The beads of condensation of the summer grass; cool and smooth against my neck; I watched the stars above shine with intensity as I had never before seen. Up north, away from city lights; it is a majestic sight to see the wonder of the cosmos in its undimmed form; just as bright here as it would be in Greenland or in Antarctica; free from all light pollution. Perfect.
I heard laughter from the bushes bordering a sparse, open wood about 10 feet away, and I walked in. My child; a small girl; was running around, shouting. She was pretending she was a fairy and she needed to run to grow the forest; with her expended energy, and her magic. I stood and watched in contentment. I watched her as she ran to a log; and I knew she would try to mantle it. I walked toward her; predicting what happened. She jumped up, but lost her balance and fell backwards. I reached out and caught her with one hand; and she screamed as she fell. When I set her down, she walked into the grass field from whence I had came, and sat, crying.
I walked to her and asked her what was wrong; kneeling and pulling her into a one-armed hug. She said that she tried, but fell, and so she was stupid; and that she would never be smart like me. I told her in a reassuring tone, calling her honey, as I often did; that it doesn't make you stupid to fall. If you get up and try again; it makes you a very determined person; and that was even more important than being smart. She rested her hand on my arm; and moaned that she didn't want to try it again. I asked her if she thought she couldn't do it; and she affirmed. I just told her that if she tried again, she might succeed; and she'd be plenty smart enough for me.
I watched as she stood, jumped on top of the 2 foot high log, and walked down it. I clapped and cheered; and told her good job. She smiled, her green braces shone in the fading twilight. I then said in a playful tone that I bet she couldn't catch me; and to come get me. She giggled and ran at me as I pretended to run, back out into the field; I said that she was going to get me; and I yelled in a funny way, getting her to laugh even more. I ran in slow side to side motions, and I let her tag me. I stopped, and exclaimed that she had tagged me. She laughed and ran at me as I took a knee, hitting my shoulder. I shouted that there was a cute little girl tackling me, and I tried to make as if she were actually succeeding. She pushes me for a while, and I stop her by sweeping her legs from under her and holding her up in the air. I put her on my shoulder, and I shouted that she was on top of the world. She laughed. I ran and pranced about for a while; because we were all alone. She laughed madly. When I let her down, she told me to come close to her. I kneeled, and she whispered in my ear that she thought I was the best father ever. I smiled and tickled her until her face turned red with laughter.
I checked my watch; It read 10:35, the peak time to see what we came for. I stopped the talking and I told her that I would reveal the surprise I promised to grant upon our journey; and I pointed out a constellation; Perseus. I told her to count the stars that were there in that constellation; or group of stars. For a while we stayed silent; and my little girl keeps looking; and she soon says for me to quickly look. Her eyes light up in awe and wonder at the bright flashes of light that appear from the constellation; in the Perseid meteor shower I took us to see. We looked, and missed a few, but eventually we caught on by not focusing on one spot. My little girl asked many questions that night; for example, where the light comes from, are they stars, and what are stars, do they really grant wishes; and, how could there be so many. I answered all of her questions, which I had learned from my obsession with space from kindergarten. I told her that, If you look at one and make a wish, and don't tell anyone; it would magically come true.
She looked at me with such a sweet, innocent expression of joy; grinning, and she closed her eyes and put her hands together on her chest. Her lips moved silently as she wished; I guess. She looked up; I then told her never to tell anyone; and then it would come true.
I decided that it was time to go when my watch read 12:15. My neighbors would ask questions if we were out this late; and I'm convinced that they noticed our departure. My daughter was still staring in wonder at the ballet of the heavens when I told her that we had to go; and she asked why. I said I was sorry and I promised to take her again sometime. She started to cry, and I hugged her, and slowly carried her over to the car where I had parked it by the gravel road.
Years passed by. By the time my daughter was in her senior year of high school; and I looked at the classes she had signed up for. Statistics, Calculus, Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry; all at an Advanced Placement or college level; after all that, 4 years of German; and English and History to augment her knowledge in ways I never thought a high-schooler could. I asked her jokingly how she would ever find time for a boyfriend. She told me adamantly, and firmly, that she never would have a boyfriend. I told her to try and find someone you want to share your life with; and she just said in response that Science was what she would spend the rest of her life with. She always loved me deeply, though; and she always insisted that I give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek as she went outside to go to school every day. When I came home from my work, consecutively more exhausted as I grew older; she had homemade food and kind words waiting for me every night that she was physically left standing; and I always appreciated it; after the void left by her mother. When I was sick, she treated me like I was her flesh and blood son; taking my temperature and giving me reassuring words; her bedside manner making light out of many sick days. These were just a few of the many reasons I loved her.
