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The water rippled around her as she washed her hair. I watched as she threaded her fingers through floating strands swaying in the shore.
I climbed above to photograph her. She watched, maybe curiously and maybe annoyed but either way tolerant. Her lips parted just slightly; her eyes relaxed. I pressed the shutter.
A vision of her as a toddler, chubby arms barely able to hold a cup of water above her head to rinse herself. Then I imagined her at twelve, no longer taking baths. Maybe seeing the world through more adolescent insecurity rather than with the brazenness of childhood.
My heart beat a thousand beats in that moment. I forced myself back into the present. I made a silly joke so she couldn’t read the serious thoughts in my head.
I knew that photograph was a stolen moment… but it was also a gift.
She submerges her head completely underwater, letting the shampoo rinse off.
As she rises above the surface the water pulls from her face, leaving her skin glittering with watery sequins.
Looking down as a big human, the water looks serene and peaceful. But if I were to look closer, if I were to zoom in, the water would look less than peaceful.
Maybe even violent.
Her face would emerge, first her nose breaking the surface followed by her forehead and cheeks. Water molecules from her cheeks would grab at each other before cascading down into the bath. The water left behind on her skin would be a thin sheath at first, quickly finding more of each other to form droplets with.
Water sitting in precarious enough positions would form waterfalls. Droplets that found steady ground would sit and wait, perhaps nervously, for their island host to turn one way or the other and send them back with their brethren.
Life is like this.
Under a microscope, you can see the anxiety and the tension. Questions and fears seep like water droplets into the brain, gathering other tiny fears along with it until a puddle has formed and starts to swell underneath.
Small words like “he” and “pants” collect until they cascade into tears and around you is boy clothes and girl clothes strewn around like a war zone. Nail polish and dresses turn into questions which turn into arguments and you wonder why.
But when I zoom out, when I step out from inside my brain, from outside the arguments with well-meaning people who don’t understand, from outside this house and this world and I look down at the earth like a big human, like a God, all I see are the shiny water droplets.
She lays there still, unaware of my fears. Unaware of the constant warrior her mother has become, breaking down her own narrative. Fighting the constructs that built her. Hoping to create whole daughters.
I see a kid who lives in a world that refuses to let go of boxes and constructs but knows she doesn’t belong in them.
No one does.