her back. Her invisible wings, her constant magic.
I’ll watch until she’s out of sight. Then I’ll keep watching, just taking in the vacant space between us. No one needs to tell me the minutes. I’m always counting them.