Daddy's Girl

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“You’re too sensitive for this world, Henriette.”

The bedroom was dark, shadows crawling in from every corner. I was sleeping in the bottom bunk that night. Perched on the edge, you leaned over to give 8-year old me a night-night kiss. As you pulled back—WHACK!— went your head on the top of the bunk. Hot tears formed in the back of my eyes. My heart squeezed, barely able to stand the thought of you in pain.

“I’m sorry!” I cried out.

I knew it was not my fault you had hit your head, but wanted to protect you from any more pain. I had eyes. I had watched your frame shrivel, and the pile of brown bottles grow.

Children know what’s going on. They can smell inevitability, it permeates, saturates, drowns the words of elders, cuts through the party line like a knife.

“Daddy just needs to go on vacation.”

I knew what was coming.

But that night, you laughed and laughed in your melodic tone, almost giggling, filling my shredded heart. And that’s when you said it.

“You’re too sensitive for this world, Henriette.”

It is one of my favorite memories of you. In the quiet of the night, we had this moment. Not an official father-daughter moment. Not the kind the world dictates: buying me a car, career advice, or walking me down the aisle. No. We would never have those. But it was everything to me. I felt like you understood something about me that I had yet to understand about myself.

You died on December 13th, 1978.

You were 38. I was 10.

It’s the quiet moments I wish we’d had. We could have talked about books. I know you wanted to write a novel. You were a beautiful writer. Your letters are ink explosions of your soul, your charisma oozes everywhere. Exclamation points!!! Heartfelt scribbles consuming every possible corner of the page:

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…etc…It really is a feast for children. I had always heard the phrase, but never have I appreciated the truth of it until this year, when Henriette is now old enough to take delight in the decorations, lights, and trees springing up all over Toronto. Commercial as some and many of these displays may seem to be, and are, the delight in Henriette’s eyes is so genuine—sparkling—smiling—lips—joyous squeals—that soppy as this may sound, just watching her reactions make my heart turn over, and make me feel as if that this…really this…was what I was born to experience, and if I never ever saw another, this would have been enough to have lived for.

I wish…

I wish I didn’t have to know you through other people’s letters.

I wish my memories of you weren’t so few: Singing “Yellow Submarine” together in the car. Your made-up word puzzles. The way you made me strawberry milk. Watching Pele together at Varsity Stadium. Your tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches. Hockey Night in Canada.

I wish we could have talked about your diabetes and my kidney transplants. About the private hell reserved for those of us who stumble down the path of chronic illness.

And I wish we could have somehow found each other in our shared pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. Although no-one could have diagnosed you but yourself, I know you knew. It wasn’t pneumonia. I remember the day the light in your eyes went out. And it never came back on.

I wish…

I know you held me, but I can’t feel your arms. I know we laughed, but I can barely hear it any more. I know we talked. About The Queen’s 25th Jubilee. About All in the Family. About why you needed to give me a polio shot. But it was not enough.

You are not just a photo in a frame.

You are my Daddy.

You were here.

You were right. I am too sensitive for this world. Kevin calls me The Roller Coaster of Hen, but I no longer ride alone.

I lost the light once, too, Daddy. Today, I have found a world where others keep the light in my eyes aflame.

You live with me there.

I’m crying. Real tears falling down my face. He loved you so much. He was a beautiful writer and a beautiful person. His beauty lives in you.

— Christy Carew Marshall
Is that where you got it? That incredible ability to touch the heart of the world with your words. He did that too, did he? I know he loves you still.

— Karen Libuse
God love ya. I see where you came by your poetic soul.

— Joe Matheson
Jesus, woman...Your way with words is unbelievable! He clearly lives on and writes through you beautiful, sensitive one.

— Marin May