My daughter stands in our hallway and smiles at me in such a way that I can see the darkness in her heart--the evil lurking there.
I begin to shake.
She is 12, but it feels as if I am the 12 year old--no younger, 10 or 9.
I am 9 or 10 and facing my mother, not my daughter.
"I read what you wrote. In your journal." She smiles at me triumphantly.
My mother didn't smile when she said those things, not really. But my daughter does. She smiles in such a way that I can see the un-smiling mother.
We are playing The Game: The Meanest Thing. Who can say it? Who is strong enough to break the other?
"No boy would ever want you," my mother said to me.
I replied, "Well I'm a kid and have my whole life ahead of me to prove you wrong. You're already old and alone."
"I saw your journal. You were worrying that I didn't like you, that I liked your friend Sally better. You even cried. And guess what--I don't like you. Are you going to cry now?" my daughter's voice is mocking. "What if I tell your friends what you wrote? What if I say what you said about them?"
I'm stunned to find myself in this place again, this place of someone trying to tear me apart--in my own home. I feel sick.
But I am a seasoned pro at this game. I can win. It would be so easy to say the thing that would shut her up. To hurt this little girl that has been abandoned by her birth family. Her list of weak spots is almost endless.
Mine seems endless too.
My grandmother's spirit joins us in the room. She was broken, and couldn't love her daughter enough, and so her daughter broke me. I feel my grandmother's anguish.
And I can feel the ghost of my daughter's father. The one who died a drug addict after creating a world of pain. His sorrow is unfathomable, it leaves me breathless.
I knew him as a little boy. The little boy who was always being beaten, pushed away, defeated.
I shake. Concede defeat--but to The Game, not the cycle.
I take a deep breath then bite my tongue.