“She’s looking at me!”
I would drive them to dance class, listening to them bicker in the back seat about some petty, made-up argument. I heard about who was on what side of the imaginary line and who touched who first until it was forgotten or my patience finally wore out. But that was before.
“Give me my cheetah!”
“It’s my cheetah! You left yours at home.”
“Did not! That one’s mine!”
We would go out for ice cream or smoothies sometimes, afterward. They would bicker seemingly just to have something to say between less offensive conversations.
“Tell her to stop humming!”
“Hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmm….”
“Make her stop!”
Usually, the arguments would end as quickly as they started. We would eat Moose Tracks ice cream in sugar cones, content as any family could be. Even among the snipes and whining, the dripping ice cream and the sticky, gooey hands; we were content. More content than we realized.
“Stay on your own side!”
“You’re on my side!”
“No, I’m not! The line’s right here!”
“No; it’s here!”
Her sore leg was the first sign.
“Stop touching me!”
“I’m not touching you!”
A hardened lump that wouldn’t go away.
“Dad, Jenny keeps making faces at me!”
There is a huge iron wall that separates where we were from where we are now, a wall that doesn’t dissipate with time. They tell us, in the future, it will appear smaller as we look back at it from a distance, but in my heart, I know it will tower over us forever.
“When will I get better?”
I fight it. I try to bridge the gap between then and now, to cross the wall, to transition back to simpler times, but to no avail. Even ice cream, with its gooey goodness, doesn’t taste as sweet or good or innocent.
“I don’t want to go; not again.”
“We have to.”
“It makes me sick.”
I would fight him if I could. I would fight a god that allowed such things to happen, knowing full well that I would lose. It’s what a father does.
“Why did this have to happen?”
“I don’t know, dear; it just happened.”
Hospital gowns, IV’s, radiation treatments and MRI’s. My heart breaks with every tear, even as I harden my resolve.
“Will I ever get better?”
“Yes, sweetheart, we just have to give it more time.”
Now we ride quietly, still numb with shock. The conversations we have, even the bickering which I long for, are too short to fill up the space that lies between us, the empty space, the space where my youngest daughter used to sit, touching, poking, laughing, arguing, smiling.
“Will I get sick, too?”
“No, dear, not like that.”
I wish I had appreciated it more back then. I wish I had appreciated the fighting, the bickering, the sticky fingers. I wish I had known to appreciate it.
“How do you know I won’t get sick?”
“I just do.”
We can’t see into the future, and it’s for the best. It would all be so depressing otherwise. I would have looked at my daughter and said to myself, I only get to have you another year, another month, another day.
“Where’s my cheetah?”
It’s best not knowing. It really is.
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