As I gradually get reacquainted with my seventeen-year-old daughter one precious e-mail, drawing, photograph, school play, concert or game at a time I reflect, celebrate, and often discuss our various shared moments with my friends and acquaintances. On rare occasions someone will ask, “How did things turn out the way they are?” I guess that it’s kind of like asking someone who has been lost in the forest for a very long time, “How did you get lost?” I suppose that the lost one might reply, “One step at a time, a day at a time.”
I can’t offer a better explanation as to why I am in the position of needing to be reacquainted with my daughter other than perhaps even with a good map, it’s easier than one might think, to get lost along the way.
John Lennon once explained it “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” My biggest experience with this came in the form of walking through the invisible doorway from being a typical eighteen-year-old kid into the world of becoming a nineteen-year-old with a kid.
My life as a soon to be graduating high school senior was traveling along a well-planned and supposedly predictable path. For the most part I was consumed with completing the last few weeks of high school, spending time with my girlfriend Darci, working, enjoying my beloved car, and attending various parties celebrating along with my peers. We were all caught up in enjoying the end of a long hard fought battle with high school and our roles as teenagers, preparing to stake our claim as adults in the real world. In other words, my life was all about me and I was enjoying it!
A few days before graduating I learned that Darci was pregnant. This news was a bit shocking, very scary and at times surreal. It essentially threw all of my thoughts and feelings regarding the options of our current situation and my future plans into a blender. What was once clear water instantly became a milkshake in my mind.
The next few months were a blur. It was surprisingly difficult to think when living in a constant whirlwind of advice from our friends telling us what should be done, lectures from relatives on both sides stressing what we needed to do and even criticisms of strangers for what we had or hadn’t done. All of which even those with the best of intentions, created an incredible amount of stress and tension in our young lives.
After a few tough days of discussing all possible options of abortion, adoption, keeping the baby and whether or not to get married, we both agreed that having the baby was the best choice for us. Next we sought counseling at the insistence of a relative. After this experience we chose to keep our child rather than to pursue the adoption alternative.
Darci and I went to natural childbirth classes so that the birth could be drug free, which we both agreed would be best for our baby. These classes trained me how to be “the coach” and Darci on how to breathe as well as when and how to push.
One of the many early challenges was thinking of a name that would represent all of the wonderful things that parents wish for a child; one that is timeless but fresh, beautiful yet strong, simple and hopefully enjoyed. After reading several books, collecting opinions and many debates later we chose Heather, which to us was the perfect choice. This decision ended up being one of the last important things that her mother and I agreed upon.
When labor finally began a month later than was predicted by the doctor (of course it was in the late evening) we went to the hospital and the birthing process suddenly became very real. Fortunately I was able to be there throughout the amazing event of childbirth, ending with me cutting the umbilical cord (which is like cutting a wet garden hose with round nosed grade school scissors). Heather arrived, cried a bit and then surveyed her new surroundings.
As I held her for the first time later that morning, she promptly stole a big part of my heart and started her huge influence over the rest of my life.
Darci and our baby lived with her parents, while I rented a room from a friend a few miles away. Choosing not to marry compounded with a lack of money and low earning potential made these living arrangements appear to be the best alternative. Initially I visited them frequently and we made the best of it all.
Heather on occasion went to visit and stay at my parent’s house where I also was able to spend time with her, eventually becoming the only place where we were together.
A few leafy weeds started to grow in the relationship between Darci and myself; neither of us noticing that they were blackberry vines. As time slipped by, rather than cut these weeds out, we took turns watering with words and fertilizing with actions until neither of us could see over the top of the growing bramble. Eventually we turned our backs on this constantly growing impenetrable monstrous barbed bush of thorns that no one could see past, through or around.
Over the next couple of years I had few unsupervised moments with Heather, but that just made them even more special, cementing them in time. She was a very happy little girl with brown hair, brown eyes, and a big infectious smile. Most times we played with her various toys on the carpeted floor of my parent’s house, wooden blocks being a favorite of hers (I stacked and she pushed them over and over, with a mischievous squeal of delight). One bright sunny spring afternoon we played chase in the backyard, with Heather occasionally testing me by grabbing some of the bright red holly berries from the hedge that surrounded my parent’s backyard. She would run and I would chase her, laughing the entire time. Some of her verbal struggles with words like “oken” in lieu of open and “cacker” in place of cracker were my favorites. Each visit ended up reminding me more of the little things I had missed since our last day together.
As we drifted and stayed apart, Darci met someone else who gave her what she wanted, needed, and deserved in a relationship and I didn’t interfere. The stronger their relationship grew, the more my presence wasn’t appreciated. The new found relationship stood their test of time and eventually they were married, pushing me further our of Heather’s life. Paul then assumed the emotional, moral, and legal responsibilities of being Heather’s dad. I found the entire turn of events to be numbing.
Many years have past and now as Heather is taking more control of her life; we are getting to know each other again. I see her at various public school functions and we communicate via the Internet. It’s more like rekindling an old friendship than starting a new one from scratch.
It is wonderful, exciting, and a bit scary to feel our relationship slowly unfolding as if it were an old weathered document, misplaced all these years waiting to be found. Perhaps it’ll yield a long lost treasure map, a blueprint for something timeless or maybe just an intricate drawing of a sad face clown.
Regardless of how or why I got lost along the winding, sometimes dark and lonely road of life I am finding my way (or it is finding me), reuniting me with what had always been most important. I gave her the gift of life and in turn she is giving me the larger gift of truly appreciating life.
This was written for a college Writing 101 class assignment in 2003. In the pursuit of a little help, I stumbled into something. At the (heavy handed, over-the-top, borderline irritating) insistence of my writing lab tutor, I entered my paper (written as it was happening… and most importantly, submitted with Heather’s approval) “What Happens” in the Highline Community College Arcturus (an annual artistic contest for students to submit photos, drawings and writings, in which the chosen entries are published into a book). It was included in that year’s publishing but I never got much feedback (on the writing), so I felt compelled to share it again.