It Wasn't Enough

March 7, 2009
By pride BRONZE, West Cheser, Ohio
pride BRONZE, West Cheser, Ohio
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Daddy, daddy. He looks up from his computer, irritated to be pulled away from his important work, deadlines that must be met and bills that must be paid. Not more important than my family, he reminds himself, but it’s the last day of the month and surely putting food on the table and paying the mortgage is more important than whatever harebrained concern his daughter has. He looks at his daughter, a sweet replica of his wife, before her eyes permanatly glazed over when the banality of suburban sprawl set in. His daughter is talking at him, he realizes, and she’s looking at him hopefully, her thin voice rising in question. No sweetie, he sighs heavily, daddy has work to do. He turns away quickly, back to his important work. He doesn’t want to see her smile fade, her dark eyes cast down. It’s like the sun going out to him; she doesn’t know this because he’s never told her. He clenches his jaw as his guilt slides into anger, as her chin hits her chest and her eyes fill. He wants to shout, don’t you make me feel guilty, don’t you know I’m putting the roof over your head, the clothes on your back, and the food in your stomach? Isn’t that enough? He quickly snatches up the phone, desparate to call anyone about anything. As the dial tone buzzes in his ear, he promises himself tomorrow, tomorrow. Next weekend. She’ll understand one day.

The next week he walks downstairs, and there she is, sitting on the couch flipping through channels. He rummages through the cabinents as she settles on a program. He opens his mouth to say, that’s for grownups, sweetie, but the words stick in his throat. He is seeing for the first time the length of his daughter’s legs, the pout of her lips, and the beginnings of curves padding her hips. It hasn’t been a week but five years, and his little girl isn’t so little. He stands there, feeling the ice cream soften against his stomach, watching her for what could have been five seconds or five minutes. She glances over and startles at his stare. What? He starts and bumbles, asking her if maybe she’d like to get out and kick the old soccer ball around. She looks at him wearily, a look he’s used to from her mother, those nights she bothers to come home at all, smelling of wine and cologne, her eyes averted. Just out with the girls. Dad, she says, her boredrom with him barely concealed, I quit soccer like, forever ago. She claims fatigue and pads up the stairs. He sits at the table with his untouched tub of ice cream. His wife comes in, her heels clicking. She picks up the ice cream and throws it away, making noises about his incompetence. They’ve had these moments so often lately they play their respective parts halfheartedly. He wants to scream at her, to elicit anything out her, anything except this indifference. I’ll be back later she mumbles as she snatches up her keys and walks out the door, her perfume wafting behind her. He doesn’t ask where she’s going on a Saturday afternoon wearing a dress and heels because as soon as they have that talk, the illusion shatters and he doesn’t know if the reality is livable.

The alarm goes off and he rolls out of bed and stumbles into the bathroom. His wife has taken to sleeping in the guest bedroom for the last five years, but he still rolls over to kiss her good morning in those hazy first moments before he’s face to face with the Siberia he sleeps next to. He switches on the florescent light, and the sags and wrinkles of his face shock him still. One moment he’s fresh from college, newly married, children still just idle talk after love, his whole life ahead of him. Fast forward to a tired, middle aged man with gray hair and a paunch, a daughter who only talks to him to beg for money and rides, and a wife who tolerates him in between lovers. He feels small and lonely in his own home, the home he built with his important work, the important work that filled his days while his wife slipped away and his daughter grew up. He dresses and heads downstairs where his daughter is sipping coffee and waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up for school. Good morning, he says, giving her a smile that’s more like a grimace. She grunts back at him, and flips the page of her textbook. Anything big going at school today? She pauses long enough to convey the disturbance he is causing and sighs it’s just school, dad. A car horn beeps outside and she snatches out her backpack and hurries out the door without a goodbye. He stands forlornly in the kitchen, holding an empty coffee cup. He knows how to fill it and get his morning going, but he doesn’t know how to fill the gap with his daughter, how to mend the bridges that were burned or maybe never forged at all.

