Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Girl Who Lived

In case the Minneapolis Star-Tribune goon squad shows up at my door sometime soon, I just want to make my confession now – I ghostwrote Emma’s entry in the “How Harry Potter Changed my Life” essay contest. She has already claimed her prize – two tickets to a special preview of HP Part II last night, so I’ll take my lumps without a whimper.

To be fair, I tried the aboveboard route first. When I saw the announcement of the contest in Sunday’s newspaper, I suggested to Emma that she should try writing her own thoughts for an entry. “It’s only 150 words,” I cajoled. She was unmoved, having an important announcement to post on Facebook. “Just Inhaled.” (Next post: “Just exhaled.”)

“Is it okay, then,” I asked, “If I enter FOR you, and if you win, you can keep the tickets?” Generous girl that she was, she agreed. When I asked later if she wanted to take a look at my entry, she was feeling too languid for editing. 

With the unerring luck that seems to surround every aspect of her life, she won. She went to the preview with Olivia, and she did tell me “thanks” when she got home last night.

It wasn’t hard to write the entry. Even if she doesn’t recall it now, Harry Potter did change her life when she was younger. Harry, like Emma, was an orphan. That his parents had been murdered by Lord Voldemort and hers had placed her at the local orphanage in Wuhan did not matter to her. She and Harry, they had things in common.

It’s hard to remember a time before the books were turned into a multi-media empire, but the year she was in kindergarten, it was just a story that I read to her at bedtime, unattended by actors and directors and computer games. That year, Dayton’s Department Store announced that Harry Potter would be the theme of the annual Christmas display. We made our trek downtown for Santa, dinner at the Oak Room, and the display. As we wound through the show, we were entranced with the invisibility cape and Platform 9 ¾. 

Then we rounded a corner and came to the display of Harry at the Mirror of Desire. As the little mannequin waved, his parents appeared and disappeared in the mirror. He had never been able to see James and Lilly, but, with the magic of the Mirror of Desire, he could.

Intended to be a 30-second pass through on the way to the next display (and the gift shop, of course), the Mirror of Desire became Emma’s semi-permanent home. “Time for Santa,” we could cajole, trying to pull her along, but we’d learned some time before that she was not a girl who moved when she did not want to. She remained stock still, her little face turned up, her eyes riveted.

And then I realized what she was thinking – “If I just look hard enough, stand still enough, I will be able to look into that mirror, and I will be able to see MY parents.” 

So we stayed, passed around by a stream of grannies on walkers, mommies with strollers and kids who had seen enough and were ready for Santa.

Not Emma. She knew she could see them if she just tried hard enough. 

I can’t remember how we finally got her out of there. I can’t remember how I ever got to her sleep every night, either – with Emma, the hard parts have often become a bit blurred.

After that day, I started to tell her that I believed she would meet her parents someday. I had a couple friends in the adoption community who thought I was imprudent, leading her along. But I persisted. “You never know,” I would say. “What could happen with politics, with science, with DNA. Someday, somewhere, I bet you’ll find some family. It could be one cheek swab, one web site, away.”

She’s leaving for China in two months, ready to spend a school year studying and traveling. I don’t know where she’ll go or who she’ll meet. But I think I know her well enough to know that, in every face she encounters, she’ll be wondering, “Do I belong with you?” She carries that Mirror of Desire in her heart. And I hope that, sometime in her life, she can have a chance to find some family looking back at her, from the place that’s been empty for as long as she can remember.

With a backstory like that, I figure, at least the Star-Tribune can sport for a couple of movie tickets.

Here’s the entry:
I was an orphan in China and was adopted when I was a baby.  The first book I remember having read to me was the first one in the Harry Potter series. Harry was an orphan, just like me. When he looked in the Mirror of Desire and saw his Mom and Dad, I wished that I could do the same thing as Harry. But he found lots of other people to love him and look out for him, and so have I.  Like Harry, I’ve been able to find loving friends and family who protect me and love me. It makes me sad now to realize that I’ll never be able to look in the Mirror of Desire and see my birth parents, but I’m glad that I’ve shared my struggles along the way with Harry Potter, the Boy who Lived. By Emma, The Girl Who Lived.

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