She hasn’t told anybody in her class that Daddy doesn’t live at home because Mommy said that these things should not be discussed
She sits on the bench clutching her teddy bear tightly, while she waits for her father to show up. The ice-cream in the sugar cone drips onto her perfectly starched yellow dress as her curls sway carelessly in the wind. Today is Daddy Day, and she is really looking forward to seeing him. The last time she saw him, he said that he would get her the art set that they had seen in the window of the toy store. She looks down the block, but there isn’t any sign of Daddy. She is secretly worried that he won’t show up, the way he hadn’t shown up for dinner on the evening that changed her life forever.
Before that dreadful day, everything was pink, like cotton candy, filled with rainbows and joy in her life. Then everything changed in a blink, and her cotton candy life slowly melted away and the rainbows stopped sparkling. She could still remember the way they waited for Daddy to show up for dinner, yet he never came home. She heard Mommy yelling into the telephone. She put her hands on her ears to shut out the noise. Later that evening, Bubby came over, and she could hear Mommy crying. She still has no idea why he left, because nobody ever told her. Everything in the house is always full of secrets.
She hasn’t told anybody in her class that Daddy doesn’t live at home because Mommy said that these things should not be discussed. It makes her sad when kids talk about their fathers and sometimes, when that happens, hot tears roll down her cheeks. She quickly turns away from her friends and wipes the tears so that they shouldn’t notice that she is crying.
Suddenly, she feels a tap on her shoulder that startles her back to reality. Daddy is standing near her with a warm smile on his face. He hands her a pink shopping bag, and she already knows what is inside the bag. She feels her heart flutter as she takes the wrapped gift. She rips the beautiful polka dotted wrapping paper off the art set. She gives Daddy a huge hug and thanks him for the gift. She loves getting gifts and lately she’s been getting them a lot from him. Still, she would rather give up all the beautiful gifts for the biggest gift of all — for Daddy to move back home.
Daddy takes her hand, and they walk briskly in the direction of his apartment. She wants to ask him if he left because she was naughty, but she bites her tongue and doesn’t ask. She is secretly afraid of the answer. She knows that it’s all her fault that Mommy is always so sad. Her head starts hurting, and she feels a huge lump in her throat. They finally get to Daddy’s place and slowly climb the stairs to his apartment. After the door opens, her eyes do a quick scan of his apartment. She doesn’t know how he lives in such a dingy apartment with peeling paint and creaky floors. There is soiled laundry sitting on the floor near his bed and leftover takeout food lying on his dresser. The kitchen floor is really dirty, and there are paper goods spread out on the counters. She doesn’t understand why he doesn’t keep them in the kitchen cabinet like Mommy does. Mommy’s house is always spotlessly clean and smells of the sweet scent of detergent.
Daddy takes her to the dining room and sets her new art set on the table. The table looks identical to the one in the shul right near her house. She sits down and opens up the cover of the art set. There is a neat row of colorful crayons and a variety of tracers. On the other side, there are all different colored papers and a pencil and sharpener too. She carefully selects a brown crayon and starts to draw a picture of a house. The house has a mother and a daughter living inside with a father standing outside facing away from the house. As an afterthought, she takes a black crayon and scribbles over the father. He is the person that abandoned her and Mommy and made her heart hurt. Daddy comes over to the table and sets down a bottle of Coke near her and pours her a cup to drink. She refuses the drink because she doesn’t feel thirsty. He hands over her favorite snack, but she doesn’t want that either. Right now she just wants to be alone and draw more pictures. Her father sits down and starts reading a newspaper as she continues to color. She picks up a black crayon and starts to color a new paper black. She presses the crayon down really hard in deep, methodical, circular motions. That is what her life feels like now, a really deep, black, endless circle. She then lifts both papers, crumples them, and shreds them into pieces. She starts to cry hard, and Daddy puts his arm around her. She pulls away and starts screaming through her tears, “I hate you, I hate you!”
Daddy asks her why but she doesn’t respond. She just continues to cry.
It starts getting dark outside. Suddenly, the bell rings, and Daddy goes to the door. There is a delivery guy dressed in torn, denim trousers holding a black plastic bag. He hands it to Daddy. Daddy hands him some change and takes the bag.
She follows Daddy to the kitchen where he takes out two chicken cutlets covered in shiny silver foil. He then takes out a paper box filled with French fries and gets some paper goods from the counter. She starts devouring the food like a famished puppy. She feels lighter now after all the crying. Daddy takes a fork and knife and starts eating. When they are both done eating, Daddy tells her a funny story about his day. She loves listening to his stories. She misses the way he used to tell jokes at the dinner table each night. She wishes that life could go back to the way it used to be, and she and Mommy would be happy again. She apologizes to Daddy for saying she hates him, thinking that maybe if she acted well he would come back home.
“Daddy, when are you going to come home again to live with me and Mommy?” she asks while holding her breath.
There is a long pause. The silence feels like a knife slicing through her heart. A deep feeling of foreboding engulfs her. She fears his answer will be never, and he will tell her that he left because of her.
“Sometime soon, perhaps,” he says looking squarely into her large, soulful eyes. “I am not yet sure. There is some stuff that me and Mommy need to first work out together. It might take time, but Mommy and I are really trying to work this out because we both love you so very much. You need to stay strong until that day comes. You are really brave. I know you can do it.”
She can’t believe her ears. She never thought he would say that. Those are the best words that she has heard in months. She builds up the courage to ask the question that she has held on to for far too long.
“Daddy, did you leave because I was a bad girl?” she asks in a quivering voice.
Daddy looks at her in a funny sort of way. His face turns as white as the collar of his shirt, and tears fill his sad eyes.
“Is that what you thought, honey? That I left because of you?” There is sorrow in his voice. “Of course not. You are the best child anyone could ask for. You are the sunshine of my life! I left because of adult stuff, like I told you before. Mommy and I will work this out, and then I will be able to have my sunshine back forever. Honey, I am so sorry that you carried this around in your little heart for so long. You should never have had to feel this way.”
Daddy wraps his hands around her little shoulders in a bear hug. She feels a huge sense of relief, like a truckload of rocks that was sitting on her chest for the past few months have finally come tumbling down.
She and Daddy slowly make their way down the creaky, old steps leading to the street. She skips alongside Daddy as they head back toward Mommy’s house. She suddenly feels alive, filled with hope for the future. She has hope that things will soon go back to the way they were. Mommy will once again be happy, there will be jokes once again at the dinner table, and she will be no different than the other girls in her class. She is still not fully at peace, because it might be a while till Daddy will be home again. They stop in front of Mommy’s perfectly manicured lawn. Daddy takes out a huge rainbow lollipop from his bag and hands it to her. She graciously accepts it and tears off the plastic packaging, admiring the array of colors on the special rainbow lollipop. She then runs through the lush, green lawn to her home and waves goodbye to Daddy, hoping that he will come home very soon. She rings the bell of the house and can hear faint footsteps coming in the direction of the door. As she takes a lick of the large rainbow lollipop, she can see the colors of the rainbows in her life begin to sparkle once again.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 750)
Oops! We could not locate your form.