Fights we had were few and far between; they seemed to almost not exist. We agreed on most issues; and shared the same values. Only rarely did we have a conflict; usually over something trivial, like which poster to hang where in the living room. Nothing that really mattered. We both liked the peace and harmony in our home. It soon came time for her to go off to college; and I watched the mail furiously for her letter. She refused to tell me what colleges she signed up for; saying it was a surprise. Finally, a letter came; and she ran into the house from the mailbox. She called me forward and told me to guess what the surprise was. I guessed a few things, but; barely containing her excitement; she bursted out and said that she had been accepted into Harvard University; half scholarship. I was stunned; and so happy that my baby had gotten into Harvard. I pulled her into a deep embrace and congratulated her. She cried, and I knew they were tears of joy; and I cried too. I cried of joy, but deep in my heart, I wished that she was still the same little girl who watched the meteors with me.
But, I knew I was just being selfish and I pushed those thoughts out of my head.
Eventually, the school year ended; giving her a 4.0 GPA in high school, or straight 'A's. By doing AP classes, she had over half of her Bachelor's done already. When August rolled around; and the start of her college degree dawned, I drove her to the airport so she could fly to Boston. I made a few jokes, and then I took her suitcase out of the trunk and gave it to her.
I got one last look at her; and told her to keep going strong; and that I was so proud of her that she could have no idea. She hugged me one more time, and started to cry; and so did I. I waved as she walked into the terminal, and she waved back. She walked off into the ticketing area, and then into the Security Checkpoint; never to return to my home. I drove home, and entered my bed immediately. I slept; because I had to get up the next day.
As I awoke, in my daily routine; I made myself breakfast and coffee; and then I left. I was... feeling strange, not having a hug from her… I felt a void inside me, a hole. I ignored it, figuring it was just as simple as the fact that I was rather tired that day; and I decided to turn my attention to other things. I made it through the rest of the work day, and I drove home. I came in, expecting dinner and warm sights and smells; as I walked in, the house was darker than I had ever seen it. It looked as if nobody lived there.
I called out my daughter's name; but I then realized; she had left me. I felt ashamed that I had said something I knew to be foolish; but nobody was around to hear me. I walked, slowly, over to the refrigerator and pulled out an old leftover pizza. I saw a Two-Liter of orange crush; sealed. I ate and binge-drank in the darkness, my sadness brewing over to my thoughts.
I had never drank; I'd never touched spirits or ale; not even fine wines as you would expect from an intellectual. I always preferred to keep my mind clear. I was honestly considering it for the first time that night; I was hoping that the bottle that could get rid of my pain and sadness; that something; anything; could drown it away. Oh the sadness of being alone after 18 years of loving companionship. Eventually; I decided that I'd better return to my everyday normal life; and maybe then I wouldn't quite feel this way. I set out to bring a mental sense of normalcy to my life, in hopes of equilibrium.
I read for a few hours, constantly looking up from my desk; to see if my beloved child was going to ask me a question, if she needed help with her homework; or even if she just wanted to make sure I was doing ok; as she often did. I just felt emptier and emptier inside with each consecutive time I looked up. I glanced across the street occasionally; feeling glaring eyes on me. I knew the neighbors were watching, and judging. I just wanted to go to bed at the end. I craved sleep; because, maybe I could there feel good about something for once that day; which was starting to feel like the worst day I had experienced. I looked at her old, empty room; depressions of her desk, bed, nightstand, dresser; and all of her possessions on the ground; and I saw a piece of paper on the carpet, in what seemed to be the exact center of the room, folded in half.
I walked in and picked it up. It was written by her, for me. She asked if I remembered the day we saw the Perseid meteor shower; and I told her to wish. She said, in the note; that she wished… to be as smart as me. And she says that she thanks me for everything I've done.
I sat, tears starting to pour in my child's old room; I blessed her success and I cursed her leaving me. I rocked myself back and forth; swallowed by grief and newfound feelings of emptiness and loneliness. My wife had passed away when she was one year old, and she was my only child. I never loved another woman like my wife; and any relationship I would have had would have been a sham in comparison. I had an empty home, I was old and weak; If I died,nobody would even remember I existed. I cried for... god knows how long. I shut off the lights; so the neighbors wouldn't see me. I couldn't bear that to happen.
I awoke, finding myself in the fetal position; legs hugged in my arms; note in my hands. I rose, tears brimming; and began my morning routine yet again. My cell phone rang, and I answered; and I found my daughter on the other end. I asked how she was doing, and she said that she was great; and the campus was beautiful, and how she loved the professors and the like, and I just listened, and thought about how much I'd missed that voice for the last two days.
She asked me If I was doing OK; I told her,
"Don't worry about me honey." I paused; "…You'll always be my little girl to me, and I'll always love you."
She says goodbye; and that she loves me. I said it back and hung up…
The tears start to fall, and I let them; unashamed. After all; What do I have to prove anymore?