Half Wish

July 1, 2008
Rose lay on her bed and listened to the wind howling outside. When she was younger she thought the wind sounded like someone lost and on the nights the wind was the worst, she curled up with her father until it was time for bed. But now she was older. She didn’t believe that story anymore, but sometimes she still wanted to snuggle with her father. But she only half wished that.
Dana always said half wishes were the worst. When you thought you wanted something, but you really didn’t. Or even worse—when you sometimes wanted something and sometimes didn’t. Half wishes were like dreams that were hard to remember when you woke up.

Rose’s father moved away half a year ago. Since then, the half year had been like a half wish. Every day passed like a cloud in the sky. Rose watched each one go by wistfully.
Sometimes Rose cried for her father, and sometimes she hated him for leaving her. But all the time she missed him, one way or another.
Her mother spent more and more time in the basement, using the computer or sewing. Once Rose ventured down there and saw her mother staring at the blank computer screen.

It was almost Rose’s birthday. As she lay in her bed she looked around her room. Last year Daddy had given her a painting set, and the year before that a comforter for her bed. Mom always gave Rose more educational presents. Last year she gave Rose a globe. Rose couldn’t remember a time when her parents had bought a present for Rose together. The cards were always addressed to “Rose” from “Mom” or “Daddy”. When Rose was little she always went with her mother to buy a present for Daddy, and vise versa, but lately she had gone alone. It hadn’t been really fun to do things that involved both her mother and father at once.
And now Daddy was missing Rose’s birthday. Rose’s twelfth birthday was in five days. For once, Rose wasn’t looking forward to her birthday. It would probably be a half wish birthday. Mom would probably only be there halfway. Her mother was only there halfway a lot these days. Daddy wouldn’t be there at all. And worst of all, the wish would be a half wish. Everything these days was a half wish.

If Rose tried hard enough she could look back far into her childhood. She could watch her parents hugging, and feel both of them on either side of her, at once. But even that was a half wish, because when she opened her eyes again she was eleven, turning twelve in five days, and not looking forward to it at all. Not one bit.

Rose couldn’t see into her future at all, of course. It just lay ahead of her, somewhere in the hazy darkness.

Rose felt like a half wish. She was half in her childhood, half in her future, but stuck between both. She wanted her mother, and she wanted her father, but for some reason she couldn’t have them at the same time.
So Rose lay on her bed, listening to the wind lament, and remembering times when her father could chase this all away with a hug.

On Rose’s birthday morning, she woke up to a familiar smell. Had her mother actually baked a cake for her this year, instead of buying one? Rose wanted to believe that, but she took her time putting on slippers and walking downstairs. Rose had learned not to expect too much.
“Happy birthday, Rose!” her mother sang, standing behind a beautiful cake. Twelve candles were stationed in a circle around the outside, and one taller on the inside.
“My last year of being a child,” said Rose.
“But also your first year of being a teenager. That’s what is so special about being twelve,” said Rose’s mother. “It’s both at once.”
“It feels more like only half of each, at once,” said Rose. Her mother just looked at her.
“Dana will be here in a few minutes,” she said. “You should get dressed.”
“Right.” Rose went upstairs and put on her favorite shirt—a blue tee shirt her father had given her before he left. It was a little small, but comfortably worn.
“That shirt?” Rose’s mother said when Rose came down again. Rose could tell she was thinking of Rose’s dad because of the way she pursed her lips. “Oh well, it doesn’t matter. Anyway, Dana’s here!” Rose’s mother let Dana in and Dana gave Rose a hug.
“Happy birthday. Oh—here’s your present.”
In the living room Rose sat on her father’s old favorite chair. She opened Dana’s present—it was a pair of earrings-- and her mother’s present—it was two novels—and finally her father’s present. She opened this one very slowly to savor it, and very carefully, as if it might break into a million pieces.
“Come on, Rose,” urged Dana. Rose slipped her finger under the last piece of tape. She suddenly looked up and saw that her mother wasn’t there.
“Mom?” Rose’s mother appeared at the door and gave Rose a halfhearted smile.
“Open your present, honey. It’s almost time for the cake.” Rose peeled away the wrapping paper and pulled out a picture. Stuck in the frame were two twenty dollar bills, but Rose put those on the chair and looked at the picture. It was a photograph of her and her father at a baseball game. It was the last trip she and her father had taken together, and he had someone take a picture of them. It wasn’t a good picture because the light was odd and Rose’s father wasn’t looking at the camera, but at her, but her father had it developed professionally. Rose held the picture tightly as if it might suddenly fly away.
“Rose? Are you alright?” asked Dana. Rose wiped her eyes.
“Of course,” she said. “Let’s go have some cake.” But before she left the room, Rose looked back at the money, the picture and the wrapping paper on her father’s chair, and forward at her mother and Dana, holding the cake and waiting for her. She stood in the doorway, a half wish once again, and tried not to cry.
“Come on and make your wish,” said her mother. Rose sat down and looked at all those candles. Each candle was a year of her childhood, and the one in the middle was a year of her future.
“What should I wish for?” asked Rose. For some reason, she couldn’t think of a whole wish at all. Everything had been so half these days that nothing wasn’t anymore. And Rose couldn’t wish a half wish for her birthday.
Suddenly three things happened.
Rose knew that blowing the candles out meant blowing away her childhood.
Everything seemed very only half there, and it was frightening.
Rose was crying.
Rose’s mother immediately came around the table and was hugging Rose.

“Rose, honey, what’s wrong?” she asked. She and Dana had to wait until Rose had finished crying, had carefully dried her eyes, until she could begin explaining. But when she did, she explained everything, not just half.

“Rose, you father is a very nice man,” said Rose’s mother, and through her tears Rose could tell it was hard for her to say this. “But he’s gone, and he’s not coming back. I think you just have to let this all go.”

“Rose, you can’t go back to when you were a kid,” said Dana. “Anyway, you can still go on ahead but take your father with you. You don’t have to go back to do that.”

So when Rose faced the candles again her mother held one hand and Dana held the other. Daddy’s picture lay on Rose’s lap. Rose looked forward to her future, not back to her childhood, and blew out the candles. She was ready to go on ahead, and everyone was coming with her. Well—that’s not true. Rose knew she would probably not see her father again, and that this was probably the last present he would send. But she still had memories, and now she didn’t have to go back to her childhood for these. She could take them with her. So with her mother on one side and her friend on the other, Rose began her future.
Years later, Rose can’t remember what she wished for. But she can remember the important part: it was a very full wish.

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