Fire Eater


She stands by the window, internally pacing. Not gazing, not daydreaming, but watching for something, waiting for it to happen. The yard’s bright, that San Diego blinding yellow and from the side, I see my daughter’s eyes flick over the trampoline and scan the crowded, weedy dirt bank she loves to climb. She’s not at rest – hardly ever is – and she’s looking for the thing. Neither one of us knows what.


I’ve glimpsed this intensity since she was a baby, bound tight to discomfort, needing to be swaddled, suddenly ravenous. I bounced on balls to soothe her, played music, tickled her gently, but those efforts seemed to madden her and exhaustion won before satisfaction.


Calming her only grew more difficult, and so we are where we are now.


I recognize this person from the primordial in me. I’ve always required different, something new, the thing other than. I bore easily and grow agitated with smooth and easy. I’d like to move all over and all at once. I’m not at peace. I’m the brain and the mitochondria, yet have no idea what to do when she’s outside me.


But here she is: my question-asker, truth-seeker, button-pusher. Line-eraser, argument-haver, whirlwind-maker. She pours herself out the window for the things she doesn’t have and wants; toward where she needs to go, perhaps still rejecting the swaddle, and I pound my brain for the right thing because I should know this.


I watch her from my bed and consider my options: draw up next to her and swing my arm around her shoulders, ask what she’s seeing, let her be.


“Was I really like this as a child?” I asked my dad one day. My mom and I had problems; I bolted and bucked, never was happy; ranted and railed.


A beat and then: “No, not as intense.”


I consider that all the genetics of searching and restlessness coalesced into a fireball in my daughter’s soul; that it will never be contained and so my husband and I must watch from a distance and give ourselves over to the spark and circumstance.


A few months ago, after a hard night of throwing herself against the wall of us (“you treat me like a kid, not a person!”), I thought of a spark shooting jagged into the sky and falling harmless to the ground, as I drove to a psychic for other reasons entirely. Not the type of person I look to for answers, she nevertheless told me unbidden and random: “She’s like a flame. Safely encircle it from a distance, but don’t let it burn out.”


I know that fire girl, but I don’t know how to do what she needs.


This is the truth: I want to throw water on that blaze most days, stamp it into the ground, make it into ash. I’m ill-suited to it: I understand it too deeply and match her tension, rant for rail. I don’t understand it enough.


It’s from this place on the bed, I continue to absorb her reflected face into mine; try to take the fury and the frenzy and eat it. Just a few bites so it doesn’t consume her instead.


I suppose we’re lucky my soul matches hers to the millimeterest edge, but I don’t know how to apply that luck, so she stays at the window and I watch.



4 Responses to “Fire Eater”

  1. And this is why you are one of my very favorite writers.

    This. Entirely.

  2. Charlotte says:

    What the psychic said is right… hard as that will be!
    Good luck Mama.

  3. Suzette says:

    If I am not misreading this, raising a difficult child is a bewildering job! I know. I had one. I tamed her. Her soul and her wild energy needed a lot of direction, not kindling or snuffing.

    Success was had by adhering to a plan, mostly based on a book aptly titled “Raising a Difficult Child.” Today, she is a splendid person with a heart of gold. But the tiger in her circles intensely within until she finds an outlet for it which for her is art and creativity.

    I hope I get what you wrote, and if I didn’t, well then, now you know what we lived through. I posted a series about our ordeal and am writing the last chapter: The Grad Finale. I am glad we discovered how keep the fire alive in her without getting burned. Whew!

  4. Stacey Ross says:

    “Just a few bites so it doesn’t consume her instead.” woah…. My girl takes me to such depths it is wild. Feels like I carry off “in her” where I left of in myself (as a girl), if that makes sense. Love this post and the depth behind it!!

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