There’s a photo of you holding my hand while walking into school for the first time. A “big” school, that it is – it was your first day of kindergarten.
When you look at this photo, I hope you only think of joy. I hope it symbolizes the beginning of something you love and appreciate; acknowledge as critical to your future, since that is what school is.
I also hope seeing my hand holding yours makes you think of me. You were smiling that day. I believed you were happy.
I want you to know I will never forget that day for as long as I live. It was, for me, a sad day. You were no longer a baby; no longer expected to merely exist; and no longer the child who made me feel like I had forever. I had missed the last nine months of your final time as a child, off covering meetings and missing dinners and bike rides for a job that satisfied no one. Even before that, I had missed time with you I wished on your first day of school I had back.
I recall, this first day of school, the misty air. It would rain later that day, and the next – and the moisture that morning warned of it. We were 10 minutes late. Had to sift through the drop-off lane at the school before we could park, and I could make that walk. Hand-in-hand, we both made it – but nearly against my will.
I tried my best to sell the entire morning to you as a good thing. And it is.
But that didn’t prevent me from pausing in front of the school with you. We had eclipsed the yard, made our way onto the sidewalk out front and were nearing benches 10 or so yards from the doors when I stopped.
“Let’s take a picture,” I said, trying to sound thrilled.
Seen those pictures of you and me? That was as happy as I could look – but you seemed happy, and that was all that mattered.
We then went inside, me walking you down the hallway toward your classroom. I remembered mornings in New Bern, N.C., when I would drop you off at day care. You were 2. I had a reputation for carrying you inside – every morning.
But not this morning.
Inside your room, the magnitude seemed to catch up to you. You smiled, saw your friend, Amaia, and began to walk toward her when your teacher approached.
She, too, seemed happy as she gave you your cubby assignment and began to help you with your book bag.
I don’t know when you will read this, or if you’re old enough to relate, but do you know those moments in life you realize – as they’re happening – you’ll never forget? I had two that morning – taking the photo in front of the school and another, as I followed you and your teacher to your cubby and saw you turn around to me, after commenting in typical Kalista fashion on the shared cubby seeming a bit crowded.
“I’m going to miss you, Daddy,” you said.
I leaned over to kiss you, then squatted so were eye-to-eye.
“I’ll miss you, too,” I said as I felt tears protruding from behind my eyes.
You gave me a kiss, then another, then you walked away, toward your classmates. Still squatting, I watched with my hands folded, elbows resting on my knees.
“There she goes,” I thought.
Then you turned back, as if you’d heard me and wanted to set the record straight; as if you wanted to let me know you may grow to have more in your life than just me, but you’ll never be truly gone.
“One more kiss,” you said, reaching for the back of my neck. You stared into my eyes.
“Okay, Kalista. I love you. Have a good day. Be good.”
And don’t forget me.