Unsettling indecision

My daughter is a killer.

As I hold her in my arms in the small, uncomfortable bed of the cheapest motel in the most remote location I could find at the late hour I had finally decided to stop driving for the night at, this is the only thought I seem able to form in my mind. The sweltering heat of the small, cramped room with its broken air conditioner and threadbare, scratchy blanket atop faded, stained sheets, the hard, thin mattress, and the noise of the steadily dripping faucet of the bathroom sink, clearly audible since the bathroom door won't shut all the way, is still not enough to distract the focus of thoughts that are always there, no matter how hard I try to banish them from the back of my mind. And at night, with Victoria in my arms, her long, bony form warm and somewhat restless as she lies curled beside me, her back pressed into my chest, they come forth front and center, and I can't force them back into the denial they belong to.

My daughter is a killer.

I know she didn't mean it, of course I do. She was scared. Victoria was scared, and she just acted, overreacted. She was trying to protect me. She was trying to save me. To save us both. She's only twelve years old. She couldn't have known, couldn't have seen the consequences of what she's done. She couldn't have understood.

You see, Victoria didn't understand that it was okay, that I really did have everything under control. Steve wouldn't have hurt me too badly. He never did. If she would have just went to her room like she always had before…if she had just gotten out of the way instead of hiding around corners, peeping through doors, eavesdropping like an amateur Nancy Drew, then none of this would have happened, we wouldn't have to be-

But no. I can't do this…I can't let myself start thinking like this, not now. It's not her fault. She didn't know. She couldn't have seen.

Even if Steve wasn't perfect, we needed him. Victoria didn't get that. We needed his job, his money, the support of his presence in our lives. I needed him. I loved him.

Sometimes now, when I look at Victoria, or even think about her, it's hard for me to remember how much I love her. Sometimes when I look at my daughter, it's so difficult to think of her as my own precious baby, my own beautiful little girl, the only person I would ever give up my life to save. Sometimes when I look at her, I feel cold indifference, even dislike…and sometimes I resent her so much that it almost feels like hatred.

There was a lot of blood, after what she did. It took me nearly two hours and six buckets of soapy water to get up all the blood enough that no trace remained. It wouldn't have taken so long, except that I didn't let her help. Victoria's hands were already stained with enough blood for a lifetime without letting it linger on her any further.

She was crying as I worked, but I couldn't hear her. She was pleading for my reassurance, repeatedly questioning what we would do, but I could not answer her. For two hours I scrubbed away every trace of my lover's blood in silence, and all the while I could not think. I could not shed a tear.

It would have been all right, if Victoria had not done it.

This isn't good for her, the way we're living now. I know that. No twelve-year-old girl should spend her days driving from city to city, staying nights at motels that are probably no safer than sleeping in the car on the side of the road. No twelve-year-old girl should be eating cheap, junky food by way of fast food chains, diners, and gas stations for every meal, with little opportunity to get out and interact with the world. No sixth grader should be isolated from other children with no friends, no school, no companions but a mother who is too tense, too tired, and too terrified to provide her with the comfort she needs, let alone the stimulation to learn and grow.

This is no life for Victoria, and I know it can't be helping her…it's probably hurting her. But it's all I can give. It's all I can think to do, to try to keep her safe. To try to keep her mine.

I can't let Victoria be taken away from me. No matter the costs, no matter what will happen now, I can't let anyone, be it police, social services, or psychiatric personnel take her away. She's all I have. And no matter how hard it is now, I will not give her up. I will not let her get away.

I watch her now. Not with the soft smile and loving eyes of a mother at awe of her child's existence, the innocence of her soul, the beauty of her form. And Victoria is a beautiful girl. Blonde hair all the way to her waist, so straight and thick that when she was smaller, I called her Rapunzel. She is growing tall, but she is still childish in figure, all arms and legs and undeveloped breasts. Her heart-shaped face, pointed little chin, and round, bright blue eyes have always reminded me of an elf…I used to call her an imp. My little imp.16

