June 9, 2012
By , lake in the hills, IL
November 1, 2011

Sweat pooled on the palms of my hands as I nervously glanced around the room. I could feel my stomach knotting as I rubbed the sweat across the front of my coat. Formal events were never comfortable situations for me, and this one was especially awkward. I ran my fingers through my silvered hair, hanging my hand on the nape of my neck.

The hallway was filled with the sound of hushed whispers coming from the other room. Soft music played in the background, only enjoyed by those who had no other company. Pacing the floor, I passed large arrangements of purple flowers. Their floral scent reminded me of her.

“She always liked purple,” I thought silently to myself.

A party of women fussed over one another, their long flowing dresses swayed with each rushed movement. Their buzzing activity adding to my growing anxieties. I brushed my palms against my suit again.

“Oh, she’s a lucky girl!” I heard one of the women squeal, spreading her plump red lips into a smile.

“How do you think Jack is handling all of this?” another one asked, “do you think he’s okay?”
“Why wouldn’t he? This is the happiest day of her life, Sarah, not her funeral!” someone else responded.

I rolled my eyes and walked away from them. What did they know anyway? I passed a mirror and caught my reflection. I fidgeted nervously with the knot of my tie, adjusting it across my collar. I was so distracted that I almost missed her descending from the stairs. From the reflection of a mirror I could see her hand brushing against the banister slowly sliding until her entire figure could be seen. I swung around to face the stairs.

The women rushed to her side correcting every small detail. They fawned over her, tears welling in some eyes, others laughing from joy. Her bright eyes danced as she accepted the endless compliments. She brushed her blonde curls away from her face as she pulled away from the pack of women.

“Ready?” she asked, grabbing my arm and wrapping it around hers.
April 12, 1984

“Ready?” I gasped, “what do you mean ready?”

“I mean its time. We need to get to the hospital now!” she screamed.

Her hair was matted with sweat; her eyes were squeezed tightly as she moaned in pain. One hand clutched her stomach as the other gripped the back of the sofa.

“Hurry!” she yelled.

I scrambled around, searching for the keys to the car.

“Jack!” she bellowed.

“Where are the keys?” I screamed back.

I spotted them on the kitchen counter.

“Never mind!” I shouted before she could answer.

I traveled back to where she was standing.

“Get the bag,” she said through staggered breaths.
January 21, 1986

“Where is it?” I asked Ben as he navigated through the L.A. streets. Ben was a long-time friend who offered to take me to see houses that he was currently showing.

“Not too far from here. It’s nothing great but it’s in your price range.” He said peering at the upcoming street sign.

“That’s all I need.” I responded, “Thanks again for doing this buddy.”

“No problem, ah, here we are.” Ben said pulling into a small parking lot.

I unbuckled and opened up the passenger’s door. I glanced around, trying to get familiar with the scenery before I opened the back door and unbuckled Gracie. I held her tightly as she placed her head on my shoulder.

“Somebody’s sleepy.” I said.

Ben played with his key ring for a moment before he found the right key. They jingled together as they hit the face of the door.

“It’s on the first floor, end of the hallway.” He said, taking us through the tight apartment entry.

He opened up to a tiny one bedroom apartment, everything was compacted and narrow. There was hardly any room to breathe. A table and chairs had been pushed in the corner near a window. The kitchen consisted of barely anything, just an oven, refrigerator and sink. A pull out couch and a television set took up the majority of whatever space was left. The walls were covered in strips of sunshine yellow wallpaper, which peeled at the top corners.

“I know it’s not much,” Ben started to say.

“No, no, its fine. It’s just one step ahead Ben,” I cut him off, “that’s something.”

“You’re right,” Ben smiled.
April 12, 1984

“Of course I’m right!” she yelled from the passenger’s seat.

My nervousness had caused me to absent-mindedly take a wrong turn on the way to the hospital. The L.A. traffic jammed every street corner with no alternative routes. I weaved in and out of the slim streets, trying to find the quickest route to the hospital.

Grace was born less than half an hour after we made it to the hospital. The doctors took Madeline away so fast; it was hard to catch up. Everything was moving in a blur. Doctors and nurses raced in and out of the room, machines and medical instruments passed from hand to hand, Madeline was screaming, the doctors were yelling directions and then…the cry of a newborn. As soon as she came out I was mesmerized. This tiny wonder had been built from seemingly nothing and she was ours.

“Here ya’ go Daddy,” A nurse said as she passed the tiny wonder into my arms.

I starred at little Grace’s face. She was perfect, everything about her was beautiful. Her mouth was stretched open as she screamed continuously; her round eyes tightly shut to the world, her small nose wrinkling as she exercised her lungs.

“Sir, we need to take her now,” A doctor said with outstretched hands.

“No, No, No!” I stammered unwilling to let go.

“She will be right back, I promise,” she said smiling.
May 17, 1986

“Do you know exactly how long it will be until she gets back?” I asked through the window.

“Nah,” the receptionist answered as she snapped her gum.

She wasn’t much older than twenty. Her hair was pulled and tied with a scrunches that bobbed every time she turned her head. I noticed her face was coated with thick makeup as I watcher her throw my application on top of a thick stack on her desktop.

“Alright, thanks for your help,” I told her as I headed out the door.

