Saturday, June 14, 2014

Please Stay

Every morning he would kiss her goodbye and disappear through the doorway to a world where metal clanked, steel melted and shaped into oven doors, and grease and grime was a way of life. I would stare at him, silently begging him not to leave.

"Please stay," my heart whispered. But ... he didn't.

When she'd become angry and furiously fish around in the closet for his old belt, he'd quietly slip away and head outside, not being able to bear watching what came next. 

"Please stay. Help me," my heart screamed. But ... he didn't.

Mom and Dad, 1984

When we would go to town and I'd opt to go with him to visit his buddies at the cobbler shop, I basked in the warmth of their voices and the easy camaraderie that they had with each other. There was no bitterness, no malicious gossip, no one-upmanship. "I better get back to the car," he'd eventually say. "She'll be done her shopping now." He'd endure the gentle ribbing about being hen-pecked. 

"Please stay. I like it here," my heart pleaded. But ... he didn't.

When I was a teen, and got into a fight with one of my older cousins down the road, I came home and told him how mean she'd been, what she'd called me. He was so angry that he stormed out of the house to make her aware how displeased he was. 

"Please stay. You'll just make it worse," my heart cringed. But ... he didn't. He went anyway, and came back even more angry. That was the moment he put a dent in the wall with his fist. I didn't know why - until later. He wanted to protect me. And my cousin's husband just laughed at him. 

The day of my wedding, I looked at him standing beside me in his Sunday best as we were just about to head down the aisle together. He seemed so strong, so dependable, just like always. "I love you, Dad," I told him. He looked down at me. "I love you too, dear," he murmured softly in his deep bass voice. He walked me toward my bridegroom, and gave me away to him, and then he went and sat down.

Unknown to me, he pulled my 2-year-old niece onto his lap and held her close. And as his own baby willingly walked out of his care and into someone else's, almost nobody saw the tears well up in his eyes and spill over onto his cheeks. 

"Please stay. Stay my baby girl," his heart wept. But ... I left. And yet ... I stayed his baby girl in my heart. I always had.

When I stood by his bedside in the hospital, watching him writhe and groan in pain he couldn't pinpoint in spite of the morphine in his IV, hearing him call out for his mama, I knew that asking him to stay would be asking his body to endure even more suffering. So I stood there ... and let him go. 

"It's okay for you to go, Dad," my heart whispered.  

And he did, just a few days later.

It's been over 20 years since that day. Yet I still feel his presence with me when I remember some wacky thing my own baby girl used to do that reminds me so much of him, and I'm so glad that she is getting to know him now. She always missed knowing him. And now the two of them are laughing together. In a way, neither of them will ever really leave, as long as I remember them.

"Thank you for staying."

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