My 9-year-old daughter took my hand yesterday as we were walking. It was unexpected, feeling her light hand in my mine all of a sudden after so long, her fingers now long and thin–so much like my own.
But after only a moment, she let go. No squeeze of reassurance then release—just gone. Like the baby birds she brings me every spring that fall from their nests, I could still feel her hand in mine long after she flew off down the path in front of me—the way my fingers closed around her small knuckles, the heat of her palm. I had forgotten up until that moment what it felt like.
I tried to think back as we walked, to remember the exact time she stopped holding my hand to begin with, but couldn’t.
I remembered her newborn fist clenching my finger while she stared sightless up at me, only a day old. I remembered trying to disengage her death grip at 13 months old so she would walk on her own. She could do it—she just didn’t want to let go. I remembered the drunken toddler-walk, our ritual of me reaching, her grasping. Everywhere we went—connected. To keep close, to keep safe.
But as she got older, it slowly changed. I would reach and there was no return catch. I’d have to wait to lock her reluctant fingers in mine. Towards the end, her hand was something I had to grope and grasp for, like the slippery fish she loved to rescue from the bottom of Grandma’s bait bucket at the beach. She’d crouch over the Styrofoam, hair falling over her shoulders into the water as the fish flashed through her determined little fingers. Finally, she’d pull one out, only for it to twist and slip out of her slick hands and flop back towards the freedom of the waves. She’d bound over the sand after it and stare into the surf, searching long after it swam away. It’s gone baby, my husband would call.
Even now, I can’t recall the exact time when she stopped holding my hand. Where were we going? What were we doing? I guess one day, I must have just let her go. Must have let her skip ahead, all angled knees and elbows with only my voice still tethering her to me—Watch where you’re going now. Stay right in front of me.
She comes and lays her head on my shoulder from time to time, like a little bird resting on its nest for a moment before flitting off back to her friends–all long legs and bouncing hair. I even get a quick unexpected peck on the forehead sometimes while I’m reading or on the phone.
I can still feel the cling of lipstick she’s not supposed to be wearing on my brow, the cool slope of her temple against my shoulder—long after she’s gone.