“Yeah,” she said with another pop of her gum.

I had been working two jobs just to keep up with the bills from lawyers and to keep the rundown apartment. I needed to pick up one more, but the hunt had been unsuccessful. I passed the liquor store across the street from my building. Girls crowded around, wearing their short shorts, with bleached hair and orange skin. They throw their heads back, as they gulp down the toxic liquid. I bumped into one woman interrupting my thoughts. She was bent over, tying her Nikes.

“Sorry,” I said as I continued to walk.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said as she ran passed me towards the boardwalk.

The divorce had been hard; there wasn’t much to gain from it. In fact, there was nothing. No money. No house. No car. Everything was gone, worthless or broken down. The only thing worth fighting for was Grace, and that was hardly a battle at all. For everything else Madeline wanted, she could care less about her own flesh and blood.

She had a good job, solid friends, Gracie and I, but i guess that wasn’t enough. She had something growing inside her, some compelling sickness that took over, changing her into a monster. She turned to alternate sources to find an escape from the world. She wasn’t my Madeline anymore. She lost her job, her perspective, the sight of what was important. I worked with her parents to try to get her help, but she didn’t want it. She didn’t want to change.

I woke up one morning to a note on the pillow next to me, sealed in envelope addressed to Gracie and me. She wrote that she needed to get out of this transparent life, we weren’t enough. She was moving across the country to New York.

I finally reached my building and jerked the door open and took the familiar stair up to my apartment. Gracie was curled up on the couch next to her babysitter. Her wide, green eyes were glued to the pictures of her favorite storybook. I shut the door and her eyes immediately turned towards me.

“Daddy!” she yelled.

She ran up to me and squeezed my leg.

“What are you up to, Gracie girl?” I asked

“Vanessa’s reading me stories.” She said.

“Any good ones?” I asked her.

She paused for a moment, thinking over her answer. I watched her face scrunch up as she thought about the books that had been read to her.

“Lots about Elmo.” She finally said.

I paid Vanessa and waited patiently as she gathered her stuff and said goodbye to Gracie.

“Thanks, Vanessa.” I told her as I opened the door for her to leave.

“You’re welcome, Jack. See you two tomorrow.” She answered.

As soon as the door shut Gracie became wild with excitement.

“Daddy, I was a good girl today!” she exclaimed as she followed me into the kitchen area.

“Oh yeah,” I said to her as I rummaged through the mail.

“I even ate all my vegetables for lunch.” She said matter of fact tone.

“That’s my little girl!” I said reaching down to pick her up.
September 13, 1998

“I am not a little girl, Dad, I can choose these things on my own,” Grace sneered.

Her face was red, her eyes puffed with tears. Her teeth were pressed together. Her eyes glared sharply at mine.

“Grace, I’m not letting you go to that party and that’s final.” I shouted back.

I felt my own temper rising, my face became heated. The air was filled thick with the growing tension between us.

“I hate you!” she screamed.

She stomped to her room and slammed the door.
March 18, 1989

Bam! Everyone looked up at me, bending their necks to see to the back of the room. I had forgotten to hold the door until it shut, causing a loud disruption. The preschool program had already started. The entire class full of five year olds filled the congested stage, dressed in giant costumes that swallowed their tiny bodies. Gracie stood in the center, smiling widely as she saw me take my seat.

The preschoolers sang several off key, disconnected and off tempo medleys about the heroes in their communities. The teacher, a thin, tall lady, stood in front of the stage directing them. The teacher then climbed the stairs and grabbed one of the student’s hands and led him up to the microphone stand. The chubby boy stood at the podium. He wasn’t much taller than Gracie. He breathed into the microphone as he waited for the teacher to whisper his lines in his ear.

“My hero,” he waited for the next line, “Is a fire fighter because…”

He looked at his teacher with disagreement on whatever the next line was. They whispered back and forth for a moment.

“They are awesome,” he finally settled on.

He smiled, his cheeks rising on both sides of his face. Parents clapped, video cameras zoomed in, cameras flashed, and then it was Gracie’s turn. She gave her classmate a high five as they switched spots on the stage. Grace stood on the stool, standing on her tip toes to reach the microphone.

“My hero,” she smiled waiting for her teacher to whisper her next line, “Is my daddy because… I love him.”

Tears welled in my eyes…
June 5, 2000

…I stood up to clap, along with the rest of the parents. The sky filled with blue and yellow caps as the graduating class of 2000 was announced.

The grounds exploded as everyone scurried to find friends and family to share the special moment with. I stood back, waiting as Grace took several photos with friends. She finally spotted me after finishing with her friends. She wrapped her arms around me and squeezed.

“I’m proud of you Gracie, so proud of you,” I said in broken fragments, fighting back my tears.

“I know Dad,” she said in return, “Ready to go get something to eat?”
November 1, 2011

“Ready,” I nodded.

The music started to play, and the women matched in their flowing dresses lined up in front of us. They each held their bouquets and walked slowly, in sync with one another, to the beat of the music. As we entered, arm in arm, everyone stood and turned to watch Gracie taking her first steps towards her new life. We reached the end of the aisle. Just like when she was born, I didn’t want to let her go. She turned and hugged me, her veil scratched against my cheek.

“Thank you Dad, for everything you’ve ever done for me. I love you.” She whispered.

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