“Mike… Do you have a minute?” Her father asked.
Mike looked up from the guitar she was fiddling with. With so much free time on her hands, she found it a little difficult to fill her moments with something interesting. Her father paused at the door, as if he were afraid to enter. Mike put the guitar down and shuffled a few of the pieces of sheet music around her as if she were unsure of what to do next.
Her father stepped into her room and closed the door behind him. He seemed much older than she remembered. His salt and pepper hair had grown whiter, and the crows feet around his dark brown eyes seemed more pronounced. At that moment, she felt a little like Rip Van Winkle –waking to find her father much older than she remembered. Mike watched him quietly from the bed as he crossed the room. She folded her hands in her lap sheepishly as he sat down beside her.
“How’s your playing going?”
Mike turned back to the guitar. “I can still finger it like I remember, but my hands aren’t the same size now. It’s almost like I have to learn it all over again. Plus this guitar seems a little too big for me now.”
Absentmindedly, her father took hold of her left wrist, feeling for her pulse. Mike looked down at his hand as he did so, noting the pronounced difference in their complexions. She swore her skin was not as light as it looked now compared to his skin of deep brown. His hand engulfed her wrist, making her feel very tiny –but at the same time, she relished this time with him alone.
“You said I was healthy…” She remarked.
Her father pulled away, as if he’d been caught doing something. “I’m sorry, Mike… I must have done this a thousand times while you were sleeping. I guess you could say it’s how I reassure myself that you’re alive and well…”
Mike looked down at her lap and sighed heavily. “I guess I have to get used to people doing stuff like this, huh?”
Her father let go of her wrist and clasped his hands together in his lap. “I know you’re not too happy about all that’s happened, eh? …. I guess you’re not too happy with me, either…” He looked down at his lap waiting for her to unleash whatever wrath she was holding onto.
In that moment, her father looked small and frail. She could see the worry lines had deepened all over his face. He looked tired and forlorn. She realized then just how much her father had suffered, having to bear the burden of his decision, plunging all of their lives into absolute chaos. Mike found herself turning slowly to him. She took his arm, hugging it tightly, not wanting him to feel so badly about what happened.
“I’m not mad at you, Dad.” She said as she squeezed him with all of her strength.
Her father relaxed a little bit, and exhaled as if he was finally able to let go of a great weight. He shivered as she held onto him, quietly letting his tears flow. She could feel his relief, as if he suddenly became physically lighter knowing she did not hate him.
“I can live with this… I really can… I’m not mad. You did so much… And I’m grateful that I still get to be with you all… It’s overwhelming sometimes, but I’ll deal. Please don’t think that I hate you.”
“You’re my baby and I didn’t want to lose you. I couldn’t watch you slip away from us... We’d never get over it.”
“Dad… I’m going to make this work --somehow. You don’t have to worry about me… I mean… I want you to worry about me… but not like that.”
Her father smiled, which made her gush inside. She realized how much she worried for him. She held onto his arm, resting her head on his shoulder while she wrestled with the unfamiliar urge to touch him. She closed her eyes and took long deep breaths while they sat together.
Her mother told her a little about how the scientific community was in an uproar over the publishing of his research. It meant that he was going to be busy for years to come, and she warned that it would be hard on them all. Seeing him like this made her want to hold onto him and not let go, making her blush with embarrassment.
“You’re holding on awfully tight.” He observed.
“I’m sorry…” She replied. “I can’t help it. You look so tired and you’re all doing so much for me. Seeing you like this makes me worried … and I don’t want to let go of you.”
“There’s no need. It’s just that it’s not something I’m used to –having a daughter is waayy different then having a son… I like that you’re worried about me, but you don’t have to protect me –I’m not going to break. “
“You can’t hold it against me if I get all emotional… I worry a lot more now… about everything.”
“I mean it!” She said. “I could go waterworks at the drop of a hat now. I cried three times already today! You have to promise me that you won’t laugh…”
With her laughter, the color returned to his face and he began to look more like the man she remembered him to be.
Her father tousled her hair. “I can’t promise I won’t ever laugh. But I promise you that I’ll understand and that I’ll never hold it against you.”