My daughter, the ballerina, has a mane, thick as a horse’s, and bronze from two weeks ago, when she dyed it. It’s impossible to get the whole thing in your hands. Delicate flyaway strands escape my fingers.
She sits on a stool I have wedged in the bathroom. A ray of sun lights up the bronze strands like fire. Truthfully, I prefer her hair loose and free and black, the way she was born, but today I will braid it and wrap it in a bun.
I haven’t braided my own hair since I was a dancer. She regards me as though that were a hundred years ago. I pull one section of her hair over, then another. Left and then right, three parts equal.
That’s what she wants, three parts—a father, me, and the ballerina. But his promises were as weightless as I used to feel. My feet are heavy now. She will forgive me for having just myself to offer.
I will fix everything. It will be just as it was with me and my mother, who had magical fingers that ran through my hair and tugged at my temples. I can feel in my fingertips it will be all right.
When the braid is finished, I wrap it tightly around her head. It will be perfect, and no one will be able to say otherwise. Not the girl at school who called her a showoff, or the boy who said he prefers blondes. Not her dance teacher, who called her too tall.
When I was a dancer, and my teacher told me to slim down, I didn’t say a word. But my daughter is tougher and fiercer than I was, with eyes of black rock.
I wasn’t strong, but I danced as long as I could, even after high school, after my pudge turned into a lump on my belly, after the other girls pointed out I didn’t have a ring on my finger, after “fat” was the kindest thing they had called me. It was a small town then too.
The bronze will grow out. Already, I see a sliver of black coming in at the roots.
They will not tell her who she must be. They will not touch her. She will fly away, high, over all of them. I will not hold her down. I will make her understand she never held me down either, that even now, in my heavy black shoes, I feel as though I might lift off the ground with her.
I can see a time far ahead when she will stop dancing, too, but she will never forget the feeling. Even after she has a bump of her own, or later, when her legs are swollen and etched with veins, even then, the muscle memory will remain, and she will remember exactly what it is to lift off the ground and take flight.