Tea With Rory

Rory leans across my bed, honey-colored curls framing her smiling face as she stretches her arms toward me. “Daddy,” she says, small fingers grasping the tan sheets for purchase, “get out of bed.” I reach across and enclose one of her hands in my own. Oblivious to the fact that she could never compel me to move if I did not allow it, she thinks she pulls me to my feet as I get up on my own.

“Let’s go downstairs,” she says, leading me out of my bedroom to the staircase. Her hair bounces with every step as she goes down the stairs before me, her locks in that nettlesome phase of development where there’s not quite enough on her head to style, but still enough to get tangles. Even when washed and combed, it never looks anything but half-tamed at best. The riotous curls are how you know Rory gets her hair from her mother, much as I got mine from my own. I don’t remember anything of my mother from before the ravages of chemotherapy, so it seems only fitting that the thinning of my hair as I approach middle age should reflect my only recollections of her appearance.

Down in the living room, Rory has set out a two-year-old’s conception of a tea party as informed by cartoons. An assortment of plush Mickey Mouse characters sit on the cushions of my aging couch—once red, but now almost orange from years of bleaching in the sunlight from the front window. A stuffed giraffe and a giant Batman figure almost as tall as Rory join the menagerie on the matching chaise lounge chair. A collection of Disney princesses stand alongside the cast of Peppa Pig and one of my Transformers in a Dora the Explorer-branded dollhouse on the coffee table. Heaped in front of the dollhouse is a small pile of plastic dishes and cups, assembled without rhyme or reason.

“Daddy, sit,” she commands, moving around in front of me and putting her hands on my thighs to push me into position. I move to sit down next to Batman, but pause halfway as she begins to shriek, “No no no, you don’t sit there!”

It would seem this tea party has a seating chart to which I am not privy.

After a few moments of trial and error, trying to sit on different parts of the couch and other seating in the room, I eventually hit upon the secretive Right Spot as designated by my daughter and am allowed to take my seat. “Daddy, drink your tea,” she instructs, thrusting an impromptu teacup up to my lips. I take the cup from her hand—one of her bath toys, a small yellow cup with holes in the bottom that stacks inside a larger counterpart—and pantomime taking a sip of tea with an exaggerated slurping noise.

“Hmmmm!” I hum with approval.

“Is it delicious?” she asks.

“Oh boy, oh boy,” I reply, “I sure do love imagination tea.”

“Yes!” she exclaims with an outspread flourish of her arms. “It’s deeeeeeelicious!”

She begins to make a circuit around the room, offering tea to the inanimate guests seated nearby. “Here you go, it’s your tea,” she says as she shoves a bowl into the face of Minnie Mouse before moving on to Pluto. The unadulterated joy of a child at play is infectious, and I can’t help but smile as she goes about her ritual. I wonder how much of this she’s going to remember, her time at this age where the biggest disaster to befall her life is that we won’t let her eat ketchup for breakfast. Most people I know claim that they don’t remember anything before they were about three. My own power of recall is a shade better than that, though. I have a few scattered memories from the earliest points of my life.

I remember the traumas.

I was two years old, standing in what I then only understood to be “the green room,” which in retrospect I know was a guest bedroom. My mother lay on the bed, covered up to her neck in one of my blankets, the one that depicted trucks and cars in bright primary colors and simple shapes on a white background. Her eyes stared unblinking at the ceiling, a do-rag still tied around her bald scalp. She wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t respond to me in any way whatsoever as I shook her shoulder to get her attention. In that irrational, uncomprehending way of toddlers, I was angry.

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