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May 16, 2010
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I remember holding her when she was a pink, scrunched up newborn, watching her grow up. I remember everything. I remember every moment of my little girl's life. I know everything about her: every freckle, every strand of golden hair; every happy and angry moment and everything that makes her happy, eating popsicles in the park and playing princess. She's my little girl, my baby, and I love everything about her.

The happiest day of my life was the day she took her first breath: entered my world. She was kicking her legs and shaking her fists like a natural-born fighter, a warrior princess, but when I drew her close to me, her tiny fingers uncurled and she stilled. I knew then that there was something special between us, a connection. I held her for hours and hours, caressing her miniature face with my fingertips. I think she liked that. She reached up one teeny hand and wrapped her delicate fingers around my finger. She grasped it like it was her blankie, a thing that would keep her warm and safe, a thing that she would never let go of and take everywhere with her, but her hand slowly loosened and finally dropped as she fell asleep, still lying there in my arms.
* * * * *
She was five years old and it was time to ride a bike. She could barely rein in her energy as I drove her to the store to pick out a set of wheels and a helmet. Naturally, she gravitated towards the sparkly, pink and purple Barbie bike. The expensive one. The one I couldn’t easily afford. I tried to steer her towards a simple, orange one, but she had eyes only for the fancy thing. Just my luck. I pleaded quietly with her, trying to get her excited about a cheaper one. She wouldn’t have any of that nonsense. People looked on with stony faces and flinty eyes as she started getting whiny. My voice was quietly fierce, furious, when I told her that she’s going to take the orange one or none at all. That shut her up. She was silent, sulky, during the car ride home. I ignored her, too irritated to say a word. Luckily, when I hauled the bike from the trunk and wheeled it out onto the driveway, she got on without a fuss. She even strapped on her new helmet without complaint. At first, I grasped one handlebar and the seat behind her, guiding her as she peddled. She was as stiff as cardboard, but then she got the hang of it and relaxed. At least, I’d thought she’d had the hang of it. I had let go a few times before and let her ride all by herself like a big girl, but this time her front wheel tripped on a rock and she spilled onto the pavement before I could move an inch. It was quite a wipeout. For a moment, she just sat there, stunned. Then she started howling. She looked like a fish, mouth open, sobs bubbling from her mouth, water everywhere, and body wriggling from pain. I scurried over to her and folded her little body into my arms. I kissed her wounds as her tears turned into sniffles. I rocked her until she calmed down and asked her if she wanted to try again. She looked at the bike with huge eyes, looked back at me, and nodded. Her tiny hand slipped in mine and we took baby steps over to her bike. And she tried again. After that, she never seemed to care that she didn’t have the newest, coolest bike. In fact, she was proud of her orange racer. She thought it made her look tough. Like she was a big girl. To me, she was still a baby.
* * * * *
Seventeen. First date. She spent an hour getting ready. It was crazy; she was already beautiful. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it as we watched the boy walk up to the door. It was nice, like she got her strength through me. After doing a full-out daddy-to-possible-serial-killer interrogation, I let them go. He seemed like a fine kid: he got good grades and was the third baseman for the school’s baseball team and a starter on the basketball team. With any luck, he’ll be just as good at excelling in school and sports as he is in making my daughter happy. But we’ll see. He took her to dinner and a movie. She came home glowing and sparkled with happiness for weeks. If anything, she looked even prettier. I liked to think that my little girl would someday have her own kids, that someday she’d hold their hands when they needed strength or hope or love. When they needed someone to be patient as she taught them to ride a bike, someone to be there for their first dates. I liked to think that someday, when I’m not around, there’d be someone there to hold her hand and tell her he loved her. For now, I’m all she’s got, so I went up to her room the night of the breakup and told her just that. I told her I loved her with all my heart and that I hated seeing her so sad. I told that because it’s the truth. She’s my baby. Secretly, I was glad they broke up. I went to one of his basketball games and his free-throw average was shameful. Not only did he stink at taking the free things, he also failed to realize what a gift my beautiful, talented daughter was. Figures.
* * * * *
She’d picked a good college and was leaving me. The summer went by too fast. I drove her out to the school and helped her unpack and get settled in. Then we took a walk around the campus. She chatted about anything and everything, about how she’s going to miss the trees by our house, her friends, and our golden retriever, Bennie. I listened. To anybody else listening, she would have seemed fine, just fine, but I knew better. I knew she was going to miss me and that she was talking to keep the tears at bay because she’d grabbed my hand and was clasping it with all her might. We walked like this for an hour, but it was time for me to go and I could tell she knew that too. We walked to my Chevy, and I smiled and gave her a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. I told her she’d do great and I wasn’t worried one bit about her. She looked at me with her huge blue eyes and threw her arms around me as soft, silvery balls dribbled down her face. She told me she was going to miss me and I told her I’d miss her too. As I got into my truck she said my four favorite words: I love you, Daddy. I told her I loved her too.

* * * * *
She was getting married. I was right there with her every step of the way: helping her pick out a dress and a cake, sending out cards, and looking for the perfect place to have it. I was also spending a lot of time with her fiancé, making sure he was suitable for my baby. After seeing them together, laughing and happy, I decided he would do. Plus, he’s intellectually and musically inclined. No need to worry about crummy free-throw averages. What a relief. I straightened my tie one last time before lining up behind the bridesmaids. My daughter stepped out from her room. She was beautiful. I held out my arm for her, but she grabbed my hand instead, looked me straight in the eye, and told me she loved me. I told her I loved her too. Then I walked her down the aisle, holding her hand with all my might, memorizing the smoothness of her palm, cherishing every bit of skin that kissed mine, and delighting in the warmth and health of her grip.
* * * * *

“I love you, Rae.” My voice sounds tight, strangled. I don’t say anything else because I don’t want her to give up. I don’t want her to know her daddy’s almost giving up on her. I want her to wake up, to be okay. I want her husband to be alive. I don’t want to be the one that killed them. I don’t want to know that I had been driving, the one responsible, the one to blame. I close my eyes and I can hear her scream my name, see her body fly forward, see the ground spinning in circles around me. It’s like some cruel joke. It can’t be real. I tear my eyelids apart, my hand lunging for her body on the hospital bed, my fingers hovering above her arm, which had been sheltered in crimson blood that a nurse had carefully washed away. Parts of her palm are torn, so I bind one of her fingers in my hand instead. Around me, the beeping of machines, which had been insistent and shrill, becomes sluggish, less persistent. I search her body for some kind of movement, some shift in position. Angry claws are ripping at my throat when I see her eyelids flutter and ease open. With effort, her sky blue eyes focus on mine. She smiles and closes her eyes.

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Paradise_Lost said...
Dec. 7, 2011 at 7:42 am
So sad. But so beautiful.
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