Counting the days



Dear Maddie,

Tomorrow is just another day. That’s what I keep telling myself. When you walk up to that stage to get your diploma, it’ll be just one more in a long, long string of days.

It’s been 23 days since I sat in the stands and watched you play softball for the last time — a career that started when you were 8 years old. At first, you could barely throw a tennis ball from our plum tree to our picket fence. Now, a thousand games later, I watched you fire the ball like a laser, and snuff out a runner at second base. How many times have we played catch, in the wind or rain or under the beating sun? Under dim street lamps, long after dark? And that time in December in Paris, in that little tree-lined park on l’Avenue Brunetière.

It’s been 997 days since they rolled you out of the operating room, still groggy and puffy, your elbow wrapped in plaster and gauze, not sure if you’d ever throw again.

It’s been 1,853 days since we went on that road trip: six colleges in a week, eating fast food in the car, the windows open and the radio turned up loud. Every school held a different future, but I knew that every future would take you away.

It’s been 2,371 days since you brought your first boyfriend home for dinner. I grilled him like a KGB interrogator, because no mere high school boy was ever going to be good enough for my little girl. Not ever.

It’s been 2,587 days since you told me I’d ruined your life, and I tried to take away your cellphone, and it dropped down the stairs and shattered. You ran off to Hannah’s house for the night, and you came back the next day and covered the walls of your room with splatters of black paint. And I helped.

It’s been 3,653 days since you took a foul ball in the face in a Little League game. An inning later, with a bloody wad of Kleenex up your nose, you drove in the game-winning run — and I finally realized what a tough little bugger you were.

It’s been 4,077 days since we sat down with you and your sister and told you we were getting divorced. I couldn’t stop sobbing, and I couldn’t make it better, and I couldn’t explain why. I was sure life would never feel unbroken again. But it would.

It’s been 4,516 days since I first saw you step onstage, lost in a story, transformed into someone else. My shy little girl speaking lines from a script as if she’d pulled them from her own beating heart.

It’s been 5,687 days since we drove through the narrow streets of Da Nang, to that little orphanage with the bright turquoise walls. They put Juliana in your arms, and you wouldn’t let anyone else hold her. Because she was your sister. And you were hers.

It’s been 7,085 days since I dropped you off at Mary Lane’s preschool for the first time. Those big, round tears rolled down your cheeks, and you kissed me through the window, and I ducked around the corner and couldn’t walk away until I was sure you weren’t crying anymore.

It’s been 7,260 days since you danced around our sunny kitchen while I played my guitar. You pulled off your dress, and spun around in circles in your diaper, and told me to sing a song “about naked girls.”

It’s been 7,313 days since you lay in bed with croup, and I slept outside your bedroom door so I could hear if your breathing changed, or your cough got worse, or you called out my name.

It’s been 8,088 days since your mother’s water broke at the gas station, and the contractions got really strong, and we went to the hospital and you still didn’t come for a long, long time. It took the anesthesiologist three tries to get the epidural in, so your mom could finally sleep. Then she woke up and pushed, and you fell into this world, and I caught you. And then you opened your eyes.

Tomorrow is just another day, like all the ones that came before it. Mundane, and momentous.  Fleeting, and forever. Yours, and mine, and ours together — and precious beyond words.

I love you so, Maddie. And I will for the rest of our days.

Dad.


Jeff Lee lives, writes, practices medicine and sings about naked girls in Seattle.