I often forget how old Clara is.
I mean, it’s easy to keep track of her birthdays. She has had 8 of them, and that fact is perfectly clear when you look across the room and see her getting excited about something like LOL Dolls or find her laughing hysterically, kicking her legs in the air at some ridiculous joke in a cartoon. She is definitely an 8-year-old girl. But it is in the quieter moments that her REAL age shines through. The age of the much older spirit behind the 8-year-old curtain. It’s the age of the spark I saw in her eyes when I first held her and she calmly blinked around the room as if she had already seen it once before. And then finally she looked up at me and seemed to nod slightly as if in agreement with some ancient proclamation that only she could hear. Yes, she seemed to say, I remember you. This is the girl I am reminded of in the quiet moments.
There was a quiet moment the other night.
I was driving home from a late night trip to the store. She was in the backseat and Gideon was fast asleep next to her holding a half-eaten green pepper. I glanced at her in the rearview mirror and smiled as I turned off the radio. The last notes of the song we were singing along with faded away.
“So, what do you think?” I asked.
“You know, do you want to stay Forever Young? Like in the song?”
She hesitated, “Oh, I guess I don’t know. It would be kind of sad to never grow up.”
I let her think some more.
“I mean, I would like to grow up. And how am I supposed to know if being young is better if I don’t grow up first?”
“Well, That’s true,” I agreed. “But, you could, just take my word for it. I’ve been there, and now I’m here, and I can tell you, being young is better.”
She chuckled, “Right. But you also weren’t me, of course.”
I slowed to make a turn and pulled onto an even darker back road leading to our house. I thought the conversation was probably over, but a minute or so later she quietly announced her conclusion.
“Dad… I think what I would like to have happen, would be this. I want to live my entire life like normal. To be a child and then grow up to be an adult and then be an old woman. And then at the very end of it all, when I’ve seen all of it, I would like to be given a chance to decide what age I want to go back and live over again. That’s what I want. Not to live forever, but to live some part of it again.”
I looked for her in the mirror, but it was too dark and she was too far away to see. She was just a voice hovering in the air.
“It’s the only way I can really be sure, you know?”
“Yes, Clara, I do know. That’s a very wise answer.” I reached my hand into the back seat, “I hope someday you can get your wish.”
Somewhere in the dark, two very tiny hands took hold of one of my fingers and shook at it softly.
“Yes,” I said in reply, “I remember you.”