I’m sitting on my porch listening to the clicks, pings and pops of the engine and pipes of my motorcycle cooling in the night air. Thick citronella scent lingers with the heady smoke of my cigar creating an acrid yet sweet aroma that fills my nostrils. I can’t see much past the faded white handrails of my porch due to the pale light of my computer and the candles at my feet, but I can hear people not twenty feet away from me walking in the cooling air of Southeastern Virginia. Occasionally I will make out a word or two of their conversation and my mind wanders off on tangents with no end as I attempt to figure out what they are discussing.
As midnight approaches fewer and fewer denizens of my neighborhood meander past, simply because the hour is late for them. All that is left are the slinking, nocturnal creatures who rarely make their prescience known to me. A caterwaul is carried on the wind as it rustles the leaves in the trees and bushes. Night birds squawk out a baritone call looking for a mate or a meal and through all of this my mind desperately tries to suck me back down in a whirlpool of memories of a late night ride I just shared with my daughter.
A daughter who I’ve been desperately trying to maintain in my mind at least is still an innocent young child. But those naïve thoughts have slowly been perishing like so many of my own youthful memories. She has always been the Goose to my Maverick, yet somehow earlier today I realized she will not always fulfill that role in my life. I’m not completely comfortable with this sudden fact, a fact that was made abundantly clear to me while I watched her perform with her dance troupe on a stage to “All that Jazz” from the movie “Chicago”, which was a play.
While sitting in a back row seat, uncomfortable and surrounded by a thousand other parents, I felt a strange mixture of pride for my daughter and loss of the innocent young child she used to be. I was stunned at the confidence she showed in her ability and the control over her body and what she was doing. When the number ended, I sat through three other performances of dance troupes. While I waited the urge to bolt grew inside of me like the pull of the moon on the ebbing tide. But I waited, and waited, and waited. When she arrived I gave her a bouquet of flowers I had bought for her, told her how proud of her I was and how much I loved her. I tried to sit and watch more dance routines but I couldn’t. My mind was filled with thoughts of what was in store for my child, like the mistakes she will make, the successes she will have and the heartbreak, joy, fear and love that is in store for her in the coming years.
I gave her a final hug and kiss, reiterated my pride and love for her and told her I couldn’t stay and watch any more. I blamed my knees and my neck pain, but in reality it was the heartbreaking realization that she never truly would be my innocent child who would need me to chase away the unknown creatures that live in her mind in the middle of the night. Creatures we all have faced in our own time but have long since grown out of.
I hopped on my motorcycle and tried to ride back into the past. I couldn’t. The future is always coming and the past is always leaving. We suffer this forward existence and never really give much thought to it. But I did. I thought about how as every day fades with the rise of the crickets songs we lose that much more of our innocence. Be it in love, friends, religion, politics or the stunning realization that your parents are not nor were they ever perfect.
I found myself at my home wandering through my house and looking at all the drawings, notes, articles of clothing and toys that fill a family’s house. Once there were dolls, stickers, child games and baby shoes strewn everywhere. Now there are teenage clothes, pictures of boy bands and young adult novels stuffed in every nook and cranny. When did all this happen? Why did it happen? How could it have happened? What was I missing?
I still have no answer for those questions, and I doubt I ever will. I just have to accept these inevitable changes and continue on with my life. So I did what I always do when I’m in dire need of escaping… I sat on my porch, lit up a cigar and tried to use the internet as a distraction. It didn’t work.
My daughter soon arrived home with a look of pure joy as she ate her way through some ice cream. I decided then that I would need to go for another ride, but this time, I was not going alone. I asked her if she wanted to go for a “night-ride” and she readily agreed and changed into some biker clothes. As she stood in the living room putting on her helmet and asking if she needed a jacket I was once again stunned at how grown up she had become. I nodded and she grabbed a hoody and off we went.
The ride was long by her standards but not long enough. I tried to let the wind and speed of the bike drown out all the thoughts in my head and get lost in the moment. I concentrated hard and I was successful. I felt her small arms tighten around my waist and her soft cheek on my back as we sped down the interstate towards a destination I knew she would like. My eyes were full of tears and I lied to myself by saying it was just the wind. My mouth was clamped shut in a grimace and once again I lied and said it was because I didn’t want bugs in my teeth.
I tried to fill my head with a myriad of songs that I’ve memorized over the years and yet my internal jukebox was silent. Instead, visions of holding a newborn baby at three in the morning while feeding her from a bottle so her mother could get the much needed rest so she would be able to perform her motherly duties while I was at work. Another vision of pushing her on a swing, and walking her to her first day of school, or the time I had to leave for a week to go to Wisconsin when she was a toddler. Her chubby little legs carrying her around the concourse of an airport in a pre-911 world and that last hug she gave me before I stepped on the plane. A hug I cherish to this day and when I think about it, I still get teary eyed. But that hug was not as good as the hug I got from her when I stepped back off another plane a week later.
Thoughts of taking my young, wide eyed offspring to Disneyworld for the first time and the endless hours standing in lines just so she could meet all of the princess’s in the Rat-Kingdom stables. And after she had met one and gotten her picture taken with the character, the look of joy in her eyes as she made her way back to me was worth all the money and long hours of work I had to do just to make those moments possible. I was her hero.
Today, I realize that one day soon I will not be her hero. There is no denying the future for parents, there is only the love and joy we had in the past. Kids grow up, we grow old. We go from being infallible to fallible in the blink of an eye. But tonight, as I drove down a dark stretch of highway with no other vehicle in sight and my daughters arms wrapped tightly around me, I felt like the father I was not so long ago. It felt good, it felt right and it felt as if we were meant to share those fleeting moments together.
I know I still have my little girl for a while and I have made a promise to try and be more vigilant in my role in her life. I just hope life doesn’t have other plans.
Have a great week.