I wake, as I always do, before the alarm clock rings — I don’t know why I set the thing — and disarm the thing before it disrupts the quiet morning. It’s 6:17AM and my alarm is snoozing while I climb out of bed. It’s good to start the day with a small victory. It’s good to start the day with momentum. Inspired, I decide to let my daughter sleep until the last possible moment. There is plenty to do in the meantime.
Picking out Anna’s outfit is a process because it’s really more of a wardrobe. There are shorts, tops, bathing suits, socks, underwear, cruise wear, and après swimwear, all tagged. And that’s nothing compared to the complexity lunch. I feel compelled to make a nutritional statement, which I suppose is a testament to the anxieties of single fatherhood. Will this lunch be coveted by hundreds of other yet unknown fellow campers? Will Anna be able to trade up for some other snacks? Will I seem competent and will she emerge victorious? The clock is ticking.
(What sort of lunchmeat? Whole wheat or rye? And what about mayonnaise? And if I did indeed choose to go with mayo, do I cover both the northern and southern exposures of the interior of her sandwich? Wait. Maybe lunchmeat is wrong. What if she encounters some judgmental vegans? However, when it came to the ultimate decision, crust or no crust, my course was clear. Anna is seven years old. She’s not a baby anymore. Let her eat crust! I know that sounds harsh, but we can’t coddle these kids forever.)
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The sandwich is finished and I can’t reasonable wait any longer. I wake Anna. The hour is getting late and there would be no time for negotiations. The big yellow camp bus will be here soon and she has to be on it
“Anna, time to get up.”
Who am I kidding? We both know that this is only a warning shot. She won’t deign to stir until the third or fourth wake-up call.
“Come on Anna, we’re gonna be late!!”
I take her first audible protest as my signal to start breakfast. With breakfast on the burner, I go back to Anna. It is now 7:28. The thirteen minutes I had banked earlier was rapidly losing its value. “Daddy, I don’t feel good” she said. I translated this to “I’m scared” and held her in my arms. It’s amazing; a little love goes a long way.
7:52. With the big yellow bus eight minutes away, we accessorizing.
At long last, we’re ready. We gather ourselves and sit on the stoop. However, our excitement quickly turns into dreaded anticipation. As our fears grow bigger our talk grows smaller, until our communication is reduced to no more than some sideward glances and forced smiles punctuated by an occasional heavy sigh. Sometimes words fail. Sometimes, the most meaningful moments can only be shared in silence.
Suddenly, like the sun looming large on the horizon, the big yellow bus arrives. Pulses quicken. But this is the feeling of heartbreak, not daybreak. The doors open. Anna looks back at me. “Come on honey, I’ll walk you on the bus.” As we step onto the bus, Anna can’t contain herself. Tears flow down her cheeks. “Please, daddy, stay with me.” For one split second, I considering sitting at the back of the bus. But none of my clothes have my name in them. “Honey, I’m sorry,” I tell her. “I promise I’ll be waiting right here for you when you get home.” I kiss her warm, wet, salty little face and wave like a madman until she and the bus were out of sight.
I would wave all day if I thought it would bring her any peace or comfort. But it won’t. It is my job to hold her and it is my job to let her go.
The day passes slowly. I miss her until the promised hour arrives and I plant myself, a few minutes before I have to, at the appointed spot. The bus, now glorified by her presence into a sort of chariot, has brought my daughter back to me. She’s running. We’re hugging. It seems like she’s grown.
She wants to tell me about her day and does. And, as she does, I realized that Anna is mine twice. She is mine by her comings and by her goings, her waking and sleeping, her growing up and growing out into the world.
Gary Koppel is currently working with the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks’ Wellness program, teaching memoir writing and storytelling to older adults.
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