More time passes and the house is empty. It’s just him and heavy silence, and of course his important work, the work that’s sending his daughter to an expensive out of state college. He recalls last weeks awkward visit, he and his wife, long gone, standing awkwardly in his daughter’s cramped dorm room, trying to ignore the fact that she’s hung over, the bathroom smells of vomit, the hickey decorating her neck,and most importantly none of them really want to be there. He saw his ex wife for the first time in two years. She looks haggard and won’t make eye contact with him. He’s staring at his computer, wondering how this ever consumed him with such passion and zeal he forgot what life was really about. The phone rings, and he snatches it up, grateful someone’s calling. He can go days with out hearing another person’s voice now that he’s semi retired, working from home. It’s her giving the obligatory weekly call, updating him in a bored monotone of classes, grades, papers. It’s the Parent life, the one she can tell them about, the one she uses to hide her real one, full of nightly parties in a dark dorm room, shots of tequila, and boys whispering sweet nothings in her ear. He listens eagerly, gobbling it all up. Oh, she says straining to stay casual, I switched to a theater major. He takes the phone away from his ear. His brilliant daughter, from pre law to theater? What? I don’t feel passionate about the law, I feel passionate about theater. He recalls the school plays he never went to, the scripts laying around he never picked up, but quickly squetches it. I didn’t work and sacrifice all those years so you could piss away your time in college with a useless degree! He shouts. Absolutly not. You switch to a practical major or the checks are going to stop coming. She screams in the phone, you don’t know me, you never did. You don’t care about me as a person, just as an investment. He wants to yell at her, I do care about you! I might be a minor character in your life, but you’re the star of mine. I don’t want you to make the mistakes I did, to study what you love and take that first job just to hold you over until you find something better and to still be there twenty years later! What comes out is I have given you everything, everything you ever asked for, all the things I never had, isn’t that enough? No, she shouts, it isn’t! She begs and cries and finally slams down the phone. The next day she leaves a message informing him of her switch back into the law program. She pragmatically tells him she hates him and never wants to speak to him again. Click. He stares at the blinking red light, wanting to call her and tell her he doesn’t want her to end up like him, in his fifties and coming to the realization his life was over before it even got a chance to begin. He thinks of all the words he should have spoken over the years, and wonders if they can make a rope long enough to reach her.

It’s Christmas eve, and he’s alone on the freezing night, trying to decorate the tree. His hands shake and his rheumy eyes can barely make out the branches. He only decorates the bottom half of the tree because that’s all he can reach from his wheelchair. It’s Christmas Eve and he’s all alone. His pitiful excuse for a tree done, his daughter out of college and law school, the house paid off, he has no work to fill his long and lonely days. He sits quietly and looks at the tree, remember his daughter, tiny enough to lift to place the angel on top of the tree. This year he open the box and the angel was smashed into pieces. His daughter and her husband are coming in the morning, splitting the day between him, her mother and her new husband, and his parents. Looking for a way to fill the time before he nods off, he wheels into the living room and painstakingly shoves a VCR into the TV. It’s a video he took of Christmas morning, when his daughter was a toddler. The video is shaky and low quality, but the sound of his daughters delighted shriek and the sight of his wife, young, beautiful and radiant, smiling, kissing their daughter’s dark hair makes it better than any award winning film to him. He finally allows himself to embrace the age old rhetoric of the passage of time, and allows nostalgia to slip on him like a quilt. He can’t reconcile the sweet toddler with the icy young woman who asked her stepfather to walk her down the aisle. He felt a part of himself, the part that wiped runny noses and drove to kindergarten, the part that made him a father, die that day. Tears drip down his ruined face until he can’t take it anymore and turns it off, the heartbreaking silence louder than anything he’s ever known. He has no one to blame but himself; the important work got done, the big house paid for, the lifestyle he dreamed of. But what, he forces himself to ask, do I have to show for it? The big house is too big for one old man, the lifestyle barren and empty. What I wouldn’t give he thinks before slipping into sleep in his wheelchair, in front of the blue glow of the television. He startles suddenly at the sound of the door swinging open. His daughter calls out Dad? Sunlight streams in and his pathetic Christmas display looks even worse in daylight. She walks in and hugs him stiffly. Her husband smiles awkwardly. They open gifts and make small talk. His daughter looks at the TV and asks what he was watching to fill the silence. He says, oh just some old videos. She hits play and sees her own cherubic face, gleeful, her parents, so happy and alive. She is filled with anger and resentment. Where, she thinks to herself, where were those people, my entire childhood? All she can remember is a house full of ghosts, tiptoeing around each other. She looks over and her father, and almost jumps out of her skin when she sees the tears slipping down his cheeks. She makes a show of looking at her watch and grabbing her bag, talking to loud and too fast about making it to her mother’s for lunch. Her father reaches out for a hug,but her throat is tightening and her eyes filling and she pretends not to see. She rushes out the door and her husband trails, making awkward excuses. She makes the mistake of glancing back through the window as she dashes toward the car, and the sight of her father, with his eyes glued hungrily to the screen , fills her with more rage than heartbreak. She slams he car door, and her husband reaches for her. Are you alright? NO. she screams, her voice breaking. NO, IT’S NOT ALRIGHT. WHY DIDN’T THAT CRUMMY BASTARD SHOW EVEN A FRACTION OF THAT ATTENTION WHEN I WAS GROWING UP? She starts to sob harder, and chokes out, he never cared about me. He never paid me any attention. I felt more like an investment than a child. She presses her face to his chest and cries and cries and cries, torn between grief and belligerence. Father and daughter mourn the ravages of time in their own separate orbs, unable to cross the chasm of words unspoken, weathered for too many years. It wasn’t enough, she whispers to her husband. The school and the clothes and the security, it wasn’t enough. Her father sits in the living room, looking back on the years, remembering that day in the office, and finally answering the question. No. It wasn’t enough.

