The Daddy by Yaari

The Daddy

by Yaari

She didn’t have to struggle to see her; those memories were clear.

There she was with the big bright brown eyes, the two thick brown braids hanging over her ears to just below the shoulders, the red brown boney body hiding in skinny jeans and a tiny stretch t-shirt, and two slightly oversized front teeth constantly flashing their Bug’s bunny resemblance as she chattered.  No, the struggle was to feel her.  She couldn’t feel her!  Whenever she tried there was a dark, heavy, sinking feeling in the center of her chest.  As she looked back at her little girl, she had to admit that it all started way before the accident.  The accident was the end!  It was the final straw.  The camel’s back was broken.

Laughter spilled from her wide open little girl mouth into the sunny tropical air and skipped over the deep cool bubbles of the red cola water of the creek to join her sisters.  Water splashed over her as her sister took a running dive off of the thick tree stump that stretched over the water like nature’s diving board.  She squealed and with closed eyes and pursed lips took a deep breath and submerged her entire body in the cool water.

Her dad’s long muscled legs passed her on the way to the Rover, the Chitty Bang Bang car of the family, her dad’s baby, and her magical ride.  She rushed behind him to make it to the picnic basket and she could hear the sloppy steps of her sisters as they raced through the warm white sand behind her; they raced toward the secrets of the picnic basket.  These were the days she loved.

And, there were other days, lots of other days.

Excitement coursed through her veins as the “car” transported them to her dreams – places of winding white sand roads that led to deep red fresh water full of darting tiny fish, of long rides as the car chased the wind on gray black tar roads that ran forever along the high creamy white wall that ran along the coastline to keep the treacherous Atlantic salt water out.  Her tiny body, face up to the sky as she lay on the back dashboard, tingled with pleasure, or it spilled into the distance as the wind whipped her face as the countryside rushed by and she caught glimpses of pink pigs wallowing in mud and donkey carts bouncing on uneven paves.

She recalled the seawall.  The tiny red star story told by her father that one evening as they stretched their legs on the pier eventually to sit at the end, they gazed into the sky as he dipped her into her first understanding of constellations and introduced her to Mars.  She was filled with wonder.  The same special feeling that filled her heart with soft love escaped into the air on such nights or, like a warm aura, surrounded her as she watched her father’s tall self-conscious elegance stand on the wall. – the wall where musky men sat for hours deep in politics; where night time cars with clouded windows hid the heated rubbing together bodies of clandestine couples.  Her little heart pumped with guilt and excitement whenever she passed those steamed windows and thought about the pent up lust being released in secret.  She loved secrets!

Secrets were buried deep in her soul.

Looking back at her little girl, she swallowed hard and wondered when, when did the secrets become sad?  Sadness had entered her at an early age.  Yet, she couldn’t quite remember when the laughter turned to inner tears.  Flashes of the bright secrets of Santa’s letters, peeping over walls after bedtime to watch her father creep upstairs with a shiny tricycle under his arm played in her mind only to be overshadowed by memories of the perpetual look of sadness that had crept under her father’s skin and had drawn a frown and wiped the smile away.  She was too young to understand; she just wanted to fix it.  She wanted her “daddy” back.  It all seemed to happen so fast.  One day there was daddy up on his hands wowing her with his spectacular gymnastic abilities, daddy blowing bubbles in her belly; daddy playing Danny Kaye on Sundays, daddy reading papers while she ran around his chair, daddy teaching her to swim, daddy making pancakes, loud daddy laughter, daddy holding her for chin-ups.  Daddy was her life.  When suddenly the unraveling started; slowly things fell apart.

A woman’s eyes still struggled with the past.  To grasp the effects of the shock and pain she needed to help her little girl open her heart to her daddy again.

The clouds covered the crack and she couldn’t recall when the axe fell.  One day, it seemed something happened and she and her mother were leaving.  She looked up, not fully understanding what was transpiring, only understanding that home would no longer be home and daddy wasn’t coming.  She looked back at him framed in the window of the house filled with memories and saw his lost lonely face dwarfed by its emptiness.  The look broke her heart and guilt crept into the yawning space.

Depression had made its entrance into her life.  And, it stayed.

It took up a permanent position on her father’s face.  Somewhere along the way when she was unaware, somewhere along the line in that grown up world of harsh politics and race consciousness, reality had crushed her father’s spirit and left a hollow shell.  Emptiness sucked at his youth and swallowed his hope.  He stopped caring.  She held on to his hand in desperation as she tried to bring him back; he held hers back with distracted warmth and a prayer in his eyes that reached out to her from behind the crack.

Slowly, over time, she grew quiet.  Quietly, he let her go.  She took up residence in other houses and he visited.  Her world had come apart; nothing made sense; it was not how others lived.  All the loud laughing memories splintered and fell away leaving pockets of darkness.  She was haunted by the man who was her father.  He visited; his walk was slow, his expression distracted, his eyes vacant at times.  Loneliness seeped from his pores.  His shadow was always there.  It seemed to her that he was reaching out to her love for help.  She was impotent and the guilt grew.  She couldn’t help him and he seemed to know.  The tears she didn’t know were forming crept up from deep inside and slowly saturated her heart.  In her little girl world she knew he was trying to reach her.  He was trying to return to her as her “daddy.”

