He could watch Jaquenetta for the rest of his life, in sleep and in wakefulness, as a sleeping angel clothed in white and as a rambunctious child with paint smeared across her face and dirt beneath her nails. He could watch her as she left the confines of small playrooms ill-equipped for such an epitome of brilliance, toward schools and universities, towards podiums and laboratories and hospitals and museums and wherever she would press her potential. He could watch as she grew tall, when she would blush as the mention of a name at school, as some strange car would come to whisk his bedazzled daughter toward a high school gymnasium, and as she met a yet unknown figure at the alter. He could watch her forever and always.
Except he could not. He slipped from the room, her plush carpet littered with the remains of crayons, blocks, and play-doh figures. The smell of her still lingered at the threshold of her room: the faint scent of baby powder, apple juice, and mud lingering with traces of fingerpaint and books. She had just learned to read, and now loved to do so at every possible opportunity.
The house was silent as he descended the stairs. A teddy bear lay discarded at their end along with a small book about the alphabet that she had been loudly dictating throughout the entire day.
“A is for airplane. Airplanes go zoom!” she would announce. She liked the ‘zoom’ part the best. She had found a blanket and tied it around her neck. She would run about the house as every ‘zoom,’ extending the vowel into a breathless canter through the kitchen and around the dining room. He did not know where she learned of superheroes, perhaps from another child at her preschool. She almost always wore a cape now, and she had declared she was a superhero named Zoom who saved worms and ants.
Her mother, Bianca, had been bemused, wondering why the girl focused on insects, but Jaquenetta calmly explained that the other children at her preschool squished them, so she must save them, because that’s what superheroes did. Bianca did not understand her as well as he did. She never saw the genius of little Jaq as he did. Bianca could not understood the ferocity with which Jaquenetta observed and absorbed everything, eager to imbibe the world as a thirsty traveler.
He paused by a wall whose baseboard had been recently decorated by series of colored thumb marks. Bianca would be upset when she noticed. Perhaps she already had, but had been too tired to attempt any attack to remove them. The little tornado, as Bianca called Jaquenetta, was difficult to clean up after when she thrust through experiences like a knife through tissue paper.
Every day was something new. New words. New artwork. New structures. New stories. New facts. New. Jaquenetta was yet at the early age where each new day brought forth enough information that she needed to reinvent herself each time she woke, but the child relished in it. He never could understand how Bianca was able to frown at Jaquenetta, even for a moment. Jaq was sunshine personified.
The breath of fresh air hit him like wind in a sail as he stepped into the blackened backyard. Shadows hugged the ground like lovers. His heart stirred, with half-memories and undecipherable images. And the dark, lurking things. He brushed them away as best he could as he strode purposefully to the sandbox.
The surface was pitted and marred by a dozen structures, decorated by leaves, twigs, and blades of grass. She loved this canvas of dirt more than that of paint and wax and colored clayed she explored inside. She loved the way the dirt felt beneath her fingers, the guttural connection to the Earth, so often lost in sanitized houses, spritzed clean by busy maids and mothers. Jaquenetta understood more than many adults could ever hope.
He found of corner of unperturbed sand. He could not bring himself to touch any of her structures. His first handful of sand pushed irritating granules beneath his fingernails, but he welcomed the pain. It cleared his mind of the dark cobwebs that so firmly coated it, if just for a moment. He took another handful and another.
His arms remembered the work of youth, although many years had separated them two. Sweat traced his hairline, even in the cool quiet of the night. His arms were throbbing when at last he hit the cement bottom of the sandbox after the hole had reached his shoulder. Blood leaked from his fingernails now, but it did not matter.
He reached into his jacket and pulled out the object in the plastic bag. He kissed it, imbuing it with the tenderness of all the lost years to come, with the love too great to be expressed in words, with all the passion of a father. He placed it into the earth and covered it with sand.
She would find it, when she was ready.
He let himself out into the front yard. He faced the moon, and walked into the night.
Jaquenetta fought with her mother again. They never saw eye-to-eye. It was always, don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t get wood-shavings on the carpet, don’t bring bugs inside, don’t cut your own hair, don’t draw on books, don’t talk back. Don’t, don’t, don’t. He mother shrieked too, like a high-pitched howler monkey or a particularly loud whine of a mosquito.
Jaq just wanted to be left alone. It was enough that everyone at school made fun of her and called her names. It was enough that her teacher was always upset that she was off-task, even if she had figured out her work ages ago. Alone would always be better than with people that didn’t like you.
Jaq dug into the sand with a fury. A kid in her class claimed that he was going to dig to China in his backyard and he had the plans to prove it. All the other kids were impressed. Jaq explained the center of the earth was really hot and you would die if you ever tried to dig into it and that China was too far away and that things always fall down, so even if you survived the molten magma at the center of the Earth and dug very fast, you’d have to start digging up, which he didn’t have the brains to engineer.
