My dearest Valerie,
You know my favorite books like the backs of your hands. Don’t you, baby? I’ve read them to you, we’ve finished some together. All the nights we’ve spent sharing words and taking turns before you asked me to leave the nightlight on so you could close your eyes without having to face your fear of the dark? And all the nights you spent telling Momma about them when I was downstairs grading papers and meeting deadlines, losing sleep with my tired eyes? You would talk about them with Momma all the time when I was away: And then Mommy read to me, she told me about Liesel and Rudy, how they raced down Himmel Street and Rudy asked her to give him a kiss, and then Mommy read to me, she told me about the Little Prince and his rose, how he traveled from planet to planet because he loved her, and then Mommy read to me, she told me about Harry and Ron and Her-my-knee, how they beat What’s-His-Name, oh, Momma, Mommy never says his name…
You’re only four, but you carry stories in your fists and words slip through your fingers when you open your hands. You were born with a word in each palm, and as you grow and your Momma and I read you our love and our blessings and our favorite books you find it harder to close your fists. When you reach the age of reason and understanding you’ll find that the stories in your palms weigh like they did when you were four but a thousandfold, because then you’ll have started to really feel, then you’ll have started to really understand, then you’ll have started to see how each of these words work together to create something worth giving to a beautiful little dove like your Momma and I to you.
You see, the stories seem light now, but when you read this, they’ll be heavy. The Book Thief, you’ll see, is not just about Liesel and Rudy and Himmel Street but about the deaths they’ll meet when they come knocking at their doors, and The Little Prince, you’ll see, is not just about a little prince and his rose and how he loves her but about him trying to prevent her from dying alone, and Harry Potter, you’ll see, is not just about three friends trying to beat Lord Voldemort but about Harry losing his parents and seeing that what comes about from this is something bigger than he’ll ever understand.
I laid awake in bed with Momma once while she slept away, probably dreaming about breakfast the next morning (baby, you know how Momma looks forward to breakfast every single day!), and I cried silently to myself because I feared losing her. We were twenty years old, and we were living separately across a few oceans, and she was right next to me but I still felt so afraid, the kind of afraid you feel when I forget to turn on your nightlight and you wake up in the middle of the night and have to face your fear of the dark until I come running in – like that, but a hundredfold.
But it’s been years and years and I haven’t lost her, not in any sense of the word, and there are many senses of the word, so tonight, as you are four, allow me to drop loss into your little palm for you to carry with you wherever you go until it becomes too heavy for you to bear because of what you’ll come to experience.
But until then, let me tell you about this word: loss is something that is light to me but something that is heavy to your Momma.
So many have experienced loss in much heavier ways than I have.
I’ve not experienced loss the way that Momma has. Not in the way that a little girl, no older than you, baby girl, and her mother have when they’ve just seen their father shot seven times in the name of injustice by a police officer who doesn’t deserve to see the light of day the way he still does. Not in the way that siblings have when their father is taken away from them for the rest of their lives because of a misunderstanding. Not in the way that two parents grieve when they’ve nothing left of their daughter except a tombstone and a note. Not in those ways.
And when you think about it, Liesel and Rudy and the little prince and Harry and Ron and Hermione and all of the other characters I’ll give to you when I place new stories into your palms experienced loss in ways similar to those of the real world. You’ll see, baby, you have these stories in your fists and your eyes are bright and your Momma and I love you more than anything in this world and we’re going to be there when you come to us with your hands heavier because of the word loss. We’re not going anywhere.
And as much as I wish I could erase that word, speak it out of existence, I can’t. I can only give it to you when you are four through these stories until you are ready to really understand.
Now, baby, tonight we start The Kite Runner.
If you listen closely, you’ll see where this word will start to come in.