The beeping a heart monitor is the only sound in the empty room, the smell of urine and medication penetrating everything. He’s lying in bed at a nursing home, the best money can buy. A game show blares from the TV and an IV drips nourishment into his arm and a catheter takes it back out. Suddenly his daughter, six again, comes dashing in the door. He blinks quickly and reaches for her, thanking God over and over for answering his prayers and giving him a second chance, even if it’s only for one minute. Grandpa! Squeals the little girl, looking so much like her mother and grandmother, who died five years ago. Disapointment hits him in the gut, taking his breath away. His daughter trails behind, talking into a cell phone. Her dark hair is streaked with grey and her face is lightly lined. She covers the phone and says hi, dad before continuing her conversation. The little girl what is her name again? Sits cross legged on his bed and begins to babble about the first grade. He soaks it in, makes himself listen to every word. His daughter continues to murmer into the phone and places some flowers next to his bed. She learns down and gives him a quick peck on the cheek. The little girl tugs at her sleeve until she covers the phone and snaps at her to stop bothering mommy. She digs in her purse and comes up with a dollar, pressing it into her daughter’s hand and telling her to go find a candy machine. Her daughter slips off the bed and shuffles away. His daughter says her goodbyes and hangs up. Father and daughter eye each other distrustfully. They haven’t really spoken since that Christmas, and the words aren’t coming. He opens his mouth to speak when her phone rings. She holds up a finger and answers it. Her daughter comes back it, triumphetly holding a candy bar and says, Mommy, guess what? Her mother holds up a hand to silence her and continues to talk. What are you doing? He almost shouts at her. Your daughter is growing up every second you ignore her. You used to say you wanted to be like me when you grow up, and that’s always been my biggest fear! The girl rips open her candy , puts on a brave smile and offers him some. He accepts it, even though he’s only supposed to eat soft foods, and prods her with questions about school, and ballet. Sometimes she says indigently, grandpa, you just asked me that! His daughter finally hangs up the phone and hints they should get going. The little one hugs him and runs out the door, and his daughter licks her lips, swallows, and asks if he’s happy, if he needs anything. He knows she’s asking out of obligation, so he answers with his own obligation. Sure and nope, not a thing. She turns to leave, and when she is halfway to the door, he swallows hard and says roughly, I know now it wasn’t enough. She turns around slowly and asks what he means. The money, the nice things, the vacations, the toys, he says. I always thought that was what it was all about. It wasn’t, she says, it never was. I wouldn’t have cared if we lived in a box. He says I wish I could have done better for you. She shrugs. Too late now. No, it isn’t. Not for your daughter. Appreciate every day, because it goes by faster than you would think, and soon you’ll be shocked at how quickly the story is over. She looks at him like she’s really seeing him for the first time. She takes a few steps closer and for the first time in over two decades, says, I love you. He says I love you too, I always have. I know it isn’t enough to fix things for us, but it isn’t too late for you. She nods, comes closer yet, and hugs him, tenativly at first, but then a little harder. I wish we had more time. His thin arms encircle her and he says a thousand years wouldn’t have been enough. Their tears mix as they press their faces together, the promise of youth and the wisdom of old age finally reconciled, and in that moment, it was enough.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.


MacMillan Books

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!