The kids laughed at her. They said the Earth was cold. Jaq tried to explain volcanoes to them, but they didn’t understand. Jaq even showed them a book. Then, they just laughed at her, saying if she liked books so much, she should marry them.
There was no winning with the other kids. If they didn’t believe her, they called her dumb. If she proved herself right, she was weird. Maybe she was weird. None of the other kids felt the texture of numbers like she did or tasted words. None of them listen to the stories of the bugs or the whisper in the winds. None of them had a buzzing brain that could not stand still even for a moment.
Her mother wanted to take her to a psychiatrist. Jaq knew psychiatrists were for crazy people. She did not want to see one. Jaquenetta was better off alone because there was no one in the world that could ever understand her brain.
Dirt covered her overalls as she dug deeper and deeper. Sand coated her lips and decorated her eyelashes. If only she could become very small and live in the sand castle she created, without a mother and without the other kids, where no one would laugh at her or call her names. If only she could dissolve into music and fly into the sky. If only the ink would take her into worlds unseen yet by more than her mind.
Her hand scraped cement as the sun dipped in the sky. It was deep. Almost a meter. Meters were better than feet because they were divided into logical units. Nobody at school used meters and they laughed when she did. Her teacher said she needed to use feet like everyone else. She argued meters were more logical and used them anyway. Her teacher did not like that.
It was not just cement. There was something else. Could it be a fossilized bone or a shell? The sand must come from somewhere, and perhaps that place had fossils, and maybe she could tell where the sand came from just by the fossil! Maybe it would whisper secrets like the bugs. But, no, it was not so cold as stone. It felt like plastic.
It was too deep to properly use her arm, so she stuck her leg into the hole and felt with her toes. She tugged at it determinedly until she freed it. She brought up her prize with utmost curiosity.
It was an envelope, yellowed and dirty, but whole, surrounded by an ancient plastic bag. It had her name on it in a careful hand she was sure she must know. She lept from the sand and flew back inside in a flurry without knowing the source of the urgency. She just knew she must consume the letter immediately, in private, where no one would interrupt her.
A certain magism and sanctity reserved for items long since their origination whirled around the object, but there was more. It had her name, in lettering she once knew. The stairs disappeared beneath her as she collapsed into her bedroom.
Her mother was shrieking below. Something about dirt. It hardly mattered, not with this letter. Jaquenetta found her heart thrumming like a plucked string within her chest. In the note of G she decided.
She carefully opened it.
My dearest, most beloved treasure, my Jaquenetta Lyca Lamar,
I have left you, my child, into the dark with creatures unknown. I loved you and will always love you more than my own poor, prosaic words may ever express, and that even works of Keats and Byron and Blake cannot begin to touch, but I left you.
I can barely fathom the depths of the ambivalence within this decision, so I am but a low, meager tool to use to explain. The dark shadows threatened to overwhelm me. They watched and whispered wicked words in the dark. The veils spun of slinking, scelerate, slitherers clung to golden, musical moments that should not be tarnished by their foul presence. I needed to be free of their rancid breath; I needed you to be free of their cloying touch. You were my angel, my purity, my hope. You were life beyond mine.
Thus, I left you, as I was not strong enough to fight away the menacing, mendacious mares of troubled pasts and morrows. I could not let them color your world as they had illustrated mine. I would have gladly watch you grow from but a sproutling to a startling redwood, beautiful in an expanse, a majesty, and a timelessness that few others can but hope to understand. You are my daughter, and I would have loved you all the more with each and every passing day as you became the brilliance that shown through your every moment.
You are not your mother’s daughter as you are my own. I need no gift of prophecy or winsome oracle to reveal that you will have troubles as you age. The world is not prepared for brilliance, but for crippling mediocrity. Every star that shines the brightest must work against comets and meteors who can never compare.
You are a star, my Jaquenetta, and no matter what astrological bodies may attempt to dull your shine, you are stronger than all of them, you are brighter than all of them. You are my daughter, better than I could ever hope to be.
It is always the better of a pair that offers forgiveness, and thus I must ask forgiveness from you, for leaving you without a word and only a kiss in the middle of the night, for leaving you with those that will never understand, with only whispered words withering on wrinkled paper.
This path I walk away from you, where my troubles and tribulations may not terrorize or torment you, I know now where it ends. The path is cloaked in darkness, fitting to my shadows, but if I find a fork leads back to you, where I can emerge freed from darkness, I would follow it across the universe and galaxies to find you. I may only dwell in drawn dramas dreamt of diminished, dwindled memories, days long past, but I will always live in you.
There are lessons learnt and follies felt that a more audacious man than I may attempt to use to educate a daughter. However, I have much too much confidence in and knowledge of your brilliance to attempt to illuminate your path with my own poor flame. Only know that I love you. I will always love you, and love is armor thick as plate and as firm as diamond. It can withstand the darkness between us and reach across eternity to kiss your brow as you sleep.
With eternal love, always,
Jaq did not feel alone.