at the santa monica pier
BY SARA BRODY
Stacey is writing letters to God now. Uh-huh. Sam calls her the little prophet. My little prophet, he calls her. Because she talks to God. Funny, right? Every day after school she goes upstairs and lies down under her bed—yes, under it, with a flashlight—and writes these letters. At first I told myself, all right, she’s being quiet, she’s writing, for Pete’s sake, who cares what about? But it made me nervous. What does an eight-year-old have to say to God that she can’t say to her mother? I remember when she was born. They brought her to me and all I could think about was how ugly she looked, like a blowfish, with these tiny wriggling limbs—and I remember thinking, Please don’t let her stay ugly. Sam wants to cut her hair because it gets so tangled and she sheds all over the place, but it’s such pretty hair, so thick—a man can’t appreciate that. I mean, he appreciates it when he sees it, but he doesn’t connect things. They don’t know that beauty is work, that it’s hard. So he wants to cut her hair. I said no. And now she’s writing letters to God. Once I took her to the Santa Monica Pier. She was six, or five. I don’t remember. We drove all the way to Santa Monica. It was a clear, bright day and she was an angel through all the traffic, just sat in the car seat with her back straight and her hands in her lap, like a little Buddha. She smiled. Then we got there, and the second we get out of the car, she starts wailing. I said, Look, honey, look at the Ferris Wheel. Don’t you want to ride the Ferris Wheel? People looking at us. I swear, the second we got out of the car. I took her hand and tried to get her walking, but she went completely limp and fell to her knees. Sobbing now. The look on her face—it looked like sadness, like real sadness. Like she’d just felt the hurt of something a long time coming. What does a six-year-old know about sadness? And now she’s writing letters to God. I couldn’t pick her up, the way she was thrashing around, and she wouldn’t even let me kneel next to her, so I stood there saying, Stacey, stop, please stop. Stacey, what’s wrong? Won’t you tell Mommy what’s wrong? People looking at us. She pounded her fists into the pavement. Her dress—I’d bought her this little blue sun dress—ruined. And then, just like that, she stops. She stands up and looks at me and says, All right, let’s go on the Ferris Wheel. Well, at that point, I wasn’t having it. You’re supposed to put your foot down in these kinds of situations—right? I mean, you have to teach them some way—right? I said, Young lady, you’ve missed your window, and she said, What? She didn’t know the expression. Of course she didn’t. She was six, or five. I decided, Fine, we won’t go home now, but we won’t go to the boardwalk either. I figured I’d take her to the beach, fair compromise. I like the beach. I like the way you have to squint. I like how the ocean sounds like radio static. We didn’t have towels or swimsuits so I just stripped her down to her underwear and got my book out of the car—it was To the Lighthouse, I don’t know how I remember that—and I sat in the sand, half watching her, half reading. You know when you try to do two things at once and you wind up doing neither of them? It was like that. Just the white noise of the ocean and the hot sand sticking to my legs. The smell of salt. Palm trees waving. I got to the part of the book where Mr. Ramsey reaches out for Mrs. Ramsey, but she’s already gone. I was only paying half-attention, as I said, and I was annoyed with myself because that part of the book is supposed to give you chills. Mrs. Ramsey. Now there’s a mother. Anyway, I was staring at the passage, trying to take it in, and Stacey comes up and gives me a sand dollar. She said, Here, Mom, I found this for you. That look again, that same sadness. I’m imagining this. I must have been imagining this. I always wanted to be a mother. It wasn’t that I didn’t have ambitions—I was going to be a marine biologist too, so much for that—but I always wanted to be a mother. My scrapbooks. Who else would ever be interested in my scrapbooks? I have these old Pogo comic books somewhere in the garage—I bought them for a dime apiece when I was her age—and I wanted someone to give those to. Look, I have to tell you something. I read the letters—the ones to God, I mean. I knew it was wrong, but she gives them to me to mail—I have no idea where she thinks I’m going to send them—and I’ve been keeping them in my dresser drawer. One day, when she was at school, I sat down and read them all. You know what they are? They’re lists of things she wants. Like, she mixed up God and Santa Claus. Dear God, please give me a Razor scooter. That kind of stuff. I love her. Of course I love her. It’s just that sometimes I don’t know what to do. You think it’s going to be one way, but then you have a kid and all they do is grow away from you. That’s all they do.