“Cara!” My heart executed a painful stutter-step before resuming its normal pace. She sounded nothing like my confident daughter; she was more like a lost little girl. “What are you doing home? Did something happen at school?”
“I… got sent home,” she said in a near whisper. I wasn’t sure if I had missed a word or two, there was so much noise around me.
“You were sent home from school?” Alex took a sudden interest in studying his shoe tops. “What happened? You didn’t punch out another student, did you?”
“It wasn’t like that!” Defiant, hurt. “It’s not my fault.” Pleading, embarrassed. “Can you please just come home?”
“This is really not a good time,” I told her and Alex shifted from one foot to the other. “I’ll get there as soon as I can, I just need to take care of something first. We’ll talk when I get there, okay?”
The silence at the other end of the phone let me know I was not handling the situation very well. While I was searching for the words to set things right, that would let me get back to the mountainous task at hand, a final boarding call for a flight to Los Angeles boomed overhead.
“You’re at the airport? Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving? Where are you going?” A long, awkward pause. Then, ever so quietly, “I need you here.”
“Listen kiddo, I’m not going anywhere, okay? I’m just meeting a friend at the airport and then I’ll be on my way home.” Maybe it wasn’t the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but it would do. “Whatever happened in school will have to wait until -“
“I got my period!” she blurted out. I replied with the very first thing that sprung to mind.
“You’re too young to have your period!” Alex’s cheeks went two shades darker before he turned away.
Now coming to the stage, to accept the Father of the Year award, is Nathaniel McDaniel. We’d like to make special mention of his delicate handling of a major event in his daughter’s life…
“Sorry… that was just… it really caught me with my guard down.” Understatement of the century? Perhaps. I tried to remember what she’d been wearing that morning but couldn’t; I hoped it wasn’t her white jeans. “Are you okay? Can I bring you something?”
“Nurse Isha gave me a list of things for you to pick up at the pharmacy,” she said, her voice shaking slightly. “Um, pads – she said to get a couple different varieties, to see what works. You know: wings, no wings, heavy, light. Um… tampons…”
“Okay, perfect,” I said, trying to sound casual but desperate to get off the phone. “I’ll call you from the store once I get there and you can walk me through it.” I did my best not to picture that scene in my head. “Anything else?”
“Yeah… Nurse Isha wants you to come in to speak with her.” I wasn’t sure which of us was more mortified by that thought.
“Right, of course. I’ll give her a call and set up an appointment. I’ll be on my way soon kiddo, hang in there okay?”
I snapped the phone shut and stuffed it back in my pocket, my face radiating heat like an embarrassed super nova. I sucked in a lungful of stale air and swallowed once or twice before confronting Alex once more.
“I know you want to return home and set everything right, like some fairy tale knight, but that’s not how it’s going to happen and you know that. Something will go wrong, someone will die, and it could very well be you or someone you love.”
“So you want me to stay here and do nothing? Pretend that everything is okay?”
“No.” I moved forward until there was less than a foot separating us. Within punching distance. If he wanted to take a shot at me I wouldn’t have blamed him. “I want you to use that as your motivation. I want you to have it always at the back of your mind, pushing you to win this fight, and the next, and the one after that. Until you have enough money to bring your family here and then you can be motivated by providing for them, not protecting them. Don’t you want that?”
“And what if something happens before I reach that goal? What if I am too late?”
“Then I will go with you,” I said softly, “and we will take care of it together.”