(Today, I’m sharing with you part 1 of one of my favorite stories. I think this story may some day become a book, as there is so much that needs to be told which hasn’t been, yet. This is a three-part story, so watch for Part 2 Friday, and Part 3 next Tuesday. Enjoy.)
Cetacean. That’s a whale, according to my daughter Sade. I never knew fifth graders could be so smart.
“They sing to one another, Mom. It’s amazing. Miles apart and the sound carries through water so they can find one another in the ocean. The whale family is called a ‘pod.’ Cool, huh?” She clicks on an audio file she’s found on the computer and the oddest sound comes out, mournful, yet beautiful, embedded with a series of clicks and then more song, more clicks.
I nod. Yes, it’s cool. I rub my left temple. My head feels like someone is hammering a railroad spke into it. The mocha walls of the living room waver around me and the cinnamon scent of a candle glowing on the mantle pierces the sensitive walls of my sinuses.
“So, are we like a pod? Do you think my father will ever hear my thoughts and find his way back to us?”
Sade found a way to work a question about her daddy into the conversation at least once a week. It’s unbelievable how many topics can eventually lead back to “who’s my daddy?”
For her benefit I seem to ponder the question. “Maybe. I don’t know.” What I do know is that her father and I send ‘whale songs’ to each other every day and have been for years.
She knows her father is still alive, lives somewhere else in the United States, and cannot live with us. I wear my wedding ring and on his birthday we make a cake and blow out the candles. She receives Valentine’s Day cards, birthday cards and many holiday cards from him every year, including Groundhog’s Day, Halloween, Christmas and New Years Day.
This day, the minutes have ticked by slowly, even though there were stacks of orders to process on my desk at work. I avoided looking at the clock as the hours dragged by, and I continue to avoid looking at it now. I wish that time would slow even more – I wish it would stand still.
“Can we have pizza for dinner?” Sade asks.
I should have thought about dinner before now, the sun is setting. I should have gone to the store and picked up something, but I haven’t felt like eating for weeks.
‘Should have’ is big in my life right now. I can’t seem to get out from underneath everything I ‘should have’ done. The biggest ‘should have’ happened right after high school. Should have gone to college. Should have become a doctor or a veterinarian or a nurse. I won’t dwell on those should haves, not even now. If given another chance, I would still have married Sade’s father and had his daughter. I would change nothing.
But Sade still doesn’t know anything about her dad. And she’s never met those grandparents. Tomorrow, if my heart hasn’t stopped, maybe I’ll finally tell her the whole story. Maybe we’ll even go visit her other grandparents. Lord knows, we should have done it before now.
Watching her as she works on her whale report at the kitchen table, I realize I haven’t been much of a mother lately. Sade hasn’t complained. She goes to school, I go to work. She comes home with stories of friends and teachers. She does her homework. On weekends, she makes believe with her friends. One minute they are ‘almost’ teenages in love with Justin Bieber. The next minute they are prancing around the yard being Palomino horses, like the ones on the ranch down our road. I watch from the front window, my arms wrapped around me.
She is so innocent, so good. I was, too. Once.
She’s good at make believe, and I guess, when it comes right down to it, so am I. The friends I’ve made in this town over the past seven years don’t really know me, they know a person who has hidden away the most important parts of her being. Some things I never talk about.
There are people not that far away who know everything there is to know about me and won’t ever forget. I avoid seeing them, talking to them, or even thinking about them. Someday, maybe they can be a part of my life again. Just not yet.
(Come back Friday for Part 2 of Whale Song.)
WHALE SONG was originally published in my short story anthology, Beneath a Wild Sky, 2013. (Amazon.)