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Just a Small Town Girl
Many people I have met in my life have asked me, “How did you manage to live like that? Do you ever wish things had turned out differently? What happened?” All these questions always lead me to give a long explanation of my life, which I hate doing because it depresses me. I don’t really like thinking about my past much because I pity my younger self, but it’s something that reminds me of how strong it made me as I was entering into adulthood. I grew up as a kid who lost two important things in her life, but while doing so, I remained true to myself with the help of my father and the memory of my mother.
I was three years old when I lost my mother to breast cancer. Though I don’t have too many memories of her, the stories my father used to tell me about her make me miss her so much. Her name was Laure; she was beautiful and had long blonde hair that shone brightly like the sun. He compared her to chocolate when he said she was one of the sweetest people on Earth and she was also charitable. Around Christmas time, my dad never failed to remind me that before I was born, my mother helped the poor and the homeless at our local soup kitchen until she became ill.
You see, she had a tumor on her breast and, though it was found early, it spread quickly. The doctors did get rid of the cancer, but it came back when I was two years old. She was taken to the hospital and underwent a very strong treatment that turned her normally rosy cheeks pale. Her beautiful long, blonde hair turned flat and lifeless and eventually fell out.
I remember asking my father, “Why is Mommy losing all her hair?”
With a trembling voice, he said that she was just getting rid of it, so that more beautiful hair could grow. I was too young to understand what was going on, but I did sense that something was wrong with Mom.
A few months later Daddy and I stopped visiting mom, and when I asked him why, he simply said, “mommy has taken an eternal beauty nap, and we won’t be seeing her for a while.” I never forgot how lonely his eyes looked when he said that. With time I realized what that “eternal beauty nap” really was.
Growing up as a motherless kid in New Jersey was horrible. Each year in elementary school, the students made Mother’s Day cards for their moms, and I had no one to make one for. It always upset me seeing everyone give their cards to their mom at the end of the school day. At home, I had no one to teach me how to play dolls; no one to sing me a pretty lullaby at night before I went to bed. I was jealous of the girls who went to the mall with their mothers and bought something pretty with them. They brought their things to school and showed them off. I hated it; it made me feel lonely.
My father took care of me, keeping a close eye on me. He was always so thoughtful and caring, and he didn’t want to lose the only thing that reminded him of my mother. Whenever I was upset due to getting in a fight with a friend, or getting a bad grade on a test, he would come into my room with a cup of hot chocolate and made my day better.
“I know you like the bunny marshmallows!” he would say; he was right, I did. Though he did not know how to give me advice, this was his way of showing me that he cared about my problems, and that always made me feel better. During thunderstorms he would stay in my room all night to tell me stories and keep my thoughts away from the loud bang of the thunder. He was the best story-teller I ever met. Most of all, I loved the story of the Princess and the Prince:
She was a beautiful princess with long blonde hair that dropped to the floor, and he was a handsome prince who won her heart with his horse-back riding skills. They were madly in love… they married and had a little girl named Lori. He became king, she became king, Lori became princess, and they lived happily ever after.
He always brought me a treat from his office every Friday: a piece of chocolate, some candy, or a pretty pen. Every now and then, I could tell he had thoughts of whether he was a good father or not because he didn’t know how to raise a girl on his own, but I always reassured him he was a great dad.
As a child, I wanted my dad to teach me everything he knew, so he did. My dad took me fishing with him and to football games. He tried to teach me girly games but, of course, failed miserably because he knew none. I was becoming somewhat of a tomboy and the girls at school made fun of me for it.
“You look like a boy! You are not a girl, ha ha ha!” They pointed their fingers at me and mocked me during recess, while wearing their dresses and holding their Barbie dolls. But I didn’t care because my dad was teaching me things, which made me happy. I’d always tell myself they were jealous of my new skills.
Years passed, and I was beginning to change from a child to a teenage girl. Many girls lose their relationship with their fathers when they start to mature physically, but I didn’t. My father and I stayed very close and had a great relationship, almost like best friends. The only thing that changed was that I began to act like a girl. I wore make up, got rid of my messy jeans, and began wearing mini-skirts and tanks tops. There were times where I went through a break up, or fought with a friend, but now, dad couldn’t really help. Unlike my childhood problems, these were harder to fix, and the only way he could make me feel better was by making me the hot chocolate that I remember from my childhood. It still worked.
“Kate I don’t know what to do, she’s growing up so fast… well she…. Okay, I understand. Thanks for your help,” I often overheard him say. My father always called my Aunt Kate when he needed advice on how to help me. Just like him, she was kind and helped him because she understood. Though my dad tried his best, it was time like these that I missed my mother. I hated not being able to have someone to spill my guts to, especially when none of my friends listened or understood.
I started my freshman year of high school the way I wanted to. I was making many friends and voted captain of the freshmen girls’ volleyball team. My father found a new job where he made more money. He worked in a huge building in New York City; it was in downtown Manhattan. I was so happy for him, and he was happy for me.
School went by fast. I was half way done with high school and couldn’t be more proud of my accomplishments. I had a 3.7 GPA, and I had many friends. Most importantly, I had my father’s support for everything; he always tried to help me when I struggled in school. I was so happy I had him as a father.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I was busy with college research and work. I wanted to earn money for college, so I worked at a local restaurant as a waitress. Dad and I didn’t talk much anymore because he was busy, and so was I. Now and then we caught up with things, but there weren’t any heart-to-heart conversations. He was nothing other than supportive about my work and college decisions, especially when I would come home exhausted and crashed on the couch. I soon started school and was overwhelmed with work, but I managed, thanks to my supportive father.
