Toddler is going through a phase. She is happy 99% of the time. But that other 1%? Her face crumples, she falls to the ground, a puddle of salty tears. When this happens, we crouch beside her, or pick her up. And we ask her what’s wrong. Every time, her answer is the same.
“I was sad because I didn’t see you,” she says, words so simple they are profound. So profound, they are simple.
And every time this happens, we tell her that we are always close by. We assure her that we will never leave her. We apologize for going into the other room without telling her, for disappearing for short times. We tell her we understand why she was sad.
I understand why she is sad in these moments. I do. I understand what it is like to look up, and around, and not see the person you want to see, you need to see. I understand the shivering panic, the stabbing sadness, in these moments when you feel lost, abandoned, utterly alone.
It is these thoughts, these most basic, childish thoughts, that cripple me most. There are cruel moments when life’s distractions thin out, when I look up, and around, and Dad‘s not here. And in these moments, like Toddler, I am devastated. In these moments, I just want to see him. His broad frame, his blue eyes. In these moments, I don’t collapse. I don’t cry. No. I hold it together. Always together. Precariously together, but still together. (Where do all those tears go when I don’t let them fall?)
I realized something this morning. Something I think I already knew. Something that has lingered just under that slippery surface of awareness. Something both haunting and comforting. I paced the living room of this place he loved deeply and lived fully, scanning old photos and relics, casually mining my family’s rich history. And I came upon a familiar thing. A pencil portrait I’d seen countless times. Of Dad. A young Dad. Somewhere between baby and little boy. Before I knew him. Before he knew me.
I stopped. I stared at that picture, studying its soft and familiar lines, blinking back tears. Through the blur of longing and love, something was suddenly and crisply clear: I see him every single day. Baby is the spitting image of young Dad. Those of you who know me, and her, in real life (isn’t all life real?) will agree. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe I am seeing something I want to see, I need to see. It could be. But I don’t think so. Not this time.
There is something magical about the fact that my little girl – who was snug inside me turning poetic somersaults while I whispered that impossible goodbye – looks just like he did.
I hope this is a phase.
I hope this isn’t a phase.
It is hard not seeing him.
It is wonderful seeing him.
Whom do you miss seeing?