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How Will I Know

She’s biting her nails and I can’t get her to stop. Her eyes are wide and she stares past me in the diner, nibbling on what’s left of her thumbnail. The waitress approaches with a smile and I return the gesture.

“What can I get you guys?”

My teenage daughter snaps up straight and drops her hand to the table. “You go first, mom.”

I hold the menu up in front of me and slide my finger down the options until I find the one I’d decided on. “The BLT please, and can I have a side of ketchup?”

“Of course,” the waitress says, then she looks to my daughter. “And for you?”

My daughter nods deep, slow nods. “Yeah, uh, same. I’ll have the same.”

The waitress smiles and takes our menus. “Okay, it will be out shortly.”

When she’s gone, I look across the table. My daughter has already begun to drift again. Her hand, still resting on the table, inches toward her anxiously. I reach across the muted blue table and take her hands in mine.

“Honey,” I say, “take me where you are.”

Her eyes connect with mine and I can see a thousand questions inside the blues and greens that blink at me. She tightens her grip on my hand, then loosens it and lets them go. She runs a hand through her hair then rubs her eyes with her palms.

“I just,” she says with her head down. She takes a deep breath and then brings her eyes back up to me. “I think I really love him, mom.”

I wait for the laugh, the subconscious smile, the giddiness, but it doesn’t come. Her words hang in the air, lacking all buoyancy, and her mouth remains flat.  I scrunch my eyebrows together.

“Honey, that’s a good thing.”

She shakes her head. “Then why does it feel all…” She twists her lips, searching for the right word. “Icky.”

I smile small and reach back out for her hands. “Because it’s real,” I say.

She pulls her hands away again, leaving mine empty between us. “But what if it isn’t? What if this is all in my head? What if I’m just an idiot?” She sighs and lets her head fall onto the table, then lets out an indistinguishable string of groans. Oh, how I remember being this young.

I lean back into the cushion of the booth and fold my hands out in front of me. “What makes you think it isn’t real?”

She sighs once more into the surface of the table, then sits up at looks at me. “Because he doesn’t hear them.”

“Hear what?”

“The songs. He doesn’t hear the loves songs when he looks at me.”

She looks completely wounded by this theory, and though I can’t quite make sense of it yet, I can sympathize with its origin. When I was a teenager, I dyed my hair purple in the hopes of catching the attention of a boy in my class. He was dark and broody, a notorious bad boy, and I was every shade of beige. I wanted to seem rebellious, but with the combination of my complete lack of at-home hair care experience and my short bob haircut, I went to school the next day looking like a grape. When the boy gave me wide, judgmental eyes, I went to the office and told them I had the flu.

“How do you know he doesn’t hear them?” I ask.

“Because he doesn’t dance. He doesn’t always take my hand when it’s sitting next to him. He doesn’t spend hours and hours looking in my eyes. He doesn’t want to just be still with me. He just…he just doesn’t hear them.”

A warm feeling radiates through me and a smile forms on my lips. “And you do?”

Her eyes water and her mouth turns into a frown. She nods. “All the time. Does that sound stupid?”

I shake my head. I can see myself in her. I can see myself sitting in a booth across from her dad on our first date, nervous as ever. I wanted so badly to know if he was feeling all the same things I was. I wanted him to give me all the signs that love songs and romantic comedies alike had assured me would come. But her father, my husband, was nervous too. He didn’t know which signs were good and which were bad. He didn’t know if I felt the way he did, and he didn’t want to make the mistake of assuming so.

I reach for my ring on my left hand. “Have you ever considered…” I say, and she looks at my fidgeting fingers, then up into my eyes. “That maybe he hears different songs?”

She tilts her head to the side, “What do you mean?”

“Well, love songs can come in any genre, right? And love stories can be found in any movie?”

We’d spent many an evening on the couch watching movies together, and after I ask the question, I see them flash behind her eyes. “Yeah,” she says, nodding, “I guess so.”

“So maybe you’re hearing one type of song, and he’s hearing another. They’re both love songs, but they don’t sound the same. Maybe his don’t make him dance. Maybe his just keep him smiling around you or calling you day and night.” I raise an eyebrow. “Even in the middle of family dinner.”

She laughs at this and the sound fills my heart.

“You really think he could love me, mom?”

I reach across the table and take her hands in mine once more. “I know it.”

Listen to the song here

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