My heart skips a beat at the sight of his red and white gingham shorts. This could only mean one thing. He was going to go swimming with us, a black swan event. My little sister beams as we make our way to the pool. The cement burns my toes, but I don’t care. He is going swimming with us. “Daddy will you throw me?!” I shout. “Then me!” Susan chimes in. “How far do you want to go?” he asks with a smile. “All the way to the deep end!” He submerges his fluffy brown hair. I place my feet expertly in his hands as I have done so many times before with my teenage cousins. He launches me through the air. I am flying. I am happy.
Her metal clad feet create the perfect four beat rhythm against the pavement. I am at home on her back as we make our way into the cornfield across the street. It is my church, my escape, my everything. His figure approaches. My grip on the reins tightens slightly. He surprises me because he rarely walks farther than his car, but today he walks to the edge of the drive to retrieve his papers. “You are one lucky little girl,” he says. “What do you mean?” I ask regretting the question as soon as it leaves my lips. “I mean, look at you riding your horse. You are lucky.” I ride off into the field breaking into a trot shaking off our conversation with every step.
The smell of a very well done hamburger pries at my heart and creeps into my soul. I hear the ice cubes twist against the glass and the evening song of critters come alive in the humidity. The local headlines of the Evening Phoenix block my view of him. I just sit swaying on my Grandmother’s love seat glider thinking hard of something to say. I am not even sure he knows I am there, but he says, “Leenie, go tell your Mother five minutes.” It was the dinner warning. As I walk into the den the blast of cold air gives me relief and chatter lightens my mood. “Dad says dinner in five.” My mother delegates orders in the final push for dinner on the deck. It is Sunday.
He flies at me with rage in his face. I am too slow to react and can only back up against the headboard and brace myself for a blow. He doesn’t hit me. He shakes my head between his hands screaming at me, “STOP STRESSING YOUR MOTHER OUT!” He lets me go and I run for my car keys. I hate him.
The weight of his arm on my shoulder almost breaks me. I find the strength within myself to stay upright and guide him to the sofa. He is drunk and he is sobbing. “It’s going to be, ok.” My words are cheap and un-profound. I know that it is not going to be ok for a very long time. “Do you want to know something, Leenie?” he says holding his head in his hands now. “I was enamored of her since she was 15 years old.” He slurs and smiles through his tears. “I know,” I say the knot in my throat coming undone. “It is going to be ok.” He tries to collect himself. We sit on the sofa in our den, the one that she slipcovered over and over and try to make sense of our bizarre reality.
The phone is ringing and, for a moment, I think about the tactic of avoidance. A warning from my sister has clued me into his call. It’s always awkward and difficult. We run through the standard Father and Daughter topics and I say it, “I hear that you met someone that you really like.” His long distance demeanor turns almost goofy as he describes his new friend. He corrects me when I say girlfriend because it is childish. “Are you going to marry her?” I ask. “I think I probably will, ” he says. Our roles reverse as he runs through his list of justifications for his intentions. My heart is in conflict. “I am so happy for you, Dad, ” I say truly meaning the words. We hang up. The knot in my throat comes undone. He is enamored again. I am happy.
He looks good dressed up in his tux. His fluffy brown hair twists and turns among the gray. He is calm. He has done this before. He stands with his hands folded in front of him, while a couple of hundred people wait for us to emerge. Why didn’t I elope? This questions runs through my mind over and over. The stage is not my friend. I miss my mother. “Are you ready to do this?’ he says with a smile. “Let’s do it,” I reply. They are the only words we exchange. We link arms and he walks me to my love.
He watches my new baby as she is passed around the room. He is calm. He has done this before. She is cute. She is chubby. She looks like her Dad. I know what kind of grandfather he will be – that he already is. I still want to make him proud. She buys gifts and sends cards. She tries for him.
He smiles as I walk into the hospital room. He says something inarticulate as I lean into hug him. He recognizes me. He keeps talking, but I understand nothing. I run through questions. His expressions hint at me through the chatter. Our futile routine continues over the next few days. He breathes. He sleeps. He moans. He is dying. The rhythm of the machines is steady. My soul resists getting drawn into the darkness with every breath. My plane leaves in two hours. I know I will never see him again, but it’s too late for words. The ice cream makes him calm. I help him raise the spoon to his mouth.