When I was four, my father gave me a crystal rabbit. Translucent yet cloudy, the figure symbolized mystery to me, though at such a young age, I could not begin to give the rabbit a story. Instead, I gave words to my father’s gift, words that described how I felt: Hope. Pretty. Dream.
“Will you name the rabbit?” my father asked.
I clutched the figurine, warm in my palm. “I don’t want to name it.” Naming a mystery was impossible, but I couldn’t have articulated such feelings then. Still, my father nodded, as if he understood.
I was a romantic child, one who sat outside for stretches of time, enraptured by birdsong, breezes, the fragrance of grass. When I was six years old, my mother appeared in my bedroom one morning, face haggard and strange. Your father has left. He’s not coming back. She disappeared, and I fell back asleep. When I woke, light pressed against the windows, and I imagined it a dream.
Entering the kitchen, I discovered my mother at the table, a glass of amber-colored liquid in front of her. Her face was the color of ash, and I knew it wasn’t a dream, that my father had left. He left because of you, she said.
I ran outside, certain the fresh air and light would cast her ugliness away. He left because of you. Eventually, I lay on the grass, gazing at clouds, imagining my father within one. He’d always been a hazy figure, drifting upon the edges of my life. Although he felt like a benevolent presence, he was not clear in my mind now, and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t picture him. That was why he had given me the crystal rabbit, I decided, so I could hold him close, even though he was a mystery, someone who floated out of my life like a cloud.
My mother lost her romantic nature the day my father left. But I was different, for in his absence, my dreams only intensified. I imagined him climbing Mt. Everest, fighting battles in Europe, sailing around the world. I imagined his returning to our house like an Odysseus and claiming me once again. My stories were my redemption; I needed them because for many years, I believed my mother. He left because of you.
Thirty years later, I know that my father went to Upstate New York when he left our home, that he lived quietly and alone, and that he died a few years later. I was eleven years old then, living inside a world of hope, pretty, dream, a world I still live inside today.
My daughter’s name is Olivia. Almost three, she is learning words she hears every day, but also those that come from the story books I read to her at night. Princess. Wolf. Magic. She touches the book’s pages with tiny fingers, and I know my mother’s words cannot be true.