One fall morning in 2001, my life changed forever. For some odd reason, that morning felt different than any other morning. I ate breakfast with my father before going to school, and we had a serious conversation like we’ve never had before. Though it was short, it was unforgettable.
“You know, your morning would have been very proud of you,” he said, while drinking his morning coffee.
I quickly looked up from the chocolate chip pancakes I was eating and looked at him. He was obviously trying not to look at me to suppress tears, so I simply said, “Why do you say that, Dad?”
“Because you’re doing everything right,” he looked up. “You are trying so hard, and I know your mother is watching you with happiness, know what an intelligent woman you are turning into.” Tears filled his eyes. He quickly blinked them away as he looked down at his coffee.
I was speechless. All that came out of my mouth was, “Thanks, Dad.”
We said bye to each other as we got into our cars.
In my first period English class, I was working on a college essay assignment when the classes were interrupted by an announcement.
“Teachers and students, please pardon this interruption. I ask everyone to stop what they are doing and head into the auditorium at the end of this announcement. Please remain with your classrooms and proceed quietly. Thank You.”
We were all wondering what was happening. Like everyone else, I asked my friends if they knew what was going on, but no one did. We sat in the auditorium and waited anxiously for the news. Soon, our principal walked on stage and quieted all the anxious teenagers down. He delivered news that stupefied me.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our country is suffering,” he said. “An airplane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.” My heart stopped because my father worked in the World Trade Center. I prayed so the second tower would not be harmed because that’s the tower where my father was located. But my prayers weren’t answered.
About fifteen minutes later, our vice principal walked in to talk to our principal. He quickly whispered something to him, and we saw our principal’s eyes widen in shock. “The south tower has been hit…” he said. I felt like I was living in a nightmare.
I was frozen to my seat, and flashbacks of my childhood with my wonderful dad kept coming up. I didn’t know what to do. I kept telling myself he was alive, but deep down I knew that I was lying to myself. During the moment of silence we had in the assembly, I stood up and ran to the main office. I explained to them that my father worked in the World Trade Centre, and that I had to get home immediately to check if there was any news about him. They let me go, and I drove home at a million miles an hour, not paying attention to anything except the thought of my father.
I arrived home and flipped on the TV, and I soon had it on the news channel. Both towers had collapsed. I stood in my living room, feeling helpless, not knowing what to do. Out of instinct, I called my father’s job, but of course, the phone line was dead. I waited by the phone just in case I received a call. At around eleven the phone rang, and I swallowed hard before answering.
“Hello?” I said.
“Good morning ma’am, are you a relative of Mr. Richard Keller?”
“I’m his daughter. Is my dad ok?”
There was a short pause that seemed to be an hour long before he said, “Miss, if possible, please come to the hospital… your father is in critical condition.”
He was going to die, and I knew it. I hung up on the man, ran to my car, and tried to speed to the hospital that was fifteen minutes away. There was so much traffic, and I sat there for about an hour until I couldn’t take it anymore. I pulled my car to the side of the high way, grabbed a water bottle I found on the floor, turned the car off, and ran. The only thing I could think of is of my father and the conversation we had that morning. A series of questions ran through my mind as I waited in the traffic-packed highway, but I can’t remember any of them anymore.
The hospital looked like a living hell. People screaming, crying, yelling into phones, and broken down on chairs. All the TVs were on, each on a different news channel, replaying the towers collapsing. I shoved through the people till I arrived at the nurses’ station and asked the nurse where my father was. She directed me to his room immediately.
His face was bloody, his body was hooked up to machines, he was wearing n oxygen mask, and the heart monitor was beeping. My hand immediately covered my mouth, and tears poured down my face. My father was always a strong man who no longer looked strong, but instead weak and fragile. I went over to hug him.
“Daddy, I’m here. How are you feeling?” I said, while trying to keep my voice steady. He didn’t like it when I worried too much about him because he wanted me to think he was strong, even though I could tell he wasn’t. So I made my voice sound like everything was alright.
“Lori, I want you to know that I love you. You will always be my little girl. Stay safe, please.”
“Dad, you’re crazy. It’s going to be okay.” I didn’t know why he was telling me these things. He was obviously going to live, right? But all I could think of saying was, “I love you, too”
Suddenly, he said, “Laure, I love you,” while looking up. Then, he closed his eyes, and I heard the worse sound in the world. His heart monitor began to beep violently, and all I could do was watch and scream for a doctor. The nurses took me out of the room and made me wait outside.
The doctor then came out, and his face told me everything I needed to know. As he explained everything to me, all I could think of was how I at eighteen, I felt like an orphan.
It took me an hour to walk back to my car, in which I sat for another hour, just watching the never-ending traffic jam. I arrived home 5 hours later and flipped on the TV to my favorite TV show, to get my mind off things. Blank. I wasn’t thinking about what had just happened, nor did I watch TV. For the rest of the night, staring had become my favorite thing to do.
Later that night, I dreamed of my parents. They walked on a grassy field, hand-in-hand, and talked about the happiness that they shared. I had never seen my father so happy and so in love. They talked to me and told me how everything would turn out fine; they were watching over me and were proud of the great woman I was becoming.
Months later, I graduated high school. I remember the day of my high school graduation, thinking of all the parents that would be there crying for their kids who would be going out into the real world. I thought of how I would be the only graduate there with no parents; the only graduate who wouldn’t get a picture taken with her parents while holding her diploma and wearing her cap and gown. Before I left the house that night, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate. I opened the cupboard and found a new bag of bunny marshmallows. I took them out, poured them into my cup, and slowly sipped the drink that brought memories of my childhood. I quickly realized, that maybe, just maybe, everything might turn out fine.