What I Didn’t Want

You always thought I wanted what you had. You thought I wanted your beautiful, pristine, long-haired doll. You would stand yours next to mine—my doll, whose hair I cut short with Mother’s kitchen sheers, whose skin was bruised by the hard labor I assigned her in the sandbox. Your doll, who would cook banquets and carefully straighten up for the other dolls, still looked new after months of play. You thought I wanted your perfect doll instead of mine, but I didn’t.

At Christmas, Santa gave us books—thick, black, board books with three-dimensional illustrations that enticed and invited. You got Thumbelina. I got The Snow Queen. You thought I wanted your Thumbelina, the miniature fairy, so like the flower she called home. You would read it to me in our shared double bed at night, and when I started to read mine—in which shards of the devil’s looking glass pierced gentle Kay’s eye and lodged in his heart—you would shake your head and say no, no. You thought I wanted your sweeter story, but I didn’t.

When you were too old for a nap but I still needed one, Mother would make you lie next to me and feign sleep until I drifted off. I wanted to whisper about the things I’d found in the yard, about the castle I’d built in the sand, but you would lay there with your eyes closed. As soon as I was asleep, you would sneak out of the room and Mother would teach you to cook and sew. You thought I wanted to escape the nap, to learn to cook and sew in private lessons while you were the one to sleep, but I didn’t.

In the summer, we would walk to the pool to swim and play. Your strong shoulders and the fluid, piscine way your body worked with the water as you swam the butterfly brought you first place ribbons. I won my ribbons by slapping and kicking the water in a battle of freestyle. You thought I wanted to master the butterfly like you, but I didn’t. 

What I did want was for our two dolls to play together—your sparkling, good-as-new doll and my doll with the uneven hair who liked to move dirt.

I wanted you to read your story to me, your story of flowers and wings and magic. And I wanted to read my story to you, my story of ice and loss and redemption.

I wanted to wake up, well rested, and eat some of what you cooked, admire some of what you sewed. And I wanted to tell you what I dreamed in those afternoon hours.

I wanted to cheer you on as you moved through the water as if you were a part of it—part butterfly, part fish. And I wanted you to feel proud of the way I fought the water and won.

We have children now. Our children have children. And I still want something from you.

I want you to forgive me for mistaking the clean perfection of your doll for arrogance.

I want you to forgive me for thinking that your delicate story lacked depth.

I want you to forgive me for thinking that the things you created inside the house were born from a fear of what waited outside.

And I want you to forgive me for lying about the butterfly. You were right about that. I wanted to be able to slide through the water with as much speed and beauty as you did.

It was magic. You gliding above, below—until you reached the finish.

4 Comments

  1. Beautiful.

  2. Very nice Sigrid. Moving. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Davey

  3. Breathtaking story. So much in these few words. Thank you for putting it out there.

  4. Beautifully written – you invited us in and kept us captivated. I loved it.

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