The bicycle was bright red; a cute Molton with tiny wheels and a long shinny red body.  Guilty, excited little hands took it and still she wanted to run from him.  His face held the sadness she couldn’t erase and now she wanted to hide from it.  The motorcycle rides to piano lessons had become an excruciating mix of jumbled emotions – happiness, guilt, fear, happiness, possessiveness, a need to protect – nothing should harm her daddy!  The motorcycle purred; she remembered the happy past and his love of cars and motorcycles.  “It’s daddy, he’s come for me.”  She’d climb on and wrap her hands tight around his chest.  Her arms and legs spoke of love as she gripped his warm body as she gave herself to the ride.  But, then she’d climb off and couldn’t avoid his face and she’d encounter the sadness; his lost soul.

And, the accidents started to happen.

One day she came home to hear her mother telling her grandmother that her daddy had fallen off of his motorcycle.  Her heart jumped with fear.  She was surprised and frightened.  Everything inside her skin started to quiver.  This was something new and somehow she understood that it was connected to the sadness.  She wanted to stop the world; she knew something terrible was coming.  Again, another scare; he walked into the street, into oncoming traffic.  Why?  Her little girl mind asked; her little girl heart wanted her daddy back the way things were before.  Something terrible was coming.

It crashed into her!  The turpentine smell of the hospital tore at her nostrils.  She felt heavy; her eyes were dry; she stared at the blood, the blood of the man being rushed up the stairs on a stretcher.  Her eyes were riveted on the red of it, the thick red flow coming out of his nose and his mouth.  She followed slowly, pulling one heavy foot after the other.  Her daddy was up there somewhere.  She didn’t want to go.  Everything was cream or white and that smell stayed in her nose.  She didn’t want to breathe.

Suddenly, she was there.  The noises hit her in the face as she stepped through the door.  They were pulling at her from every direction.  Nurses were rushing back and forth; groans were colliding in the air where pulleys of all kinds were holding body parts encased in thick white casts.  There was a bustle around one bed and she hung back.  Her mind and her eyes did not want to see.  It was daddy.

Make it stop!  It rumbled on.

The story was that he’d decided to pick grapefruits for the family.  The tree was tall and green outside the bedroom window and it was heavy with fruit.  There was a tall wooden stick with a nail on the end and daddy knelt on the windowsill and held the stick to pick the fruit.  There were big concrete boulders below left there by the men who were renovating the house.  He slipped; he fell head first.  It was an accident?

The body lay still on the bed.  She looked at him through a haze of disbelief.  She stared at the hole in his head where the weights were suspended.  There were holes in the flesh, the pink and gray flesh.  Her eyes were caught.  From a distance she heard her mother crying.  His belly, it rose up into the air like a pregnant woman; it was distended and then she heard the word “paralyzed.”  It meant nothing to her.  But her mother was beating her hands against her chest.  Something dark and terrible was in the air.

It took six months of her small life.

Every day, dressed in the green and white uniform of her primary school, she entered the yawning gates of the hospital, found the dark wooden stairs, and walked toward the light blue sky of the veranda overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  The view was clear and pure.  She moved toward it and then turned into the room facing the veranda.  He was staring at it too.  Nothing moved.  His eyes pivoted; one hand shook; everything else lay still.  She had been coming to the same place for weeks.  She held juice with a straw; he pulled on it slowly.  She watched his eyes.  And, she fell into the depth and the darkness.

She couldn’t remember when she had stopped feeling.

Somewhere, sometime she’d stepped off a cliff and she was still falling.  Nothing mattered except forward movement.  She walked; she talked but there were no memories being made, none that glowed.  In the hospital she sat and stared.  She knew she loved her daddy, but she couldn’t reach him.  She didn’t know how to or who was on the bed.  No longer could she touch him.  It frightened her; she thought she’d hurt him.  She sat and watched the nurses roll him; she saw the rotting flesh of the bedsores.  His eyes looked sick; he didn’t want to be there.  And, slowly she found herself wishing he’d go.  Go where, she didn’t know.  She just knew that, again, she wouldn’t be with him.

Day after day she trudged up those steps, reluctance pulling at her shoes and guilty love moving her forward.  She watched him melt; she saw the skeleton emerge.  She looked into his fading eyes; she sensed he didn’t want her there.  But he never turned her away.  Some days he tried to smile, but it flickered and slipped into the darkness.  Silently, they prayed for the same thing.  His eyes told her he wanted to go; he wanted out; he wanted peace.  She kept the secret.

Time stood still.

As she watched the stranger in the coffin, nothing in her moved.  She noticed that his hair was slick against his head; that was not her father.  She noticed the powder on his cheeks, the hollow spaces; that was not her father.  The man in the coffin had a twisted jaw; someone had tied his face and twisted it; that was not her father.  Whoever he was, he looked sad, he looked lonely, he looked cold, he looked gray.  She stepped back.  She no longer wanted to see the face.  She turned away and moved into the crowd.

And then there was a graveyard.  She stared at the concrete tombstones and tried to imagine that someone who had life was locked in one of those cases.  She vaguely recognized the faces and the whispers were a distant hum.  She stood and stared.  Everything in her body felt solid and heavy; she felt laughless.  She’d stopped dreaming, stopped reading.  She just waited.

That night after the graveyard, daddy sat on her bed and tried to explain why he had to leave.  She tried to reach out to him, but he wasn’t there.  That night, like never before, she got down on her knees willingly and over and over again she prayed.  “Dear God, please let mummy, me and my sisters all die at the same time.”  Over and over again she prayed; she pressed her little palms together and with forced breath she repeated the words hoping that God would understand the seriousness of her situation.  She climbed into bed with her memories; she wrapped them in her pain and tucked them away.  Eventually, the darkness came.

She never cried.

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