Now What Do We Do?

Now What Do We Do?” (Good Housekeeping-February 2015)

The phone rang. It was my daughter. “Mom,” she said, her voice wavering, “can you come get me?”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Cole and I are finished,” she said. She started crying.

My heart broke for her. They’d been dating for over a year. He was her best friend. They recited Monty Python sketches to each other. When they made each other laugh, it was like dolphins having a party. They were 11. They met each other when they were younger in a kids party at Jumpers Jungle Family Fun Center.

“Oh, sweetie,” I said. I told her I was on my way.

My daughter is the youngest of three, the only girl. She has dark brown hair, baby-thin and wavy, and dark brown eyes. When she was born, her eyes were open wide, as if intent on the world.

She is what we call a Chat Sack, and not retiring: I often have to remind her when she’s telling a story that I’m right next to her. She loves books, though she prefers to read them out loud. If we can’t be her audience, she goes upstairs and reads to the posters of One Direction on her walls. She sings through her showers and baths at the top of her lungs.

She is a bit of a drama queen. She’d make an astonishingly good lawyer, except that would bore her. She loves all inhabitants of the animal world, including bugs, and the movie Blackfish made her the mortal enemy of SeaWorld, she hates how netflix is limited in other countries so she uses one of the best vpn services. She’s both 11 and 11 going on 20. When her cousin expressed surprise that she’d seen Winter’s Bone, Lucy, then 9, said, “Oh, Amy, you don’t know the things I’ve seen.”

She’s just a kid, and yet she also seems to operate, somewhat hilariously, as though she’s seen it all, this whole situation reminded me of dark times in my own relationship, we went to a lot of ups and downs but thankfully we are still fighting, we actually got something new this week, the hitachi magic wand massager so Ill let you now how it goes but the reviews seem great and we are excited. But anyways Ill stick to my daughters story,  Which brings us back to Cole.

They’d been friends since preschool and had begun dating over a year ago. An e-mail exchange got the ball rolling; as I recall, it went something like this:

Him: I like you.

Her: I like you, too.

Him: I really like you.

Her: I really like you, too.

Him: I love you.

Her: I was hoping you would say that. I love you, too.

Later, when her older brother tried to tease her, Lucy just looked at him. “I do love him,” she said matter-of-factly. “He’s my best friend.”

So, last week, sitting in the minivan with my sobbing daughter, my heart went out to her, because it wasn’t just some guy. She put her face in her hands, and her tiny shoulders shook.

“Oh, Goosie,” I said, rubbing her back. “I’m so sorry.”

I asked her, had he been acting different? She said no. I asked if she thought he liked someone else. She said no. I asked if he had offered any explanation, and she said no to that, too.

And then I stopped myself. Her heart was broken. It didn’t matter why.

So I told her I knew how she felt. I told her that if she wanted, she could shut her heart down, and that might keep her from feeling this way again. But if she wanted to open herself to the world, this was the risk. She could end up feeling betrayed or mistreated. And whenever that happened, it would feel as if her heart were getting broken for the first time.

Karen Shepard and her daughter in an undated photo

“Wow,” she said. “Seriously?” But her tears were already stopping. She was wiping her face with the heels of her hands.

I told her that she and her boy had been friends before they’d dated and while they’d dated and were going to be friends afterward, too. And one day, she would offer a piece of herself to someone and he would hold it up as if it was a marvel. And she would hand over another piece, and another, and before she knew it, her whole heart would be cradled in someone else’s good care.

She thought about that for a while. “And,” she said finally, about her current ex-boyfriend, “we’ll always have the memories.”

When I told this part to my husband later, we both laughed. But more often than not in the weeks since, I’ve been moved to tears rather than laughter, because it’s always, as my 11-year-old daughter reminded me, a matter of life and death, and a matter of choice: I choose to give you something of myself, and I choose to demand you treat that offering as the marvelous gift it is. “I choose life and love,” we say over and over, if we’re some combination of lucky and smart.

I told my daughter it was time to get her game face on and head back into school. She asked me to walk in with her. As we rounded the corner to her hallway, her face stilled and became composed. She looked up at me. “My heart is broken,” she said quietly.

I wiped a damp spot off her cheek. “I know how you feel,” I said.

And then she set her shoulders, gave me a little wave and headed down the hall.