He sat down on the cold steps inside the dark, now empty house. He put his head in his hands and asked the same question he’d been asking himself for months now: How had it all gone so horribly wrong?
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. One year ago he had been in absolute control of his life. A high paying job, a nice car, a beautiful home, and connected friends. He soon found out, though, that one of the main differences between partner and non-partner was that there was no huge payout to non-partners when the company got bought out.
Faster than he ever could have imagined, the savings account drained. Little by little it all began to slip away from him. First the car – his wonderful dream car. Then even the new model family car had to go. Next to go was just about anything of value they had that was not already paid off: Their nice furniture, fancy appliances and high-tech gadgets. He was amazed at how little they actually owned.
Last to go was the house. As he sat on the bottom stair of the beautifully curved, wooden staircase that he had so fallen in love with at first sight, he remembered that day, five years ago when he and his wife first brought the girls to see their new home. A smile crossed his face as he recalled them running back and forth from room to room, crying out in excitement at all the space. When they saw the backyard he thought they were going to burst with joy.
The sweet memory fled from his mind, and the depression returned, though, as he lifted his eyes and saw his oldest daughter standing in the doorway of his dark, empty house. She walked over to sit next to him on the bottom step. Quietly they sat in the gloom.
“I’m sorry sweetheart,” he said.
“For what daddy?”
“For failing you.” For failing myself he added in his head.
“What do you mean?” She asked sincerely.
He stretched out his arms and swept them back and forth, taking in the whole house. “This. This is what I mean, this empty house. This was supposed to be where you grew up. The place you would remember for the rest of your life as home. Where you would come back when you were grown, when life pressed in and you needed to feel safe. It’s gone now and there was nothing I could do to stop it.”
“It’s just a house, daddy. It’s not home. Home is where you and mom and us are all together.” She said it so earnestly that he almost believed her. Almost.
“It’s not just that, sweetie. It’s everything else. The nice cars, the furniture, the computers, stereos, televisions and so many things that made life great for us.”
“Daddy, it’s okay. We don’t need all of those things.”
There were tears in her eyes, and he could see he was upsetting her by recalling all they had lost. “I’m sorry I brought all this up. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “It’s not that daddy,” she said. “I meant it when I said those things don’t matter.”
He looked down at her, still not believing. “Then why are you crying, dear?”
“Because you’re so sad. For a long time now it’s been like you’re not the same anymore. What made this house great was how you loved playing with us here. But it hasn’t been a home since you stopped. The computers where nice, but only because you spent time with us, showing us how to use them. We don’t care about losing all of that stuff, daddy, we just don’t want to lose you too.” She stood before him, weeping.
He looked down at her tear-streaked face and wondered how he could have gone so horribly wrong. How could he not see what was right before his eyes the whole time? He put his arms around his sobbing little girl, and was surprised to feel tears running down his own cheeks as he held her close.
When they turned to leave, he no longer saw an empty house; he saw his family waiting out front by the car. He looked no more at what he’d lost, but, instead, at what he had left, and was amazed to find that it was all he’d ever really had to begin with.
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