Michelle was almost thirteen years old, and though we occasionally talked on the phone -- not that there was anything much to say, she still hated my guts and I could understand that -- we hadn't seen each other for nearly four years. I decided it was time to visit my daughter in the hospital that we had sent her to when she was nine years old.
She was in her bedroom when I arrived, writing a letter -- or so I was told. Asking me to wait in the waiting room, one of the nurses disappeared upstairs to fetch her. "Michelle?" I heard her say. "You've got a visitor. Hurry up and come down."
I could picture her confusion. She hadn't had a visitor since the Christmas before last, when one of her cousins decided she might like to be cheered up. That had not gone down well. "I'm just coming," she responded from somewhere above me.
About three minutes later I saw her coming down the stairs. She had changed a lot. Michelle's hair was much longer, almost elbow length. Her brown eyes were dark and the pupils wide, her skin pale. She was much taller, too, and her figure leaned towards that of a woman rather than a girl. In her hand was a letter, sealed and addressed.
"Oh. It's you." Her less-than-enthusiastic greeting was all the confirmation I needed of the fact that she still hadn't forgiven me. "I guess I can give you my letter in person, then."
She handed me the envelope, and I opened it. There was only a single sheet of paper inside, but the words on the paper were black and spiky, filled with bitterness and pain: words that read like a suicide note, and yet carried on through the years as their writer continued with her miserable existence.
I felt everything I had been preparing to say fall away like leaves in autumn. There was no fight left in me; the words were tearing me apart, their hate and anger leaving great wounds in my mind. "Oh, Shelley, if you only knew..."
But I could only watch as she turned around and walked out of the waiting room -- walked out of my life.