True Love

Posted on August 17, 2012


My daughter, Allison, is suffering under the delusion that she’s getting married today. This is impossible, of course, because she’s just a little girl. Okay, she’s not really a little girl. She was born in 1985, and if you subtract that number from the year it is now, she’s twenty-seven. So if you want to get technical about it, I guess she’s what most people would consider a grown woman. In some abstract, theoretical sense, she could be someone’s wife. At the same time, my mind tries to reject the very word – wife – as if it doesn’t fit her, doesn’t belong to her, any more than a suit of armor would, or a professional football uniform. After all, in order for her to be someone’s wife, that person would have to be her husband.

Husband. Not possible.

Besides, I’m Allison’s father, and I’m not finished with my part yet. There are things I have to teach her. A lot of things. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever got around to teaching her anything.

There was much I wanted my daughter to know, important lessons I was supposed to pass on to her. But I would have had to learn them first, and the opportunity was rarely there. Pretty soon we were both swimming in the daily details of life, sometimes getting swept along by the current, and doing our best to keep from drowning. Together we faced all of the obstacles and distractions that most families encounter, all within the larger context of an ongoing nightmare.

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I eventually figured out how to brush Allison’s newly-washed hair without getting snagged in the tangles and making her cry. I learned that she shared my sensitivity about food textures, and that I needed to cut away the crust from her sandwiches if I didn’t want to find them a week later, half-eaten and stashed under the bed. I came to understand that her tendency to snap off the arms and legs from her Barbie dolls was not a symptom of a deep-seated psychosis, although I still wonder what it was.

The essential point is that while I was discovering the small things about her, she was busy absorbing the world, sifting through its contents, and somehow making sense of it all.

I remember being amazed by the fact that, at age two, she could identify a cartoon character as a blue jay or a chicken, and could distinguish one from the other. Cartoons look nothing like real animals, and I still find it almost incomprehensible that the human brain can connect the two.

One night we drove past a pay telephone and from her car seat in the back she yelled out, “Phone!” I didn’t remember teaching her that word, and even if I had, when and how had she managed to relate a house phone with a coin-operated machine hanging on a pole?

Can we possess knowledge of things right from birth? I don’t think so. Can we have understanding before we’ve had a chance to experience life? I doubt it. Can we be endowed with wisdom right from the beginning? Yes, I’m sure of that, because I saw the evidence.

It was a summer day, in 1985. The nurse walked in carrying a tiny bundle tightly wrapped in a thin blanket. My daughter. She was no bigger than a loaf of bread. A pink hat covered the top half of her head. Only her face was exposed, but what a beautiful face it was. And as I took her into my arms, she looked directly at me. There was no sign of confusion, discomfort, or pain, even as those feelings swirled around inside my mind, mixing with the unfamiliar joy of being someone’s father. Her eyes were focused, and determined, and calm. And that surprised me, because I’d thought newborn babies couldn’t see clearly. But Allison was staring, with what I can only describe as a wise and soothing gaze. She seemed to be telling me that everything would be all right. I had long heard about parents instantly falling in love with infants, but I didn’t believe it was possible. In that instant, I learned that it was indeed possible, and that for me, it was true. I now realize that Allison was also telling me something else. She was letting me know that she would be all right.

I just did the math again, and yes, Allison is twenty-seven. So she may very well be getting married today. Like all parents, I imagined this would happen eventually. But the wedding day was deep into the future, through hazy clouds of time, past countless twists, turns, and reversals. It was always coming, but it was always someday. Now it’s time to make the transition. And as we all look forward to the years to come, I will surely find myself thinking back through those hazy clouds of time, to the days of brushing wet hair, trimming crust, and reassembling dolls from dismembered parts. And I can continue with my own delusion that Allison is still that little girl I’ve loved with all my heart since the minute she was born.

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Photograph by Sherrise Gairns.

August 17, 2012

Posted in: Family