BY COURTNEY CRAGGETT
Two towns over, a twelve-year-old is admitted to the hospital with a snow globe buried in her vagina. Curiosity? Experimentation? Abuse? Inside the globe a plastic princess stands outside a castle – frosty blue gown, long golden hair, clouds of glitter floating above her head. From the x-ray machine, the girl moans, and the doctors shake their heads at all the things they have seen.
Here in our town, I prep for your birthday party. You are turning seven, and you love robots as much as most girls love princesses. It doesn’t matter to me. Doesn’t matter that you dirtied the Cinderella rug I put in your room, the one I would have treasured as a child, tore the arms off of the beautiful dolls I gave you and built monsters, ripped holes in the knees of your ballerina tights playing football with your brothers. I know that parenting is acceptance, and I will let you be anyone you want to be.
Two towns over, the twelve-year-old’s mother sobs. We will read about it in the paper next week. “What a strange world,” your father will say, and I will nod because it’s what I’ve always said too. The girl’s mother clutches her daughter’s hand and asks what happened. What possibly could have possessed her? She lists the good things she has done for her daughter, stacks them up against the act that landed them in the emergency room, tries to understand, as if parenting is a scale, as if, say, it didn’t matter that my own mother was stoned for my seventh birthday because at least she was sober for my sixth and eighth. She smoothes her daughter’s hair off of her forehead and tells her they will get through this, together, but the girl turns away.
Here in our town, you blow out your candles. I have made you a robot cake, cut it into squares and rectangles, frosted robot arms and legs, and your eyes shine like Cinderella’s when you see it. There is no scale in your life, no balance of good and bad. You, my darling, are my world. Your happiness is my own. Your childhood, my purpose. At your birthday party, your friends dance around you. They hit red and blue balloons into the air and jump on the furniture to keep the balloons off the ground. The whole room bubbles with primary colors and laughter and children. If I’d had a mother who loved me like I love you, I would have asked for pink and purple and white, but you refused when I tried to convince you, wrinkled your nose and made a gagging sound, and so I rumpled your hair and laughed in a way that said, “I don’t understand you, but I will give you what you want” and returned the streamers and glitter that could have turned our whole house into a castle, your childhood into the fairytale I wish it could be. Parenting is acceptance, and nurturing, and love no matter what. A pillow on the couch tears open, but I do not hit anyone, do not even yell. Your brothers break out of their bedroom where they have been told to play video games until the party is over. You and your friends squeal, and soon the house has turned into a game of chase, cops versus robbers, boys versus girls. I watch you, and I wish you could know, and am glad that you don’t, how very happy you are.
Two towns over, the girl’s father joins his family at the hospital, and the girl looks away. Imagine the embarrassment, your father knowing you’ve done something like that. Unless of course your father were to blame, which he must have been, somehow. The father puts his hand on the girl’s arm, and she shrinks away, or maybe I only imagine she shrinks away, imagine it because this is something I know that I pray you never learn, how fathers can turn on their children while their wives are passed out in the next bedroom, do things that their daughters will try to forget for the rest of their lives. “Excuse me,” the doctor says. “Could we see you outside for a minute? We have a few questions.” So the father leaves his daughter, but before he does, he leans down and kisses the top of her head.
Here in our town, you are opening your birthday presents. Your friends have given you everything a little girl could ever want – art sets and Barbie dolls and Playmobile castles. They are children and do not know you like I know you. You open a Cinderella snow globe, a carriage carrying a princess off to her very first ball, and you tilt it upside down, and your friends gasp when Cinderella’s carriage fills with glitter. You tap at the globe like you wish you could get inside it, take it all apart and see how it fits together. Then you set it down. You are more interested in the basketball your father has given you. You call your friends outside to practice shooting into the hoop we have lowered so that you can reach it. You dash around the driveway, knocking opponents aside and throwing the ball into the air. When you can’t make the shot, your father lifts you on his shoulders, and up there you look to me like royalty, dropping the basketball into the hoop and raising your arms and cheering. The sun shines down on your golden ponytail, and through the clouds the light sparkles like the glitter in a snow globe.
Two towns over, a social worker is called in. She will be the girl’s fairy godmother, turn the rats into snow-white steeds, moldy pumpkins into carved carriages. The questions she will ask the girl and her parents will be painful—embarrassing, but necessary. The girl will resent it, but if I could talk to her I would tell her that Cinderella will never escape her evil stepmother without the fairy godmother, that she will spend her whole girlhood trying to find food when her mother comes home drunk, hiding the money she makes in high school, sleeping in the park when her father is home. “Accept the help,” I would tell her. “Be grateful. Your life could still become something wonderful.”
Here in our town, your father is putting you to bed. I have bathed you, and now I read to your brothers while your father tucks you in. You are overtired from your party, crying at everything that does not go your way. You stand on the bathroom stool in a football jersey that fits you like a ball gown, and your father brushes your teeth gently, the way I have taught him, and then reads you a bedtime story, and you are laughing and fussing, emotions intertwined as tightly as they can be only in childhood. The wind is blowing hard outside. This winter will be a cold one. I kiss your brothers goodnight and tiptoe down the hall to your room. I press my ear to the closed door, listening, ready, just in case. Your father is trying to make you laugh, and he tickles you. You giggle, but then you scream at him to stop, and my hand is on the doorknob in a second, almost turning, but instead I wait.
I hold my breath.
I strain and listen, listen for something, for everything.
I hear your father whisper apologies, sing you a song, kiss your forehead. He switches off the light, and I sneak away.
Two towns over, the doctor taps on the girl’s door. She sits alone in her hospital bed and does not look up. He hands her the snow globe, sterilized now, and sparkling. “Maybe you want this back?” he asks, and she takes it, but says nothing. He pauses before he leaves, pauses to say something, something that could make sense of everything, make it all better, but he is a medical doctor and knows best how to fix bodies, and so he puts his hand on the girl’s shoulder for a moment and then leaves. When the doctor is gone the girl tilts the globe upside down. She watches the snow fall, and she remembers the year before, when her teacher took the class to hear the symphony. The cellos painted the hall the color of the night sky, and the drums crashed above her head like bursts of stars, and then the violins began to play, and they turned the atrium into a globe filled with glitter and light, the girl inside it a princess, or a fairy, or a queen.