Many Sparrows

I am 8, I am reading the dictionary, I have been through the American Medical Association book four times front-to-back. I read Wilde and Poe and understand light refraction. I dissect dead turtles and frogs. I measure the doppler effect of large farm trucks on the endless expanse of 1980s country roads. I write my first terrible poem. I ask questions that have no answer. I live in my head. I talk to God. I have seen a unicorn.

When I walk into a first- or second-grade classroom, I am greeted by name. I am sat next to the other Jessica with anxiety less placid on her face because I am the better liar. I am older. The Jessicas have parted—I am a stranger, she has become a shell. We still share the same sadness.

I am 22, I have had two children. I have not stayed in college. A former teacher says, ‘You should have done more with your life.’ She won’t look me in the eye — two more teachers walk by. My worth has regressed to zero. I spend seventeen years trying to make it one. I am an imposter. That gifted child is dead; what is left is a stranger, a shell. The Jessicas are both me.

Where do you fit if the dream of you, the projection on the white wall, is no longer you? What if you aren’t even the white wall, but the chipped paint of it, clinging to remain vertical, but in one move or three a scraper has come, a fresher paint in a fabulous color as the new background, where even the projections are muted or lost altogether?

My daughter has written a poem that rivals college grads. My sons compose on the piano and fight to play drums after brain surgery and create wily cartoons just because they can. One plans a life and wants to fly. Another daughter is a cheetah. In a microcosm, I am neither Jessica. I live in my head. I talk to God. I know unicorns are real.

Someone says to me, ‘You will go to grad school. And you’re not quitting.’ He is the second son who heard someone else say, ‘You should have done more with your life.’ He was six months old. He looks me in the eye. He does not say, ‘You are a stranger, you are a shell.’

He knows me by many names. He remembers me reading Wilde and Poe to him. He remembers learning about light refraction when he was 8. He believes there is no value high enough for me. My daughter writes, ‘You are the best mom in the world. No one else could have raised me.’ They love when I make dinner and have ideas for their video games. I am at every game. I have hours ranked with pilots and doctors for the time I have sat in vehicles waiting outside practices and lessons. I am up any night. I am one cry away.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.

Proverbs 31:25

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