But when I look into Victoria's eyes now, even when she seems happy, even when she's smiling, I no longer see the brightness, the impishness that was once there. I've tried repeatedly, glancing at her quickly, when she is not prepared to catch my gaze, hoping to see in those sudden searchings an indication that she is still my little girl, that she stills holds innocence in her heart. But I don't know…I just can't tell if it's there. I just can't see.17

Did I miss something before…before she did this, had Victoria already been changing in ways I didn't notice, ways I couldn't see? Or did it come after…did she do it because she had lost what she had been, or is she losing what she was because of what she did? Or is it all in my head, and Victoria is still as sweet and pure as ever, if still affected somewhat by what she has done?18

Is my child still a child, still MY child, in all the ways that really matter?19

I don't know anymore. I really don't.20

Sometimes Victoria seems still so young, so soft and childlike, and I can look at her and tell myself that yes, she's okay…yes, she could still have been spared, at her core. But sometimes, her eyes seem so blank, her features strained, her jaw tensed with anger, stress, or both…sometimes when I look over fast enough, she looks so hard and embittered, so much older and sharper than any twelve-year-old should. And my doubts renew themselves all over again.21

Is this her way of punishing me? What she did…the way she looks, the things she does…is this her way of getting back at me for not being a good enough mother, for not being strong enough to, for not loving er enough, protecting her enough? Is she doing all she can now to keep me off balance, to hurt me, because she wants to repay me for her own hurt?22

I can protect her now as I never protected her before. I can keep her with me. I can keep her safe. But I can't take back what happened. I can't take back what Victoria did. And I can't heal the damage that's been done, if she's been damaged.23

I know that I have been.24

She's irritable often now. She snaps at me, rolling her eyes, sometimes pulling away from my attempts to touch her. I think she blames me…and I think she feels no guilt. That she thinks she simply did what she had to do. And maybe some people would even agree with her. 25

But they didn't see her. They didn't watch as Victoria flew at them out of nowhere, screaming, features distorted with rage, with hatred…they didn't see her with the knife in her hand, didn't watch her repeatedly plunge it into their lover's back with wild, rapid brutality. They didn't watch his eyes bulge, the red blossoming to his shirt front, didn't hear the terrible gurgle he made as he choked on his own blood. And they didn't wrest the knife from their twelve-year-old child's hand, didn't pull her into their lap and enfold her in their arms as she fought them, eyes bright with violence, even as tears streamed down her face.26

We never speak of what happened. It's as if when I mopped up his blood, got rid of his body and all other evidence of the crime, I also attempted to rid ourselves of the knowledge, the memory, of what Victoria did.27

But I can never forget. And I highly doubt that she can either.28

She's so quiet sometimes I wish I could see inside her, know what is going on when she drifts into one of her motionless dazes, where my voice is no longer acknowledged. But I don't dare ask her…because I'm afraid of what she might say. I'm afraid Victoria will lie to me…but I'm also afraid that she won't.29

Sometimes it all seems to go away, even her sullenness, and she's just Victoria, if a more anxious, somewhat more clingy Victoria than she ever was before. Then, she wants to hold my hand, to feel my hands on her shoulders, stroking through her hair, my arms around her waist. She sits in my lap as if she's even younger than she is, and she tells me that it will be okay…everything will be okay. She tells me that she loves me, and I repeat her words back to her; she asks me if I'd ever leave her, and I tell her no. But when she asks me if I forgive her, I can only kiss her head, because I have no answer.30

When I hold Victoria in my arms at night, breathing in the scent of her hair, feeling her slight weight settled into me, her bony elbow in my side, I wonder if she dreams of death, of blood, of Steve's dying gasps. And I wonder if she enjoys it.31

I love him. I miss him, no matter what he did or would have done. I want him. And I resent her, sometimes almost hate her, for taking him, when I know it would have been okay. I know it would have worked out. And as I lie in bed with not him, but her, who took him away from me, I am not sure if I do so for my own comfort, for hers, to remind myself that I love and need her too, that she is just a child, my child, utterly beloved…or to make sure she cannot escape. To make sure she won't do to anyone else what she did to him.32

Because no matter what I tell myself to think, to see, to feel…when I look at Victoria, I have a terrible feeling that it will happen again. And then I am not sure whether I love her…despise her…or fear her.33