The 13 Things I Regret Not Telling Her

“Playing with your kids will make you feel better,” my mother told me. My grandmother told me, “Play with your daughters. It will calm you down.”

I had been depressed for precisely 19 months at that point.

I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I was four months away from going broke.

I would walk my daughter to the park after the market closed. Her tiny legs would get tired as the sun left one purple blister still in the sky.

Can I reach back in time right now?

Can I lift up my hand, weighed down by terror? Can I lift her again and carry her home?

Her 3/4-inch fingers, curled in anticipation. Can I reach back in time and feel the tops of those fingers?

I can’t.

Did playing with her help me?

It didn’t.

One night there was hail outside and it sounded like bullets. I woke up and my daughter was standing in the dark next to my bed.

“I can’t sleep,” she said.

Her mind was racing. We walked downstairs. We sat on the couch. I told her a story.

How I also often wake up at night, my brain a slushy mess.

I’m sorry, I wanted to say.

I was so tired. I wanted to go back to sleep. “Lie in bed,” I told her, “and count to 100.”

And I’d sit there with her and watch her eyes close and her mouth whisper out the numbers.

Sometimes she’d fall asleep.

But this night, this night I remember, we both stayed up and listened to the hail. Wondering what would happen next.

Things I wish I had told her when she was young (things I wish someone had told me):

  • FLY KITES as much as possible. While they are in the air, the ground will feel far away.
  • NEVER read the newspaper. The people you love, the things you care about, can’t be found there.
  • DON’T OUTSOURCE your self-esteem to others. It’s hard enough for them to manage their own, let alone yours.
  • SAY NO to things you don’t want to do. Else, you are just working out the terms of your slavery.
  • FREEDOM is something you can have right this second. The prison door is open. But if you don’t leave, then this moment is in chains forever.
  • DIVERSIFY everything in your life, including the people you listen to for advice. Including me, your father. Especially me.
  • LEARN lots of games. They turn you into a hard-core killer without you ever having to hurt someone. They are glimpses into other worlds when this world is on fire.
  • NEVER LISTEN to anyone who says, “You can’t do that!” Those are the people who can’t do it.
  • LAUGH at the little things. So you can learn to laugh at everything.
  • LIFE GOES BY FAST, but there’s no rush. You have to put on a parachute before you jump out of a plane.
  • PREPARATION is the key to having good luck. People will spitefully accuse you of “luck.” They will resent it. Try to ignore them.
  • KINDNESS to others is the best way to be kind to yourself.
  • EXPERIMENT every day to uncover the hidden. Creativity is the invitation into the extraordinary.

I woke up last night and there was a storm but no daughter. I missed comforting her. The past 20 years I missed so much.

There’s going to be a day when she has to do it, this, all on her own. This thing. This life.

A night when she wakes up and everything in her brain is rushing, speeding, burning.

Without anyone to sit quietly next to her. To breathe with her to 100.

While her mind speeds faster than she ever thought possible.

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