Katie checked the backpack to make sure she had everything he needed – just going through the motions really, trying to put off the inevitable. “I don’t feel like it today.” she sighed, as she headed out the door. “Thank goodness he stays in one area.”
The drive had the same effect on her every time she made this trip – a longing for times past when life was steady and secure.
Oh Dad, we took it for granted you’d always be there to take care of everything. I wish we could take care of everything for you now.
Princess is what he liked to call her.
“Let’s feet dance, Daddy!” she’d say. His eyes would light up and a sparkle would come alive. “Ok Princess.” Then he’d make a grand bow, take her by the hands and help her step up onto his feet. She felt like a beautiful princess dancing with a handsome king.
Another time, Katie sighed deeply.
At least the drive wasn’t long and the day showed promise of a bright one.
Asking around the city park, she located “The Big Guy” behind a furniture store, settled in a large corrugated box, sleeping.
No drugs – no alcohol – it was the sleep of the deeply depressed, the fog of no return – just as addicting.
Always touched by the sight of her father, she bent down to sit close to him, taking his warm, calloused, dirty hand in hers. She loved these hands that had provided so well – that had loved so deeply.
“Dad? … Dad?”
Blinking his eyes to focus – the confusion of sleep took a few seconds to clear.
Rummaging around for his glasses, his sleepy voice sounded surprised, “Katie, is that you?”
“Your case is over here, Dad – the one Mom gave you.
Looking around bewildered he reached protectively for his own tattered backpack, “How’d you find me?”
“I always find you Dad.” This seemed to be a mystery to him every time. And every time, it was a mystery to her why he would never change backpacks – she always left the one she brought.
Sitting up now, running his hands through his hair and rubbing his face as though washing, she sensed he was aware of the odor permeating the small space.
He looked into her eyes that wanted to say so much, but today she knew he saw only her brother’s eyes.
“I can’t Katie….” He said, looking away.
“You can’t what?” She prayed one day God would reach him…. somehow.
Alarmed now, she tried again,
He was escaping – escaping from an emergency room so long ago – from visions they both try to bury.
This “Big Guy” of a father, casting aside doctors, blood and IV’s, held on to his son, desperately willing life back into the heart that had just stopped beating. Leaving a father’s heart permanently stained with the last moments of life – like the stained shirt he keeps folded with his meager belongings.
“I should have known he was too young.” He mumbled slowly. “I should have known….the four-wheeler……it’s all my……”
She was losing him. She wondered what happened to bring this on so quickly.
Pained by his self-accusing grief – she put her arms around him and laid her head on his shoulder as they both allowed silent tears to flow. Her heart breaking with the prayers her father needed so grievously.
“Dad….listen. Stevie is alright. He’s ok. We’ll see him again – you know that.”
“I know……but…” Looking down, he turned his head.
“But what? Tell me…”
“Dad! You allowed us space to grow, to make decisions. The life, the love, the God you gave us, is all here.” she said as she touched her heart. “I love you.”
Taking a deep breath, her Dad struggled over difficult words, “I can’t….. forgive myself……Katie ..…..I can’t…..I don’t deserve….”
As his voice faded, Katie was afraid she would lose this precious moment.
Placing her hands on both sides of his face, like she did as a little girl, she said, “Oh Dad – you can’t forgive yourself, by yourself!”
As he tried to look away, she said slowly and clearly, “You can not forgive yourself, by yourself. You can not do it alone.”
His eyes focused on hers – a flicker – a few seconds – a question.
‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ her heart was singing, “Please God, hold on to him.”
The flicker of light clearing – tears threatening once again.
Closing his eyes, he dropped his head to her shoulder; a weight lifted……for now.
……... “Can I pray?”
……… “Sure Princess.”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Katie praised as she squeezed her eyes tight!
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