When she speaks, listen. Nod in assent, but don’t interrupt. Maintain eye contact. Try to see past the surface, but only just slightly. Only as far as she wants to be seen. When conversation lands on a topic that raises her eyebrows quizzically and lights up her whole face, count the glimmers of stardust that dance behind her eyes. She’ll ask what you’re doing when she sees the attentive look that’s scrunched up your features. Don’t respond with words; just smile, softly and knowingly. Tell her to keep talking.
Answer the phone call that comes after 1 AM. She’ll ask if she woke you. If she did, lie; the sound of her voice gives you more energy than a full night’s sleep would, anyway. Before you hang up, remind her that you’re always here, unequivocally, if she needs to talk. Suggest that she get some sleep. Smile broadly, even though she can’t see it.
Tell her the things about herself that she isn’t tired of hearing. She already knows her brows look good, she already knows that she has great taste in obscure music and classic footwear. But maybe she doesn’t know that when she unintentionally pronounces English words the way that their French cognates are supposed to be pronounced, it’s simultaneously the most beautiful and the most socio-linguistically interesting thing you’ve ever heard. Enlighten her.
Remember her coffee order, her favorite poets. Keep track of her food allergies and her little sister’s most irritating personality traits. Pepper these details into everyday life whenever you can.
Ask her about her favorite band. Make note of her stances on their best songs, their most underrated albums, the exact moment at which they started to sell out. Absorb their entire discography. Flinch at the harsh sounds—it’s an acquired taste. When she asks, say that you appreciate their artistry, but maybe it’s just not for you. She’ll laugh and recommend something a bit easier on the ears. Eagerly tell her you’ll check it out.
Start listening as soon as you get home that evening. If you hear her in the synthetic shimmers that flood your headphone-clad ears when track 3 begins, let her know.
Memorize verses from Greek tragedies and lines of dialogue from cancelled 90’s television programs. Slip quotations into unrelated conversations, weeks later, when she least expects it. Grin mischievously at her surprised amusement.
When she gets into college, don’t think about how many repetitions of “Wild Horses” could fit into a four-hundred-mile car ride. Congratulate her emphatically, ask her about residence halls and entry-level seminars. Help her pick out posters for her dorm room and listen with rapt attention as she gripes about housing forms. If you absolutely have to tell her that you’ll miss her, only do it once. Any more than that and the ties you’ve formed morph into manacles weighing her down into the past. Tell her not to be a stranger, offer her your guest bedroom if she comes back to visit. Wish her luck, and allow her to fill in the rest.
Feign stability when she leaves. Even if every cell in your body screams in protest, wave goodbye with dry eyes and a smile that’s only slightly wistful. Let her go, unburdened.