"It's all your fault, Mackenzie," my not-quite-thirteen-year-old daughter informed me, her voice raised, not quite a yell, but fast approaching the appropriate volume to be able to appropriately categorize her words as shouted. "Yours and Jason's. I don't know why you even try to lie to me, we all know what the truth is, so stop. Why won't you just stop?"
She was facing me from nearly the full distance of the room we were occupying, as though she couldn't bear to get any closer than that, and knowing my daughter, as I was beginning to, this was very well true. She couldn't tolerate it if I stood anywhere within five feet of her, which she deemed a violation of her space, in so many words, and would respond to by backing away, her eyes narrowed and wary of my presence. Any touch from me, however light or brief, would cause her to flinch or cringe, as if I had hurt her or at least bruised her ego to force her to endure it, and again she would back away from me at a rapid pace, snapping at me not to touch her again.
Every day I longed to cup her face in my hands and be able to just look her in the eyes and see the miracle of what she was, the incredible circumstances that had brought her here to me, healthy and alive. Every day I wanted to pull her thin body close to mine and put my arms around her, near enough to me to feel her heartbeat against mine, and have her not protest or panic, struggling to push me away. Every day I wanted to stroke her hair and bow her head to my shoulder, telling her how much I loved her, how much I had always loved her.
But my daughter wanted none of this. My daughter couldn't tolerate it, and so most of the time my hands remained at my sides, itching, even aching with my desire to touch her.
"I have told you that it is inappropriate and very disrespectful for you to call me and your father by our first names," I told her instead, trying to keep my voice calm and level, to be the reasonable adult that she needed, the voice of logic and control that my daughter could not possess at her age and under the circumstances. "I don't want to hear you do so again, Madeline."
"Stop calling me Madeline! That is not my name!" my daughter's voice rose a few more notches in volume, and her pale, narrow face flushed, some red coloring her cheeks as her bony knuckles knotted into fists at her sides. I could see her nearly flat chest rising and falling with her shallow, rapid breaths, and her thinly-muscled little arms were trembling, perhaps with the force of the fists she was making.
Most of our conversations were like this now. Day after day, hour after hour, I stood toe to toe with my daughter's anger towards me, towards her father, and no matter what the tutors or counselors or anyone else who was supposedly such an expert with adolescent children like her ever said to me, it never got easier, and she never softened in her feelings or her views. The anger of an adult was present in someone who was still only a child, helpless to do much about it but make my existence miserable, and this, Madeline was becoming expert in.
They told me that it was normal and expected, that in time, it would get better. Maybe this was true, but to get through it one day, one hour, one minute at a time made it all seem nothing more than the lie of people who did not live my life, people who could never understand.
"I have never lied to you, not about anything that was important," I tried to say to her, struggling now to maintain the calm tone that everyone told me was so vital to keep when speaking with her, but as usual, I had no time to elaborate before Madeline cut me off.
"You're lying to me right now! You lie to everyone, especially me! All you do is lie, you won't even call me my right name!"
"Madeline…Maddie…" I started, hearing the edge in my voice then but unable to stop it or scale it back. "Listen to me, Maddie-"
"MY NAME IS NOT MADDIE! My name is CAROLINE, it's CAROLINE!" my daughter screamed after me. "My name is Caroline, MACKENZIE, and I hate you for being like this to me. I hate you for doing this to me…I hate you."
I wanted to slap her for screaming at me like this, for screaming at me exactly in this way, even those exact words, nearly every day for the past several months. I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her until maybe some sort of sense or logic or truthfulness would rattle through her brain, and maybe she would finally see things clearly. I wanted to tell her how many hours had gone into choosing the name she had rejected, all the history and context that went behind it, how in rejecting her name, she was rejecting her ancestor, my mother, who would have loved her with all her heart if she had only managed to live to see her born. I wanted to tell her that I loved her too, that no matter how much she hated me, I always would.
I wanted to say so much to her. But all I could do to maintain any level of control over the situation was to turn and walk out the room, shutting the door behind me.