© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
It is a letter no one would ever read. Not your wife. Not your son. And especially not your daughter.
There are tears in your eyes that you do not know how to shed and the tear in your heart will take all of eternity to mend.
In your study, in this place where you are secluded from the world but vulnerable to your God, you kneel at your desk as if it were an altar. You hold the pen as if it were sacrament. You close your eyes. And see her.
Since the very first day that Janet pushed Jennifer into the world, you’d called her medley. Medley because she had your nose, medley because she had your wife’s eyes and ears, your grandmother’s full lips, her maternal grandma’s raven black hair. And she had your dead brother’s long fingers.
The combination was stunning. You took overwhelming pride in your daughter’s exceptional beauty, and even more pride in her vivaciousness. An energy ball, a combustible package, a live wire.
You begin to write furiously. You tell her of the day she was born, of the love that completely filled your insides. You tell of the first day she grabbed your little finger and smiled up at you from her Winnie the Pooh bassinet. In your letter, you remind her of her lazy left eye that followed the right one only reluctantly. You write of skinned knees and kisses, of baby powder and olive oil scents, of Barney and Teletubbies, of all things pure and good and innocent.
What you do not write about are plentiful. Of the graduation gown she will never wear, of the aisle she will never walk down, of the babies she will never have, of the tough life decisions she will never make.
Instead, you remind her of how much her mother had loved her, of play dates and dough caught in their hair, of playing with make-up in front of the huge mirror in the hallway, of dress up in Janet’s clothes.
You do not write of the leukemia that turned her eyes a deathly shade of black, of the way her six year old body shriveled and bent until she weighed less than fifteen pounds, of the host of tubes and machines that struggled valiantly to keep her alive.
You let her know that even though Robert never said it to her because he’d reached the age when boys thought showing affection was being weak, he’d loved her as fiercely as only an only brother can love an only sister.
You do not write of the way your heart dropped to your feet each time you saw her in the hospital room that became her prison. You do not tell of the way Janet’s body shook with uncontrollable chills each night, of the wasted look that Robert tried so hard to conceal.
Finally, you write of heaven. You explain it the way she can understand. You write of glittery skies, of glowing fields, of trees laden with fruits of all kinds, of joy that curled ones toes.
When you are done, you realize that you are crying. Dry sobs that begin somewhere in the region of your heart and explode out of you in huge gasps. Salty tears that cascade down your cheeks like a waterfall gone mad.
The letter you just wrote to your dead daughter is wet, the ink already running. But it does not matter because this is a letter no one would ever read. Carefully, you begin to tear. You rip and rip and rip until your letter is at last a little heap of rubbish. Until your fingers ache from the repetition.
On your shoulders, a burden seems to be lifting.
In your heart, light finally penetrates.
You release your daughter into the kingdom of heaven.