Step Lesson

She just sits there. She hasn’t moved since you brought her home from the airport half an hour ago. I’m sure it must be a challenge for her, but couldn’t she at least look around?  Maybe she is just tired. I ask her if she’d like to lie down and take a nap. I tell her that there are  fresh sheets on the bed for her. “Wouldn’t that be nice?” She rolls her big brown eyes back into her head and continues to otherwise ignore me. What about food? “Are you hungry? I made a new citrus sauce for the Cornish hens I am baking for us; doesn’t it smell incredible?”  Still no movement on her part, just the continued stare out the window. I tell her that I made key lime pie for dessert.  Hesitantly I mention that her Dad told me key lime was her favorite. This time the eye roll was accompanied with the best exaggerated bored exhale I’d ever heard from a ten-year old.

Okay, new approach.  “Is that a new dress honey?” Again with the rolling eyes thing. “Are you uncomfortable? Would you like to change clothes?” She just stares out the window. She won’t look at me and just will not respond. Okay then. I am giving up. I go through the swinging door of the kitchen and take a bottle of scotch off the top shelf of the pantry.

The scotch is hidden behind the oatmeal because I know you would never look there. I don’t even bother with a glass. The buzzer signaling that the hens are done goes off just as I choke down my first gulp. Coughing, I get up to turn the oven down to the “hold” setting. Lord knows how long it will be before we eat tonight. Maybe she had a big meal on the plane. Do they even serve big meals on airplanes anymore? I take another swig, the burn of the alcohol matches the burn of the bile in my stomach.

I steady myself and walk out to the living room to tell you about dinner but I see you kneeling down beside this previously non-responsive daughter of yours. You are showing her a card trick. She has turned away from the window and is looking at you, possibly even with interest. You finish your trick and a smile creeps across her face in slow motion. I hear you ask if she wants to throw on some jeans and play basketball outside for a while. She looks at you and says, “I don’t know how, Daddy.” You stand up, take her hand and say, “Come on, I’ll teach you.” She allows you to lift her to her feet and you two head upstairs.

I go back to the kitchen and sit down at the big antique wooden table. I look at the soft, worn, grain of the wood. The top has been scarred by time and worn to a dark patina that is smooth and oddly always warm to the touch. The table was bought at an antique store on our honeymoon, its top is four inches of solid maple. We liked the table instantly and paid more than we should have. We often sit at it while having our morning coffee and talk about how many families have sat around it in the past. We trace the grain and the scars of the wood with our finger tips and imagine the stories of their lives unfolding around this piece of furniture that is now ours. What conversations, meals, tears and laughter were part of its history? It is the first piece of furniture that you and I have purchased as a married couple.

I reach for the bottle of scotch and after taking a long gulp, put it back on the table and fold my hands over the top. I put my forehead on my hands and sob. I am not just sad; I am miserable. I am shaking and sobbing and don’t have the strength to will  myself to stop. My shoulders sag against the onslaught of frustration; I’m crying so hard that I can’t catch my breath. I lift my head and look at my hands. The tears warp my fingers into blurry sticks of flesh. I finally catch my breath again; I spread my hands out against the table top. My fingers are old. I see them wrinkled and scarred. I have never looked at my hands this closely before. My wedding band is so shiny and new in defiant contrast. I close my eyes and feel my soul abandoning me. I sniffle and wipe the snot from my nose with the back of my hand. The tears keep coming. I have stopped even trying to stifle the cries of failure.

She must have tiptoed because I didn’t hear her walk in. I didn’t hear the swinging door creak its familiar creak either. I just felt a small touch on my shoulder. I looked up with a start. I knew that my face was all red and blotchy now. I suddenly felt hot all over and looked to see if the window was open. Damn that oven for being on still. I looked over at her and saw that she was now dressed in blue jeans and a pink t-shirt that read “Princesses Rule!” across the front in even pinker glittery writing. The t-shirt was kind of big and had been tied in a knot on one side. Her long mousey brown hair had been put into a ponytail and you had found a baseball cap that fit. It read, “Olsen Feed – Since 1924.” It was green with a picture of a silo under the words. I had worn it earlier this week when we worked on the garden out back.

She looks at me for the first time. You must have talked to her. She looks at me with concern and genuine sympathy, possibly pity but I don’t care at this point.

“Why are you crying?” She asks quietly and with some hesitation. Her voice is soft and youthful.

“I…don’t know. I think I’m scared.” My hands move up to cover my trembling mouth. I can’t believe I have just admitted this.

“I think I am too.” Her eyes dart from mine to the table. She puts her hands on the table; fingers spread.

“This is going to be hard.” I sniffle again and put my hands on the table too…spreading my fingers to match hers.

She sits down in the chair next to me.

“I love key lime pie.”

 

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