A Dark Light Named Kyra

Tonight I was waiting with some pals in a pizza parlor downtown. Waiting on a pizza, waiting for the festive parade of lights to start. Waiting for the early aches of sadness upon realizing a month from now I’ll be in New York City, waiting on something else: a train, a Seamless order, a crosswalk, a friend, or a sign.

I was, in fact, talking to my friend Brett as we hovered by the soda cooler — a slowly spinning pizza warmer clicking next to me, warming the chilled skin of my face — about my imminent move to New York, when the unmistakable voice of a child broke through from somewhere down at knee-height.

You look pretty, she beamed up at me — and I, in a state of shock and delight, beamed back down at her. She wore the smallest camel coat I’ve ever seen, with little round, black glasses on her freckled nose. She had the same brunette bob I sported at about her age, and she hummed with the energy of a flightless bird.

There were several other adults nearby, and I couldn’t immediately suss out who she was with — for the first ten minutes of our conversation, I thought the couple behind her were her parents. I looked up at them occasionally, and they smiled back. . .but then they moved on to retrieve their pizza, leaving without the child in tow. The grandmother next to them did the same. I listened intently to the child’s rapid-fire thoughts, which covered a lot of ground in the fifteen minutes or so that she spoke, her thoughts unspooling like a ball of yarn and me, in my old age, struggling to wind them back up and settle them into my lap.

Firstly, her glasses weren’t real. Upon closer inspection they were made from black pipe cleaners — by her very clever 2nd grade teacher. She was 7 years old and in the 2nd grade. She had preferred kindergarten because you could cry in kindergarten. In 2nd grade, you had to be a big kid.

I told her I was very much a big kid and I still cry. We talked about all the times we cry: when we’re hurt, when we’re sad, when we’re scared — sometimes we even cry when we’re happy.

Her name, she said, was Kyra. With a Y. Her full name — “and let me tell you. . .” she would start each new thought — was Kyra Elizabeth. Elizabeth with a Z, not an S. An important distinction. She likes it when her grandma calls her Miss Kyra, which she intoned with the same kind of affection I imagined her grandmother would use.

7-year-old Kyra-with-a-Y, Elizabeth-with-a-Z told me, in the span of a quarter hour in the middle of a crowded pizzeria on a magically festive night in a small, but well-lit, New England town everything that is important in her life:

She has three cats, one of which can climb up and down the ladder of her bunk bed. One of the cats is named Roger, and he’s very old. She also has a pet skunk and raccoon — though I question the domesticity of the raccoon, because he, by her account, has a serious penchant for getting into the trash. The skunk, however, had a somewhat amicable relationship with the cats, at least by her estimation. And she is 7 years old, of course.

She has a cousin named Mac, or Mack, I’m not sure what it’s short for. She sings the tune of Yankee Doodle to him, but saying Mackie-Doodle instead, so that when she gets to the end, she can say Mac-a-Roni, which is funny, because her cousin’s name is Mac.

Oh, and the raccoon got one of his diapers once. Presumably when it was in the trash.

She held a baby snake once and wasn’t scared, though she showed me in big, wild, waving, uninhibited theatrics what would happen if her grandmother saw a snake. Her grandmother and I share that proclivity.

She said she had a worm once, but he drowned. I assume because he had no arms with which to swim.

She told me that there was a performance of the Nutcracker this weekend, and I should go. She wasn’t in it, but her friend was. Her friend who isn’t very good about sharing her dress-up clothes. But Kyra has a blue, sparkly dress with a train that she loves — she called it “delicate”, and my heart leapt at her precocity.

Apropos of nothing — because she’s 7 and made of light — Kyra explained that she liked the taste of blood, “like plastic and pennies.” I found myself laughing so hard at this that I began to cry. Lately I’ve been crying in public a lot, and it was nice to cry for a happy reason, which if our earlier discussion had been any indication, Kyra had not much considered before. The nuances of crying come later in life, I suppose.

What struck me about her honesty was how sure of it she was, and how unapologetic. What struck me was how much it sounded like me at 7-years-old, talking to a stranger who I found compelling. She even looked like me at that age, with her big, wide, eyes, and her dark hair, and her shrill giggle, and her wiggles for arms. It was like talking to my younger self, and as she spoke to me, I felt such a strange affection for her.

We were kindred spirits for a moment in time, as the stories of her little life poured out to me, unfettered. “I’ve only had six Christmases!” she told me.

Only six! And how much life she has lived, gregariously, in the seasons before those six Christmases. The world must seem so incredible to her, every moment that passes before and through her. I could feel her mind working a million miles a minute trying to keep up.

I asked her how many Christmases she thought I’d had, how old she supposed I was. She looked at me, studied me a moment, then said with a confidence beyond this realm of life, “25.”

I knelt down so that we were eye level, feeling completely overwhelmed and mystified by how she’d gotten it precisely right. I told her as much, and asked her how she arrived at that conclusion.

She gestured up and town with her little hand, “Your amount of tall.”

By this time, our pizzas were ready and she scampered off to a nearby table, where I realized her mother was sitting alone in the corner, watching this all play out with a somewhat harried, helpless, expression. She came back a few seconds later, bounding through the people in line, and didn’t realize at first that we’d moved to the other side of it. When I tapped her shoulder so that she’d know where we were, she turned, and I can’t remember the last time someone looked so happy to see me.

“My mom is 36,” she said.

I explained that we were on our way to have pizza and watch the parade of lights, but that I had so enjoyed talking to her. She smiled, but with an air of disappointment.

It’s only been a couple of hours, but I know I’ve forgotten some of what she said. Which I’m sure was just a small sampling of what was actually bouncing around inside her head.

“I wasn’t done talking about things yet,” she said, but we walked back over to her mother, who looked at me apologetically — and I realized that she couldn’t have known, because adults can never know, just how much her daughter had meant to me in that fifteen minutes. That I felt such an affection for her after our little exchange that I, too, was a bit disappointed to be leaving, heading out into the darkness of the night.

“Maybe you’ll see her around town,” her mother said, settling her down at the table. I waved, and pushed out through the door into the night, suddenly hampered by sadness that in just a few weeks I’ll be leaving this little town.

The name Kyra means “little dark one,” or “little dark haired one” in Gaelic. I suppose she was both of these things, but also such a spot of light. I found myself tearing up as we crossed the street. I had that light once, too. I was once a rambunctious little girl, all arms and legs and laughter and a soaring vocabulary. I was once a dark-haired, bright-eyed storyteller who thought that strangers were beautiful, and told them so.

I’ve had 24 Christmases, and this year especially it’s felt like one too many. I began to like the taste of blood a little too much. The light inside of me burnt out like a candle flickering so brightly, and for so long, that it consumed itself.

Wiping tears from my eyes, I prayed to the lights strung up along the sidewalk and every point of light in the night sky, that Kyra-with-a-Y Elizabeth-with-a-Z never loses hers.

Abby Norman is a writer. She’s currently working on a memoir for Nation Books. Her work has been featured in The Rumpus, The Establishment, Atlas Obscura, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen Magazine, The Independent, Quartz, Bustleand others. She lives in New England with her dog, Whimsy, and wishes Gilda Radner would haunt her apartment. She’s represented by Tisse Takagi in New York City.

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