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The bubbling giggles overflowed into a large belly laugh and flooded the aisle next to me. Even though there were rows and rows of boxed cereal dividing us, I could picture a little girl as the source of all the noise. I smiled as I walked and I fought the temptation of her contagious joy to pick up my pace to match the rhythm of her outbursts. I swallowed my laugh before rounding the corner and I noticed her shoes first, flat with glitter and smudges, reminding me of my own daughter.

She spun around, her dress flaring out around her like rays surrounding the sun and she sent another laugh bouncing off shelves of grocery store selections before she caught my stare and smiled. She smiled even though the dark circles around her eyes told me how tired she was. She smiled even though the fluorescent lights highlighted the smooth skin of her round head. She smiled because the scars of her battle weren’t allowed to define her and I smiled in return to avoid an emotional cleanup on aisle three.

I placed an item or two in the basket I was holding and navigated my way through the store. A song from the mid 90s played through the speakers, opening lyrics to a popular television show, a soft voice saying I don’t want to wait for our lives to be over and I forgot every item I came to pick up. Work was over, I was on my way home and here I was staring at the milk completely lost in the sight of a little girl who has fought more in her few years of life than I have in a single day of my own.

We didn’t need milk. We didn’t need anything cold and while I couldn’t remember a single item on the mental list I made in the drive from the office to the store, I figured a missing ingredient from our dinner wouldn’t break us. I picked a checkout line and scanned the meaningless headlines plastered on the magazines and waited my turn. Then I heard it, her laugh, the sound of life in her veins and I turned to see her peeking at me from behind her mother. 

She reached for a candy bar from the display beside her and her mother grabbed it tossing it in the cart. I wondered if candy bars were allowed before dinner in their home or if they had to wait until their plates were cleared. I wondered if the rules are thrown out the window when you’re called to the front line to fight for your child or if you hold onto them with white knuckles for a single reminder of what once was, if you squeeze tight to something you have left if only to avoid letting everything else go.

Her dress flared out again as she twirled and when she stopped she met me with another smile and I felt the need to say something. I felt the words stuck in my throat and it was hard to do anything with them, to cough them up or swallow them whole.  I watched her twirl the opposite way and I saw my little girl in her spin, I saw her pink skirt fan out around her and I said what I thought my daughter would want to hear in that moment.

“Your dress is pretty,” I told her.

It sounded like a consolation prize and I immediately regretted saying anything at all until she looked directly at me and smiled again. I looked at her mother and saw the million thoughts running a race on her face and I wanted to hug her. I wanted to grab this stranger and tell her she’s the bravest person I’ve ever met, that no parent should have to watch their child struggle as much as she has, but there are moments in life where words aren't able to carry the weight or heal the hurt.

I paid for my items and grabbed my bags and made my way through the parking lot, fumbling my keys into the ignition. I blinked through tears and wiped them away and cried the whole way home. Once I opened the door to my house, a healthy little girl greeted me and climbed into my arms. I pulled her into my chest and breathed her in, the soft voice singing in my head... open up your morning light and say a little prayer for I. Say a prayer for the little girl who re-defined strength and beauty on aisle three? It's the least I could do.

2 comments

  1. That made me cry! Sometimes a shift in perspective reminds us of what is really important. Great writing!!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kim. Perspective is everything.

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