“Wow, you can see the smoke from here!”
Ryan’s exclamation caused a swarm of students to rush to the window, all staring at an ominous black cloud billowing over the downtown area.
“The fire must be huge to be seen from this far away,” someone piped in.
Mrs. Higgins barked instructions in a vain attempt to regain some semblance of control over her classroom.
I sat rigid in my seat, my hands gripping the sides of my desk. Looking towards the window I could see the smoke over the heads of my classmates. The dark swirling image caused my heart to freeze and tiny icicles to break off sending jittering jolts throughout my entire nervous system. The fire meant one thing: people were in trouble--maybe hurting and maybe worse. It also meant…my daddy was there.
I remember him taking me to the fire station when I was just four years old. I happily climbed into the big red fire engine. He reached in and punched the siren. I squealed in wondrous delight; my daddy had the most wonderful toys to play with. Sometimes I would climb into his giant boots and yearn for the day when I would be a fire-fighter too; I was the envy of all the kids in the neighborhood.
I’m older now. I’ve learned that the fire engine isn’t a toy at all. And the people who drive the big red truck aren’t playing a game. They rush to a tragic scene to do whatever they can to contain and mitigate a horrifying disaster. And sometimes they don’t come home.
In the fire station, there is a row of pictures on the wall. I pray with all my heart that one more won’t be added today.
I think back to this morning. Mom’s at the door urging me to hurry it up, “Kayla, let’s go!”
“Just a minute, all right!” I answered in a martyred tone. “I’m fixing my hair.”
“Do it in the car! We’re late!” So much for sympathy and maternal instincts, I thought.
I grabbed my books in a huff and headed out the door, but something made me hesitate just on the way out. I feel this inner urging to go and kiss Dad goodbye. Mom was already in the car, tapping the horn. I looked back for a moment and then just closed the door behind me.
“Oh God, please bring him home. I didn’t see him this morning. I’m sorry!” My head slumped down on my arms, my heart seeking God’s peace to relieve the pounding in my chest.
I try to remember: what was the last thing I said to him? My breath constricts when I replay the scene from last night.
Sitting on the couch with my laptop, I was e-chatting with Wendi and Breanne. I had just finished a ton of homework and deserved a moment to relax, but Mom picked that very moment to let me know the dog didn’t have any food. I stared at the screen, not answering right away. Across the room, Dad looked over and subtly asked if I had heard my mother speaking to me.
I responded with a melodramatic sigh and thrust the computer away. “All right, fine. Why am I always the one that has to do it?”
Dad glared and said, “No, you just sit right there, I’ll do it.”
I did feel a bit guilty, but also a tinge of pride that I had stood up for myself as an equal member of the family. Dad gave me a stare when he came back in that I pretended not to notice. He didn’t say a single word, but I could feel his withering gaze.
Things were changing between Mom and me and between Dad and me. I was growing up I guess. In a few more years, I’d be out of high school and off to college.
Right now I certainly didn’t feel so grown-up. And I guess I don’t really act as grown-up as I think I do. “God, I know you hear me when I pray, please bring my daddy home safe. I’m not ready to be all grown-up. I just want to go home and fling myself into his strong, safe arms. I just want to be Daddy’s little girl again.”
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