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June 19, 2011
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“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”

- 1 Corinthians 13
With my limbs sprawled out around me I can feel the freshly mown grass tickling my bare legs. The smell of new summer fills the air and my head is turned to the sky in utter amazement. How could something so usual look like such a fantasy? I point up at a cloud above. “Daddy!” I say with a laugh that still carries the innocence and care-free tone of a child. “Look, that one there!” I exclaim. “That’s a T-Rex? You see? Right there?”

My fingers trace the outline of the cloud in the air. “I sure do, Chug-a-Bug,” my father smiles. In retrospect I know that he probably didn’t see it. But all the same, childhood Jessica is proud of herself for discovering such a rare find. I move over closer to him and rest my head on his chest. At that moment nothing could touch me. Even now when I am feeling unloved or attacked by the outside world, I close my eyes and remember this: my father’s loving arms embracing me in the backyard of the house that shaped my adolescence.

“Did you know?” I begin to ask him, wanting to impress him with the facts I was learning from school. “That the T-Rex’s full name is actually the Tyrannosaurus Rex?” I pronounce the name wrong but all the same, I hope that he is proud. “And they are super big but have little brains and arms?” I don’t notice that he smiles at my obvious observations.

“Wow sis,” he says, humoring me for a moment. “That is really cool,” he kisses my forehead.
I rest my head on my dad’s chest. We are dancing around the living room, my feet not even touching the ground. He is teaching me how to dance, at least, the best he knows how. I feel like I am flying. I throw my head back and laugh. I see his smile back at mine and I know that he is happy, too. My hands barely fit in his but I feel like the most grown-up woman on the planet. He changes the tape in the cassette player. I know what’s coming.

“Daddy! Coyote!” I shriek. He doesn’t respond, he simply presses play and turns up the volume. When the chorus begins he takes my tiny hands in his and lifts me off the ground to spin me in circles by my wrists. I am a bird. I am a plane. I am the happiest child on earth.
It’s my first last night in my house before I move to a new town. I know that there are good reasons why I have to leave, and in my own ways I am excited to go somewhere new. But, in this moment all I can think about is leaving my daddy. He comes in to tuck me in goodnight. I wonder if he is holding back tears just like I am. I wonder if he is ready to say goodbye. I wonder if he can say something to let me stay. He looks down at me and simply says, “Triple tuck, right?”

I nod. He then fixes the blankets around me to form a cocoon of protection and warmth around me. I feel protected and I feel loved. I know that everything will be okay. We smile at each other. Neither of us say anything about what is coming. We don’t need to. “Love you, dad,” I say timidly.

“I love you more, Sis-a-Bug” he says as he flicks off the light.
I am fretting over my hair and makeup wondering if I look good enough yet when I race over to get the phone. “Hello?” I ask in a hurried tone.

“Hey Bug!” dad says enthusiastically. “How’s my little high schooler?” he asks, trying not to trip over the words. I laugh shortly.

“Whatever, dad, it’s not that big of a deal,” I lie with a smile on my face. “But I am excited,” I admit. He laughs, knowing that this is a huge deal. Everything will change today.

“I love you, Jess. More than anything,” I can tell his is near tears. I am too cool to cry today. But inside, my little heart is breaking, too.
I knock on the door, nervously. I hope he thinks that I will look pretty. His approval means everything to me. “Hey dad!” I say, trying to get my dress through his door. I still have two hours to get to the prom but I feel hurried. His arms wrap around me.

“You look beautiful,” he says. I want to think that he is lying but something in his eyes tells me not to protest. I smile, not knowing what to say. As we head outside to take pictures he stays back with me. I don’t want to leave his side either.

When he walks back inside to get something, I follow. He tries to stay busy but then he turns to me. It’s then that I realize that his eyes are welling up with tears. He doesn’t have to say anything, but he does. “I am so proud of you, Sis,” he says, voice breaking.

“Thank you, Dad,” I say, hugging me tightly. We hold one another for a moment, each needing the other one equally. I am not ready to move on, and neither is he. I wonder if he knows that he is the most important man in my life. I hope that he knows how much I love him. I try to convey too many emotions in that hug.

“Have fun,” he says, ending the moment. Someone had to close the gates before the flood.

Before I leave, I look back and let one tear fall. That man is the reason that I am here.
Mom places the final flower in my hair. “You look beautiful, Jess,” she says, crying. I look up at her with tears in my eyes as well.

“Stop it, you’re going to ruin my makeup already,” I laugh. I grab my flowers and head out into the hallway. I see him waiting for me. He looks so handsome in his tuxedo. He holds out his hand to me. “You ready for this, Sissy Bell?” he asks. I ask him the same question.

“How do I look?” I ask. This is enough to let his tears escape. He shakes his head. He doesn’t need to say anything. It’s all the approval I need. I adjust the train on my white dress and let a single tear slide down my cheek as the church doors open. The music swells and I look down the aisle to see the man I love waiting for me. I look over to my father. In that moment I see that there is a place in my heart that no man will ever take. It’s a Roger-sized space that is reserved for him alone. We both hold each other up as we try to walk down the aisle without tripping. I lean over and whisper, “I love you, Daddy,” and place a kiss on his prickly cheek.

The pastor asks, “Who gives this woman to this man?” and my dad responds, in the bravest voice he can muster. “Her mother and I do.”
When I am grown I can point back to him and remember how it felt to be someone’s number one. Only a few short months from now I will be living on my own in a college dorm with no familiar surroundings. But I know that even as the stones of the world attempt to knock me down, I can say that, even to that day, someone believes that I am flawless even when I am a mess up , and that I am beautiful even when I don’t believe it, and that I am smart even when I don’t know the answers. And when I receive my diploma, I will look out into the bleachers, smile into his and my mother’s eyes and know, without a shadow of a doubt that there will never be two people to love me as wholly as the ones that I see there.

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