My daughter was ready for a little taste of freedom, but I wasn't.
The other day I was squatting behind a shade tree in the park down the street, peeking around every now and then to look over by the swings. There wasn't much in the way of bushes or high fences, so I was pretty much out in the open. And one has to guess that if the old lady who lives next to the park had inched her Venetians apart to look out on the sweltering boring afternoon she would have been calling these small town cops in no time.
"A man, yes!"
"Behind a tree!"
"Staring at a little child!"
"A white t-shirt! Black work boots! Dark mysterious sunglasses! "
"Staring at the child!"
"HURRY! COME AND SHOOT HIM!"
Luckily, no one saw me.
So there I sat. About three-quarters of a football field away from my daughter, Violet. Dear old dad, hiding behind a tree trying to teach the apple of his eye a hard ragged lesson: to listen to what he goddamn says when he tells her to follow him up the trail. But, instructions were not followed and instead, after 20 minutes, Violet is still standing in the blistering sun, by the piping hot sun-baked jungle gym, with a nickle-sized piece of old concrete in her fist ... tap-tap-tapping on a hollow metal pole underneath the purple plastic sliding board.
I have been waiting for her to cry. To freak out. To look out for her Pop and not see him and panic. But: nothing. Once, she walked a few steps away from the jungle gym, only to pheasant-walk herself into a slow 180 and wander back over to the painted pipes, to tap some more.
Brutal truth: I wanted to see my daughter spazz out. I wanted her to want me, to need me. I wanted her to think she'd lost me only to find out that she hadn't and to vow to her own tender little soul that she would never ever doubt me or stray from me again in this lifetime or the next. I wanted this to happen, desperately. And I wanted it to happen on a Thursday afternoon, around 2pm MST, and be over and done with in, say, 30 minutes tops. I told her to follow me. She ignored me. I tried to gently guide her, with special 21st-Century Afternoon Daddy Techniques, but daughter aimed her tiny self towards some other galaxy across the park from where I was headed and set sail.
I attempted to take her small buttery hand in mine.
She bit my hand. With malice.
I let her go.
And in the final meeting of our eyes, she looked back at me to see if I had suddenly/hopefully turned into Dora The Explorer holding a wheel of delicious cheddar cheese and a tall stack of syrupy pancakes, waving a jug of apple juice like a pirate waves sweet rum.
Fast-forward 20 minutes later and we're back at the man behind the tree and all. I bite my tongue because the urge to make some primal squeak or squeal is strong. I want make some noise to pop me back into her mind. I want to quack or moo and watch her gentle eyes burst with remembrance and recognition. C'mon kid. C'mon! I wanna see it happen; like the fountains on the strip in Vegas: I wanna see the f*cking show go off, on schedule, without any hitches.
But it doesn't happen.
Violet plays with her pebbles. She finds a little boy's pair of leathery sandals in the wood chips over by the fake rock steps and she starts to talk to them in Siberian or whatever language she talks and the whole thing is like some weird Bible scene with a lost kid and sandals and pebbles in the desert. I resist the longing to pop out and do one of my dances. Those dances work well in the kitchen, on the linoleum, when she's strapped into her highchair behind a small pile of Pizza Goldfish. She smiles at my dumb*ss spins and Travolta Points. But here, out in the day, with the full sun shellacking our skins, I get scared she ain't isn't give two sh*ts if I pop out from behind some distant tree. I'll be just another heat mirage shimmering into the ether while she's giddy and stoned on this independence that has settled down upon her teensy park life.
Then something happens. She moves. The kid moves from the slide and the poles. She babbles to her self and stops to kneel her little chub legs and pick at some weed flowers whose lot in this cruel world is to try, night and day, to poke up through deep-fried, bulk-buy cedar chips and bark shavings so they can bake in the light above. She talks to the flowers, befriends them, I guess.
The man behind the tree, his heart melts a little.
She finds her feet again, her small thrift-store Sketchers thumping down into the unsteady bark. She wobbles. She weebles. She doesn't fall down.
She looks around. And then she sighs. Long and lovely. She sighs as if all the weight in the world were the very sunbeams we're under splattering down on her wee pale neck. She squints. She has no recollection which way I was headed when we last parted ways. She puts her eyes to the ground and trudges up a small hill, the woodchips giving way to summer's green grass. At the peak of the rise she pauses.
I can't anymore.
I whistle. Say her name, slow and drawn out.
Her eyes dart towards my shade and her face erupts in gap-toothed grin. I slink around the big trunk, my hand feeling the rough bark as I orbit the big plant and emerge from its darkness. I get seen. Remembered. Welcomed. I am ecstatic. We reunite by a pine over between the Jungle Gym and my tree and we're all hugs and smiles.
This article was originally published at Thunderpie. Reprinted with permission from the author.