< Trim Spa
“Some people swore that the house was haunted?” she asked. “A GHOST story? Come ON, Dad.” She was ten years old, but had already mastered the swooping, mocking tones of a teenager.
I had warned her about camping – the bugs, the dirt, the noises. "You could stay with your aunt," I told her. "Do girl stuff." But she agreed to join me, which put us here, next to the lake, night all around us, sitting around a small fire.
“Tell me a real story. Tell me how you met Mom,” she said, her voice soft, her face smudged with soot in the jumpy light from the fire. My heart thudded. With Carolyn dying before she turned two, my daughter didn’t know her mother as anything more than a framed picture. "Tell me what it was like."
“I’ve told you that before,” I said. I knew why she wanted to hear it again – it was like a baseball announcer telling a story that seasoned fans had heard before. You wanted the rhythms of it more than the meanings of the actual words.
“I know,” she said, her voice far away, “tell it again.”
I told her the story – my sweeping run into the post office, headed for the outgoing mail slot, the solid hip check I gave her mother sending us both sprawling – the apologies, the laughter, the conversation that led to coffee, and then dinner, and a sudden rush into romance, and a tiny wedding, and within a year, the red, screaming, wide eyed gift of her birth. I told her of the late night feedings we would have in bed together, falling asleep with her with neither of us watching Letterman when her mother worked the night shift. I told her of the hurricane of work and obligation that robbed us of sleep, but we undertook joyfully, goggle-eyed with the wonder of new life.
I told her of her mother’s proud smile, warm laugh, tender heart, and soft brown eyes.
I didn’t tell her of the soreness that became pain, that became one doctor, and then another, and another. I didn’t tell her of words like biopsy and malignancy and radiation, of her beginning to walk when her mother no longer could. I didn’t tell her of long afternoons walking hospital corridors carrying her, and later urging her to draw pictures in the corner of the room as her mother slept uneasily, bouts of pain narcotized by drugs that left her babbling nonsense. I didn’t tell her of fits of rage that brought me to tears as I drove her home.
I didn’t tell her how she had lost her mother, but I had lost my friend.
“Then she got sick?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I told her, looking at the endless black sky. “Then she got sick.”
published 22 June 2011